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"Wonderful", "Hot", "Good" Priests: Clergy on Contemporary British TV and the New Visibility of Religion Thesis

Crome, Andrew (2020) "Wonderful", "Hot", "Good" Priests: Clergy on Contemporary British TV and the New Visibility of Religion Thesis. Religions, 11 (1). ISSN 2077-1444

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Abstract

This article examines the “new visibility of religion” thesis through a case study of recent depictions of priests and ministers in British television drama and comedy. It focuses on four award-winning shows produced between 2009-2019 with clergy as central characters: Broadchurch, Broken, Fleabag and Rev. Clergy on these shows are depicted positively, in ways that contrast with portrayals in the 1990s and earlier 2000s. The shows demonstrate an active sympathy for, and engagement with, theological themes, and awareness of the important social role that clergy play in inner-city parishes. While some elements of these depictions support the idea of a “new visibility”, at the same time they reiterate narratives of continuing religious decline in Britain. Rather than unproblematically celebrate faith, the shows use religion to critique neoliberal welfare policy and sacralise notions of community. This “new visibility” is also shown to contribute to the continued invisibility of some religious viewpoints in the media. This article concludes that despite these limitations, recent portrayals of clergy offer new opportunities for religious debate and conversation, particularly within media and fan commentary.

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