Journal of Religion and Film
Reader Discussion

1. Studying Religion and Film

2. Interpreting The Rapture

  • Bill Blizek
  • R. D. Hohenfeldt

3. Lyden/Marsh Discussion (Religion, Film and Postmodernity)

  • John Lyden: Continuing the Conversation: A Response to Clive Marsh

4. Reassessing the Matrix


5.  Wake up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix

Bill Lyon

6. Star Wars

Andy Derksen

1. Studying Religion and Film

Maria C. Maisto

[1] I am delighted to find a publication relating the disciplines of religion and film. I also am delighted that the Journal (Journal of Religion and Film) encourages discussion about various topics in religion and film among its readers and authors. I would like to take advantage of this feature of the Journal by posing the following question. I look forward to responses from your readers.

[2] How does one navigate simultaneously in the twin oceans of religious studies and film studies? Why is there so little enthusiasm for studying the intersection of religion and film, compared with religion and philosophy? To what degree is it necessary to be fluent in both film studies and religion? My own sense is that it is incumbent upon those of us who want to study religion and film to have much more than a passing knowledge of the major issues and methodologies of the relevant fields. Yet, how practical is this expectation, especially for the prospect of teaching in this field?


Bonnie Long responds (3 July 2003)

[3] "How does one navigate simultaneously the twin oceans of religious studies and film studies?" If one thinks of it in this way, then one would certainly wonder about this.  But there is only one ocean.  There is no need to navigate if one sees where one is going.  There is no basic difference in reviewing Religion and Film than reviewing Religion and Literature, or Religion and Music, or Religion and Art.  One simply needs to know what one is talking about.  This can often be problematic, as anyone can see from reading many reviews. 

[4] "Why so little enthusiasm?" Well, I would say there is little interest because there is little expertise.  That's about the size of it.

[5] "How can one be fluent in both?" Well, if I said it was akin to walking and chewing gum, I might be considered a philistine.  Horrors.  But there is some truth to that dictum.

[6] The best way that I can explain it is to quote the eminent author, teacher, lecturer, and mythologist Joseph Campbell, when asked why we should take up the study of mythology by Bill Moyers in the PBS series, "The Power of Myth".  His reply is my reply, and fits this to a veritable "T":

"My first response would be, "Go on, live your life, it's a good life--you don't need mythology."

"I don't believe in being interested in a subject just because it's said to be important.  I believe in being caught by it somehow or other.

"...One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit.  We're interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour.

"...once this subject catches you, there is such a feeling, from one or another of these traditions, of information of a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort that you don't want to give it up."1

[7] And so--I would recommend that if one has not been "caught" or "caught up" by such things, one will tend to write mechanically, superficially, and that is what is happening with all kinds of reviews.  Not that they are worthless, no, but one can always tell if the author of any kind of a review has had an inner "switch" turned on. 

[8] So many reviews I read are technical and mechanical.  But dead.  If the subject matter is a banal one, then this is certainly fine.  But when the subject matter is religion, spirituality, or mythology, and it is superficial or mechanical, then I say leave them and write your own.  Or, to put it another way, "Let the dead bury the dead."

[9] And then we arrive at the unavoidable problem of: interpretation.  There is not only interpretation of religious themes, but interpretation of the film or story.  This will always be present to some degree.  One can only do one's best to navigate that region of choppy seas.  Two persons can each write a brilliant review on the same film or story and have opposite views of everything.  But to me, this only improves the situation and makes it far more interesting.  If nobody is "right", then we can all breathe a sigh of relief. 

[10] But what do we do when a person is obviously wrong in reference to a religion? and this erroneous start-point only causes more error? Reviews still have to obey certain rules of organization and logic.  I would hope that this is one of the functions of the Editors.  Still, little things do creep in from time to time.

1. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Doubleday 1988

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or by e-mail, using JRF as the first characters in the subject line, to Paul A. Williams.

JR & F

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