Not to be confused with the former NFL linebacker, William “Bill” Romanowski is a nationally recognized scholar and award-winning commentator on the intersection of religion and popular culture. He is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College where he teaches courses in film and media studies.
Self-described as “a working-class kid who got a Ph.D.,” Bill grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania playing football and rock’n’roll. After earning an undergraduate degree in literature, he embarked on an unusual career path. While working for a campus ministry, he produced a multi-media show playing a character who shared his story growing up in post-World War II America—from the New Frontier and Vietnam to Woodstock and Watergate. Performing at venues in the United States and Canada, he mixed in medleys on piano and guitar, recalling the sounds that reflected that tumultuous era: blues and country, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, disco, punk, and New Wave. He says he decided to hang it up when he overheard his young son tell someone that his father made a living “pretending he was Elvis Presley.” Looking back, it was the research for this creative live show that sparked his interest in American history and popular culture.
Bill earned his Ph.D. in American Culture Studies from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He began his tenure at Calvin College as a research fellow in the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship. A resulting collaborative publication, Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture and the Electronic Media, was endorsed by legendary journalist Bill Moyers. “Believers of every faith,” Moyers wrote, “will find Dancing in the Dark a source of revelation and provocation as they try to make sense of contemporary American culture.”
Critics commended Bill’s book, Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life, as “remarkably balanced” and “a stunning portrait of the interplay of religion and popular culture. His Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture won the ECPA Gold Medallion Award. A three-part DVD series based on Eyes Wide Open earned an Aegis Award and a Communicator Award of Distinction.
Known as a lively and entertaining lecturer, Bill has been invited to speak at a range of venues around the world including professional conferences, endowed lectureships, colleges and universities, film and music festivals. His books, journal essays, and popular articles have been read and commented on by scholars, critics, film and television producers, and generally educated readers. Perhaps that’s why he was described in the program at a British rock festival as “an all-round brainy geezer and lovely with it,” which he says he came to understand was actually a compliment.
Bill received the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and Faculty Research Award for research on his latest book, Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies. Published by Oxford University Press, this reassessment of Protestant-Hollywood relations has been called “authoritative,” “pathbreaking,” “remarkably fresh, significant, and fascinating.” A Christianity Today critic remarked, “Film history has dealt Protestants a bad hand, and Romanowski’s meticulously researched book is a valuable contribution to a richer narrative, one that recognizes the profound contribution that Protestants have made to the shape of the American film industry.”
Since 1988, Bill and his family have lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he now watches football and listens to rock music. He is on the editorial boards of Popular Music and Society and the Calvin College Press, and continues his teaching, research and writing on film and religion.