Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

Theo 266 Church in the World

Summer 2016 - Session II

Theology 226: The Church in the World

July 2016, Loyola/Rome


Instructor: Rev. Michael A. Russo


Course Description:


Pope Francis has defined a new style of papal leadership, one that addresses the needs of the world-wide Church, a style that carefully listens to the multiple communities of dioceses, institutions and organizations, and based on Vatican Council II, and clearly reflected in his “The Joy of the Gospel,”  “On Care for our Common Home.”


At the same time, the pope’s embrace of people – the poor, the immigrants, those in prison – marked by his call to mercy and tenderness, teaches how the Church and people of sincere heart should conduct their lives today.


For most of my life as both a Catholic priest and journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to cover the news of religion and worked most recently on Pope Francis’ visit to the United States by providing expert analysis to news organizations. You can read more on this at my website – www.francisfactor.com where you will find recent publications, sermons, and opinion essays.  


This four-week summer course will explore the papacy and the modern Church, its theology and practice from the post-World War II era to the present.


Today’s media culture, an all-important aspect of modernity, requires that religious leadership contend with the fast-speed and global reach of public life.  This course will examine how Church organizations employ the media to amplify their message and how the media of newspapers, radio/television and movies report about or explore religious themes, and harness the new “social media” of Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.


While we will examine the traditions and religious practice of Roman Catholics, ours is an inclusive perspective of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. We will examine how religious leaders such as Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, evangelist Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama have used radio/television and global travel to establish their worldwide ministries.


Over the four-week summer course, our attention will be given to case studies that define the “Church in the World.”  Consequently, we will explore four key themes: Pope Francis & Leadership; Evangelization & the New Media; Christianity & Global Conflict; Finding God in a Secular Age.



Course Goals:


  • 1. Survey the ideas, practices and texts that define the Catholic Church today with a specific focus on Pope Francis and papal leadership in the modern era. An assessment of his writings, sermons, and global travel.


  • 2.  Develop a set of criteria (tools of assessment) for critical thinking, and writing about religion, theology and media. We will assess press performance in reporting about religion. We will watch films and read contemporary theology to assess key themes that inform the religious/cultural discourse. Research and report on a particular topic of interest.


  • 3. Find your own voice in class discussions about the pope, his initiatives on the environment, as well as his special invitation to young adults. What genuine efforts are effective with your generation of college students? How to better accommodate women in ministry, and how to value their partnership and voice in the decision-making? We will invite guests – reporters/journalists who cover the news of religion, and those who work in the congregations and offices at the Vatican.


Required Texts:


Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel,” (Evangelii Gaudium),  USCCB Publication 2014.


Pope Francis, “On Care for our Common Home,” (Laudato Si’) USCCB Publication, 2015.


James Carroll, “Christ Actually: Reimagining Faith in the Modern Age,” (New York: Penguin, 2015).


Greg Tobin, “The Good Pope – John 23rd & Vatican II,” (New York: HarperOne, 2012).



Required Films:


“Of Gods & Men,” A film by Xavier Beauvois, 2010.

“Dead Man Walking,” A film by Tim Robbins, 1995.

“The Way,” A film by Emilio Estevez, 2010.

“Spotlight,” A film by Thomas McCarthy & Josh Singer, 2015.



Selected Readings:


John L. Allen, Jr., The Global War on Christians – Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (New York: Image, 2013).


Peter J. Boyer, “The Big Tent – Billy and Franklin Graham, “ New Yorker, August 22, 2005.


Joseph P. Chinnici, When Values Collide: The Catholic Church, Sexual Abuse, and the Challenge of Leadership (New York: Orbis Books, 2010).


Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010).


Stewart M. Hoover, Religion in the Media Age (London: Routledge, 2006) pg. 26-44.


Austen Ivereigh, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope  (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).


Chris Lowney, Pope Francis – Why He Leads the Way He Leads (Chicago, Ill: Loyola Press, 2013).


Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion with Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szlarek, editors. (Toronto, Canada: Stoddart Publishing, 1999).


Joseph S. Nye, Jr., The Powers to Lead  (New York, N.Y.: Oxford, 2008).


Olivier Roy, Holy Ignorance: When Religion & Culture Part Ways (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pgs. 187-214.


Michael A. Russo, “The Church, the Press & Abortion: Catholic Leadership & Public Communication,” Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1991.


Malise Ruthvan, Islam in the World, 3rd Edition, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), pgs 1-26;352-430.


Robert A. White, S.J. “The Media, Culture & Religion,” Communication Research Trends (Vol.62-2007), pages 3-24.



Basis for final grade:


Active participation in class discussion; students will be assigned two book reports, and four brief film critiques for the purpose of forwarding class conversation about religion, media and culture.


Additionally, there will be a short paper or essay of your choice. For example, I will encourage student topics that would focus on an issue of religion or the Church in the news; an interview with a major writer or religious/media figure; or an innovative form of religious practice or religious journalism. This will be due in final completed form by the last class session.


A final examination will ask students to evaluate the course, and provide critical analysis of the readings, the class lectures/discussions, and comments on the invited guest speakers.


Book Reports – 10 points each = 20 points.

Film Critiques – 5 points each = 20 points.

Short Essay – 20 points.

Final Evaluative Exam – 40 points.

Total point = 100 points.

And, of course, there is ample opportunity for “extra credit” as you witness and reflect on your experiences of Rome and its “religious culture.”


Grading Scale

93-100: A

90-92:   A-

87-89:   B+

83-86:   B

80-82:   B-

77-79:   C+

73-76:   C

70-72:   C-

65-69:   D+

60-64:   D

59 or lower: F



GPA Scale

Letter grades and plus/minus indicators (suffixes) are used by instructors to indicate a student's quality of achievement in a given academic course.  The letter grades A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, F, WF are assigned the following credit points for purposes of grade point average (GPA) calculations:

A = 4.0

A- = 3.67

B+ = 3.33

B = 3.00

B- = 2.67

C+ = 2.33

C = 2.00

C- = 1.67

D+ = 1.33

D = 1.00

F = 0

WF = 0


Learning outcomes:


By the end of this course students will have a cognitive framework for critical thinking about religion, media and culture; and tools for assessing the quality of reflection about religion and its practice today; knowledge of the routines of news gathering and reporting about religion; and a careful reading of the ideas, practices and texts that comprise religious organizations. 


With the production of a short paper, book & film reviews, final exam students will develop their own points of view and the practice theological and press/media analysis.


Overall, this course with book reports, film critiques, short paper and final evaluative exam will expect students to write twenty-five pages of carefully crafted and edited text.     


Attendance Policy:


“Class time is class time.” You are to be on time, and not leave before class is completed for the day. You have at most one class of possible absence due to illness or “family emergence.” This must be documented. Your travel schedule should be accommodated to your class time, not the reverse. Please see me beforehand should you have any conflicts. I keep a very accurate accounting of class attendance. I will seek your withdrawal from the course – should your attendance become a problem for you.


Special Accommodation:


Students with documented disabilities who wish to discuss academic accommodations should contact me and the Senior Academic Services Advisor the first week of class.