Monday, October 4, 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 time!

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.

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