Rainn Wilson Speaks on Religion and Media

By Michael Tseng

Outside the steps of USC Bovard Auditorium, a line of students spanning nearly 150 feet stood anxiously, awaiting the arrival of Rainn Wilson, better known for his role as “Dwight Schrute” in the Emmy Award winning show, The Office.

Fans got an early sneak peek of Wilson as he made a surprise appearance outside the auditorium, riding on a golf cart as he passed by the line of crowding students. The venue became loud with fans screaming his name and taking photos on their phones.

“Black bear is best,” Wilson quoted from the show, eliciting loud cheering from the crowd.

Inside the auditorium, students were eager to get a closer look, and rushed to their seats, eventually making the venue a packed house.

The event was a collaboration between the Office of Religious Life, the Academic Cultural Assembly, the USC Speaker’s Committee, the USC Service Student Assembly, and the USC School of Cinematic Arts, who collaborated to invite Wilson as a featured speaker of EdMonth. According to Jeffrey Cho, assistant director of the Academic Culture Assembly, EdMonth is an event that focuses on educational justice and advocacy.

“They figured out a way to contact Rainn, who does a lot of work with SoulPancake,” Cho said. “A lot of his work focuses on topics related to spirituality and religiousness.”

Wilson’s primary purpose at the event was to talk about ways to integrate spirituality into college life, and to introduce his company, SoulPancake, a digital media and production firm that produces “smart, meaningful, shareable content,” and positive and inspirational videos. The company is growing with more than 200 million content views, and more than 85 hours of video created.

Moderator Varun Soni, the Dean of Religious life, gave a quick introduction to Wilson, who came onto the stage with punchlines referring to the recent USC admissions scandal.

“It’s so exciting that your parents were able to buy your way into the school,” joked Wilson.

Wilson had previously given the USC 2014 commencement speech, and expressed his admiration for the pillar of support he had seen in the university’s culture.

“USC has an unabashed faith-based core that works so harmoniously with your education,” Wilson said. “[USC] provides so much support to kids that are suffering in many ways.”

Following the introduction, Wilson began speaking about his early life and the beginning of his career, which was rooted in his religious faith and the beliefs he grew up with.

“As I’ve gone by, there have been some ideals that have been greatly prized that I was educated with,” Wilson said. “The idea that we are all one human family … that our differences are actually our strengths.”

Rainn Wilson started the company, SoulPancake, to create inspirational video content. The site has grown to have nearly 200 million total views, and aims to create uplifting content. (Photo/Pinterest)

According to Wilson, he was able to create SoulPancake due to his acting experience in The Office.

“I got to take my own personal, spiritual, psychological, and emotional journey… as an artist and actor,” Wilson said. “I got to create a media company that expressed who I am as a person.”

With The Office as a lead-in, Wilson began a conversation with Dean Soni regarding the success of the series, and how the importance of having a series resonate with the characters.

“[The Office] is about family. It’s a family you want to spend time with,” Winslow said. “They created one of the quirkiest, most original, but loving families out there.”

Wilson has similar sentiments, as he has had friends with similar natures during his childhood.

“The fruit doesn’t fall really far from the tree,” Wilson said. “I knew a lot of Dwight’s growing up.”

Wilson then discussed the status of social media, citing its ability to elicit negative emotions, such as disillusion towards one’s own life, yet also its positive connections, like the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

“Social media is certainly double-edged sword,” Wilson said. “[There is] a process of disintegration and process of integration. Some of the worst that humanity has ever done are happening right now… and some of the greatest things that have ever happened, in the history of the world are happening at the same time.”

Although there are negative effects to the emergence of social media, Winslow hopes to use SoulPancake to contribute positive content to the world.
After the conversation, the event opened to Q & A panel. One student wanted to know Wilson’s thoughts on the importance of finding a spot in a community, especially in a religious one.

“Part of what it is to be a human being is to be a communal person. We’re tribal, where we create communities, where we thrive in communities,” Wilson said. “But religion can provide community.”

Hana Liu, a freshman majoring in communications, said that Wilson’s speech sparked new thoughts about the importance of spirituality in everyday life.

“[The discussion] on spirituality opened my mind about.. how I am living a human experience as a human being,” Liu said. “I really related to his talk about social media and the pursuit for vanity that filled up the worst part of him.”

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