Jesuit a pioneer in media literacy

Fr. John Pungente

Fr. John Pungente

July 7, 2014
RUANE REMY
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Jesuit Father John Pungente has been fighting media illiteracy for half a century, and for his work the Marshall McLuhan Initiative has awarded him and the Jesuit Communication Project its Medium and Light Award.

Pungente and the JCP were selected as this year's recipients of the award for "their longstanding dedication to media literacy in the tradition of Marshall McLuhan's lament, 'I don't want them to believe me. I just want them to think,'" said Howard Engel, director of the McLuhan Initiative.

The Marshall McLuhan Initiative celebrates McLuhan, an Edmonton native, devout Catholic, English professor and communications visionary.

Pungente had the benefit of learning from McLuhan when he studied theology in Toronto.

THINK CRITICALLY

"My own sea of expertise has always been media literacy, teaching people to watch carefully and think critically. Our work is primarily education, either through classes at St. Mike's University or teacher's workshops or summer schools."

This year marks Pungente's 54th year of teaching media literacy in one form or another. The JCP began 30 years ago with a staff of five full-time and two part-time employees to work with Canadian churches in the area of communications.

Today, Pungente is the executive and sole member, but has no desire to cease his work. He teaches media and religion at the University of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto and in August will run a two-day workshop for deacons.

The main misconception about media literacy is the belief that it's about protecting people from the media, instead of preparing them, he said.

"Many people still believe in a protectionist theory that media literacy is there to protect children from the evils of the media, including the Internet.

"The reality is that media literacy is not meant as a protection, but as preparation that gives people the tools that will allow them to understand and live properly in the mass-mediated world of ours."

GOD IN THE DARK

Pungente has co-authored with fellow Jesuit Father Monty Williams books about media and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, such as Finding God in the Dark: Taking the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to the Movies.

Pungente also wrote, co-produced and hosted national TV programs on film for teachers on BRAVO!. He also runs www.igNation.ca, the blog for the English Canadian Jesuits.

He hopes, along with Williams, to present the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in the form of an app or video game.