Religion From the Recliner? Discovering Religious Values From Popular Television Programs

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Mazharul Haque

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


Religion has always played a major role in shaping the values of humans. Increasingly, popular culture artifacts, such as television, are performing many of the same functions as religion, and in some instances completely replacing it. The intersection of religion and popular culture artifacts is a place where people can form ideas and create meanings about the world in which they live. This dissertation is a textual analysis that examined six popular television programs that are secular in nature to see what, if any, religions/spiritual values, themes, or symbolisms are incorporated within the text and then compared those programs with two programs that are more religious in nature. The televisions programs selected for analysis include The Sopranos, ER, Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends, Spongebob Squarepants, Rugrats, Touched by an Angel , and 7th Heaven . How religion is defined and used in today's society was first established, followed by the definition and purpose of values. Thirteen values, both terminal and instrumental, from Rokeach's Value Survey that coincided with the values instilled by most religions were then selected and utilized as guidelines. Along with these thirteen values, all other religious themes or symbolisms present within the selected programs were noted. This dissertation examined what types of religious/spiritual messages and values are present within popular television programs, how these religious/spiritual messages and values are presented and in what settings they are used, as well as which particular religions are being depicted within the selected programs. By following these guidelines, I was able to determine that religious values and symbolisms are definitely present within a variety of popular television programs and that religion is not treated much differently in programs that are secular in nature compared to those that are more religious in nature.