Religion and Film

IST 3053, Religion and Film

Winter 2021


Instructor: Jeffrey Mahan

contact: jmahan@ilff.ed

The Last Temptation of Christ at 30: how Scorsese's drama still soars |  Martin Scorsese | The Guardian


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.


All Students :


The assigned films are listed in the syllabus and in the course calendar below. You will need to have access to the assigned films and 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. These films are not usually 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 even find on YouTube. But be cautious, downloads from free sites sometimes come with a virus and usually raise copyright infringement issues. I encourage you to use Netflix or another source with clear rights to distribute the film.

Even if you have seen a film in the past, please view each film in the week or two before the class discussion so that your impressions are fresh. It will strongly increase your ability to analyze the films if you see them more than once. In some cases, there are several films available with similar titles so pay attention to the directors and dates to be sure you come to class ready to discuss the appropriate film.


David Bordwell, Kirstin Thompson, and Jeff Smith, Film Art , 12 th Edition, (2020) New York: McGraw Hill. The classic introduction to film study is lavishly illustrated and the examples and arguments are regularly updated. It is a bit pricy, depending on format it can run as high as $125.00. You will find cheaper used, or text-book rental copies of the current edition.  An even cheaper option is to get the 11th Edition. Your pagination won’t quite match what I have listed, and you won’t get some updates, but it is fine to get the cheaper 11 th edition. If you shop online, you should be able to get a good used or digital copy in the range of $30.00.

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. $40.00.

Plus, some essays and reviews, links provided in Canvas.

Doctoral Students (In addition to the books above):

Lyden, John C., Film as Religion: Myths, Morals and Rituals , 2 nd edition (2019) NY: New York University Press. 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. The updates are significant, get the 2 nd edition. $25.00

Martin, Joel W., and Conrad E. Ostwalt Jr. Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth and Ideology in Popular American Film , Boulder: Westview Press, 1995. 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 particular attention to race, class, and gender. $27.00

Note: Unless otherwise noted, the costs for books given above are for paperbacks ordered through Amazon. There are typically also Kindle versions and used copies available for these texts.

Click on the syllabus for information about assignments and a calendar of screenings, readings, and topics. Click on the grading rubric for further direction on expectations, points, and grades.

Navigating this Canvas Course:

The Canvas site makes accessing course information fairly simple.

Click on the syllabus above for a downloadable description of class assignments,

grades and expectations, and a day-by-day outline of the course. All the class sessions,

and links to post assignments, etc, appear below in the Course Summary. Thus they will

turn up in your personal calendar .  You can click on those links at any time, responses are due

by the end of the day that the activity appears in the calendar. Together, the syllabus and

the calendar should give you access to everything you need for the class.

I will communicate with you in a variety of ways. In addition to posting

short video comments, I will participate in the discussions, provide a brief individual

response at the end of each week, comment on your assignments and make

class announcements that will come to your email. Canvas allows you to respond to

feedback, announcements, and so forth. However, it is not always clear to me

that you have done so. I encourage you to email me at for a timely

response. I am always happy to set a time for a phone or Zoom call.

Jeffrey Mahan

Jan 05, 2021TueIntroductions and Syllabus reviewdue by 06:59AM
Jan 06, 2021WedDiscussion, Film Art, Chapter One "Film as Art: Creativity, Technology, and Business"due by 06:59AM
Jan 07, 2021ThuReading Discussion: Religion and Film Reader (RFR) Wright, "Religion and Film"due by 06:59AM
Jan 08, 2021FriViewing Discussion: "Calvary"due by 06:59AM
Jan 09, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 13, 2021WedReligion and Film, Zoom Call, 1:00 - 2:15PM (Mountain Standard Time)due by 06:59AM
Jan 14, 2021ThuReading Discussion: Schrader on Diary of a Country Priest and Bird "Film as Hierophany"due by 06:59AM
Jan 15, 2021FriViewing Discussion: Of God's and Mendue by 06:59AM
Jan 16, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 20, 2021WedReading Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 2, "The Significance of Film Form"due by 06:59AM
Jan 21, 2021ThuReading Discussion: The Dawn of Cinema - Advocates and Detractorsdue by 06:59AM
Jan 22, 2021FriViewing Discussion, "Jesus of Montreal"due by 06:59AM
Jan 23, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Jan 27, 2021WedReading Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 3, "Narrative Form"due by 06:59AM
Jan 28, 2021ThuReading and Discussion: RFR, Wisenfeld, "Projecting Blackness" due by 06:59AM
Jan 29, 2021FriViewing Discussion, Hallelujah!due by 06:59AM
Jan 30, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 03, 2021WedReligion and Film, Zoom meeting, 1:00 to 2:15PM (Mountain Standard Time)due by 06:59AM
Feb 04, 2021ThuClose Analysis of "Babette's Feast"due by 06:59AM
Feb 04, 2021ThuReading Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 4, "The Shot: Mise-en-Scene"due by 06:59AM
Feb 05, 2021FriViewing Discussion, Babette's Feastdue by 06:59AM
Feb 06, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 10, 2021WedReading Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 5, "The Shot: Cinematography" due by 06:59AM
Feb 11, 2021ThuReading Discussion: RFR Martin, "Religion, Myth, and Ideology ..." and Doctoral Student Presentationdue by 06:59AM
Feb 12, 2021FriViewing Discussion, Dekalog, episode 1, "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods"due by 06:59AM
Feb 13, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 17, 2021WedReading Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 6, "The Relationship of Shot to Shot: Editing" due by 06:59AM
Feb 18, 2021ThuView and Discuss: Brief Intros to Islam due by 06:59AM
Feb 19, 2021FriView and Discuss: Children of Heavendue by 06:59AM
Feb 20, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Feb 24, 2021WedZoom Session, 1:00 to 2:15 MSTdue by 06:59AM
Feb 25, 2021ThuReading and Discussion: Film Art, Chapter 8, "Summary: Style and Film Form" due by 06:59AM
Feb 26, 2021FriView and Discuss: A Separationdue by 06:59AM
Feb 27, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 03, 2021WedDoctoral student presentation and reading discussion: Lyden, Film as Religiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 04, 2021ThuView and Discuss: Brief intros to Buddhismdue by 06:59AM
Mar 04, 2021ThuReading and Discussion: RFR Cho, "Imagining Nothing and Imagining Otherness in Buddhist Films"due by 06:59AM
Mar 05, 2021FriView and Discuss: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Springdue by 06:59AM
Mar 06, 2021SatUpload Research Paperdue by 06:59AM
Mar 06, 2021SatReturn to the week's discussiondue by 06:59AM
Mar 10, 2021WedView and Discuss: The Big Lebowskidue by 06:59AM
Mar 12, 2021FriClosing Discussiondue by 06:59AM