Religion and Film

IST 3053, Religion and Film

Spring 2019, Tuesday, 1:00 to 4:30P

Iliff Hall  I-205 (Bartlett)

Instructor: Jeffrey Mahan


Image result for religious boycotts of Last Temptation of Christ


In this course, students explore the interactions of religion and film. Learning goals include demonstrating:

  1. Develop a basic “film literacy,” the ability to recognize and interpret a movie’s visual composition, aural elements, and narrative structures.
  2. Ability to theologically analyze film as a distinct form of religious art.
  3. Ability to think about film as a cultural artifact through which implicitly and explicitly religious figures, institutions, themes, and concerns are expressed and ritualized.
  4. Ability to use film as evidence in thinking about the structure, practice, and world view of different religious traditions.


Jolyon Mitchell and S. Brent Plate, The Religion and Film Reader (RFR) (2007) New York: Routledge. ($39.33) Key historical and contemporary essays on the relationship between religion and film from diverse cultures and religions.  Includes writings by film critics and theorists, religious leaders and religious and theological studies scholars.

Johnston, Robert K., Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue , (2000) Grand Rapids: Baker Books. ($18.19) Introduces film criticism, overview of the interaction of church and cinema, and clearly lays out ways of relating film and theology.  Rooted in a Christian world view the author also suggests ways in which the divine might be present in films that are not overtly Christian or clearly religious.

Plus, some essays and review, links indicated in syllabus.

Doctoral Students (In addition to the books above):

Lyden, John C., Film as Religion: Myths, Morals and Rituals , (2003) NY: New York University Press.  ($20.80) Builds a Geertzian definition of religion rooted in understandings of myth and ritual, and argues that film should be understood as a form of religion (not simply as another form of social discourse in dialogue with religion) and suggests that understandings of interreligious dialogue provide a model for the discussion of the interaction of film and more traditional forms of religion. Part Two applies the method developed to a series of popular genres. No attention is given to films overtly about religion.

Martin, Joel W. and Conrad E. Ostwalt Jr. Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth and Ideology in Popular American Film , Boulder: Westview Press, 1995. ($28.20) Draws distinctions between theological criticism rooted in Christian assumptions, mythic criticism rooted in cross cultural archetypal studies, and ideological criticism which explores how myths affect society – with particularly attention to race, class and gender.

Note: The costs for books noted above are for paperbacks ordered through Amazon. There are also Kindle versions and used copies available for these texts.

FILMS: Click the syllabus for a list of films to be viewed and discussed in class. You will need to have access to the assigned films in order to view them outside of class. All of the films, which will be our primary texts for discussion and analysis, are available through Netflix.  For most students this is the easiest way to have reliable access to the films. Many of these films are not available through Netflix for live streaming, so you will need to have – at least for a few months - a plan that allows for mail delivery of a DVD. They are also available from a variety of other rental sources, some you may find in your local library or on YouTube. But be cautious, downloads from free sites sometimes come with a virus and usually raises copyright infringement issues. I encourage you to use Netflix or another source with clear rights to distribute the film.

Click on the syllabus for information about assignments and a calendar of screenings, readings, and topics. Click here for the grading scale .

Masters Student Groups

4/9 Jesus of Montrea l: Paul Grossman, Alex Tomkin, David Akito

4/16, Hallelujah! , Courtney Robinson, Stefanie Fajardo, Tonya Cavallar

5/6 Children of Heaven : May Raynard, Emmet Altsman, Javon Bracy

NOTE: Week Five, the course will meet online.

Below you will find links for those discussions

and to post your final paper.

Apr 03, 2019WedSchrader Reading on Bresson, Diary of a Country Priestdue by 05:59AM
Apr 10, 2019WedMahan, Celuloid Saviordue by 05:59AM
Apr 23, 2019TueClose Analysis of "Babette's Feast"due by 05:59AM
Apr 24, 2019WedDiscuss, Babette's Feastdue by 05:59AM
Apr 25, 2019ThuDiscuss, "Responding to Movies Theologically"due by 05:59AM
Apr 26, 2019FriDiscuss, Podle, "Feasting with Lutherans"due by 05:59AM
May 01, 2019WedMichael Willmington and Roger Ebert, on Kieslowski's Decalogue due by 05:59AM
May 07, 2019TueAnnie Gregory on Majid Majid and the New Iranian Cinemadue by 05:59AM
May 08, 2019WedVery Brief Intros to Islam - skip Kiarostami reading in The Religion and Film Reader. due by 05:59AM
May 14, 2019TueRecent article on this week's film maker Asghar Farhadidue by 05:59AM
May 22, 2019WedResearch Paperdue by 05:59AM
May 29, 2019WedNicholas Cage interview with Paul Schrader on First Reformeddue by 05:59AM