Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Curriculum for social communication

How could a Curriculum for Communication in seminary education look like?

1. It first has to be stated again, that there is the basic need for communication formation on the
human and spiritual level. This is not done with a course alone but through the whole
formation program and an open communicative atmosphere in a seminary. The three basic
steps of human and Christian communication, to go, to embrace and immerse and to lift up
(cf. Mk 1,31) are not only taught but practiced in daily life. If especially at the beginning of
theological studies an introductory course could be given to make the students more aware of
the basics of this human/Christian communication it would set the tone for all the following
studies and activities in theology. In fact, I am teaching such a course since almost 20 years at
the Divine Word School of Theology in Tagaytay, Philippines. Every school year the
students of the first year of theology have in the first semester an obligatory course
“Introduction to Social Communication” where we talk mainly about human communication,
the theological dimension of communication and only in passing about the basics of media
and group communication. (This is reflected in the textbook we use: “Communicating in
Community,” where the first two chapters are more extensively covered, whereas the others
are given only in the basics as far as time allows.)

2. We can not escape the fact, that the modern world is a world of communications. Pope John
Paul II calls the world of communication “the first ‘areopagus’ of the modern age which is
unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a ‘global village’. The means of
social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of
information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals,
families and within society at large. In particular the younger generation is growing up in a
world conditioned by the mass media.” (Encyclical Redemptoris Missio 1990, 37c) This
requires from every theology student more than from others the ability of critically seeing and
using the means of communication in daily life. It is the purpose of Media or Communication
Education to bring this basic knowledge and develop a critical mind especially in young
people. It actually should be an obligatory course and training already on the high school and
college level. Such education introduces into the workings of modern media, their structures,
means and methods. It shows e.g. the basic elements of a news item, how the different radio
and TV programs are produced but also how communication companies are structured and
try to exercise power in conquering the mind and taste of people for their purposes…

3. After this basic training there is a need for a special course on pastoral communication
especially in the later development of theological studies: how to communicate in Ministry
and Mission. How do the modern means of communication influence and determine those
people we live with and we are to care for? How can we make good use of these means in
our ministry to serve the needs of people better and bring them nearer to the Lord? The
people we work with are living in a world determined by the media and even we are
consciously or unconsciously part of it ourselves. How can we let the Holy Spirit come into
such a situation? The same holds also for those ministries, who serve people from or in other
cultures. Our communication has to adjust and be determined by these cultures because it is
always the recipient who is the ‘basis’ for our decision making and our communication
approach. Jesus starts with the life and concerns of the people. We have to do the same in our

4. In addition to these basic courses and approaches for every seminarian there should be also
some offers for more specialized courses, especially for students with greater interest and
some communication capabilities of their own. Thus there could be a film-club as a regular
activity where seminarians once or twice a month watch a movie, discuss the content,
methods in presenting the story and a critical evaluation. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony from
Los Angeles has written 1992 a “Pastoral letter for Film Makers, Film Viewers: their
challenges and opportunities” (cf. Eilers: Church and Social Communication. Basic
Documents. Manila 1997) which could be very helpful for such an activity. Talented
seminarians could also themselves practice radio and television productions or become part
of such either on their own or in existing companies. Journalistic practices can be developed
and taught. When I was a seminarian we had a “Press-group” where we wrote news items and
articles for existing newspapers and periodicals; they were printed and published and we were
very proud of it. Many of us saw our names printed for the first time…
Today we have new communication and information technologies. How are we going to ‘use’
them in our ministry and how can they help? What’s about E-vangelism, cyber-missionaries or
similar activities and possibilities?
Other fields like Media or Communication Ethics should also not be overlooked. They can be
part of Moral Theology but really would need a broader study in our times.

5. The need for serious research in the field of social communication and theology has also to
be mentioned here. When Pope John Paul II talks about the “new areopagus” he also
mentions that there is now a “new culture”. This culture “originates not just from whatever
content is eventually expressed, but from the very fact that there exist new ways of
communicating, with new languages, new techniques and a new psychology.” Such a
situation calls for deeper research and study which is very often missing in our Christian
communication activities. We very often live and work more according to trial and error than
based on serious study and research. This is not only a call on theological faculties or other
specialized bodies. Also seminary students should be involved in research and looking deeper
into issues. They can be encouraged to write respective papers or even do their thesis on a
communication related subject. They can be involved in surveys to discover a certain
communication situation. Thus I did two years ago with my students a study on how young
people in the areas around the theological school and in some parts of Manila use and see
modern media in their lives. Unfortunately we have only very few scientific publications
specializing in this field. It is high time that we go deeper to explore the ‘market’ but also to
see better the different possibilities for God’s Word in our time.
Following an initiative from our FABC Office of Social Communication where we – also with
the help of WACC! – called a group academicians from different Asian countries in 1999 to start
at St. John’s University in Bangkok an “Asian Research Center for Religion and Social
Communication” (ARC). It is supposed to be a clearing house, to collect and disseminate relevant
information, and animate people to explore the relationship between Social Communication and
Religion. And this is not for Christianity only but for all religions. It is not only Christianity
which lives in a new modern communication society. Also other religions are in many ways
affected by modern developments in communication! ARC recently started a scientific journal,
which should contribute to the concern.
What are we to do?
There is a certain sequence already in the programs proposed. But this is not done just with
adding new courses. More important is to change our own and other peoples mind-set. In the
spirit of the Jesuit considerations mentioned above we must see that social communication is not
only a specialized field but rather the “air we breathe” and the “water we swim in.” Right from
our upbringing we are influenced and to quite an extent determined by the ways and means of
communicating in our own cultures but also by the modern means of communication, which
today even go beyond the mass media. We can not live without Internet any more. What are the
pastoral and theological consequences of this fact? This question has to be answered first and
foremost by seminary professors but also by every seminarian.
The task before us is great but urgent. There is no time any more to be lost and we should begin
here and now to change and slowly adjust our mind-set to the realities of this ‘new culture’ with
“new ways of communicating, with new languages, new techniques and a new psychology.”
(John Paul II)

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