Church, Drama, & the Cool Hand Luke Effect: The Decline of Mainline Churches in America
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In 1967, Warner Bros. released the film Cool Hand Luke and out of this film came one of the most famous quotes in the history of motion pictures: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” That same year marked the beginning of a slow decline in mainline Christian denominations in America, such as the United Methodist Church, despite the overall growth of Christianity. The purpose of this thesis is to present, explore, and evaluate one possible reason for this decline. Throughout American history, there is an interesting phenomenon in which the acceptance of Christian drama in America largely depended upon primary mass communication media being visual or image-centric. Therefore, this thesis hypothesizes that the decline of mainline Christian denominations can be attributed to a breakdown in communication between the church and American society as a whole; evidence of this communication breakdown can be found by simultaneously analyzing the history of advances in communication media, societal shifts along the left-brain/right-brain spectrum, and Christian drama. Due to the vastness of all that is “Christian drama,” the scope of this thesis is primarily limited to surveying the development of Christian drama in America. However, this thesis also examines the rise, evolution, and decline of the Corpus Christi York Cycle in medieval England so as to lay the groundwork for understanding the development of Christian drama in America. The decline of this immensely popular form of medieval Christian drama is one of the clearest examples of the Protestant Reformation’s effects in generating suspicions of and antagonism towards Catholicism. This suspicion would later influence the beliefs of sixteenth century Puritans and affect the creation of “American” values. The relationship between the church and theater would remain deeply antagonistic until well into the late nineteenth century. This animosity would eventually subside before the arrival of the twentieth century, particularly following the invention of film, which provided a new medium for Christian drama. The invention and diffusion of television is arguably the single greatest causative factor in the decline of mainline Christian denominations.
SubjectChristian Drama, Mass Communication Media, Theater, Silent Cinema, Invention, Image vs. Word
Purdy, Jennifer 1987- (2011). Church, Drama, & the Cool Hand Luke Effect: The Decline of Mainline Churches in America. Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from