"Religion, Theology and Film
in a Postmodern Age: 
A Response to John Lyden"


by Clive Marsh


1. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz eds. Explorations in Theology and Film (Oxford and Malden: Blackwell 1997). Ch. 2 is entitled "Film and Theologies of Culture" (pp21-34); here esp. pp24-28.

2. Even if religious believers are always in practice likely to view their theology/ies as "more than mere ideology", on an Althusserian reading of "ideology", theological discourse is simply a particular type of ideological discourse.

3. Ideology-critique is, in other words, inevitable (as John Lyden acknowledges). My question essentially revolves around the extent to which theology is a component part of that task (and responsibility) to be ideology-critical. What, for instance, are the theological components (be they Christian, Jewish or whatever) which contribute to the perceived need constantly to challenge hegemonic structures and discourses?

4. It is perhaps worth stating here that in response to a question I posed when the article was delivered as a paper at the AAR Meeting in San Francisco in November 1997, John Lyden stated firmly his opposition to the notion of any "monomyth". The question then presents itself as to which myths are acceptable and which not, and on what grounds.

5. Even accepting that "religion" may need to be defined very broadly by a scholar of religion (including e.g. sporting endeavour, therapies, aesthetic activity) I think this point is still defensible in both senses of the term: can be defended and is worth defending.

6. The question of institutional location - and of what is possible in different locations, in different places - is clearly also pertinent here, and will be touched on below.

7. Explorations in Theology and Film pp193-205, in which I discuss Shirley Valentine in relation to the Christian doctrine of the (holy) spirit.

8. ibid. p203; citing P. Strick’s review of the film in Monthly Film Bulletin 56, 1989, p346

9. This may actually have been useful, but in fairness to her, I’d have wanted to know a bit about some of the local forms of "church" before commending one to her!

10. I introduce this term in Explorations in Theology and Film p33.

11. A number of further observations are necessary here, however: 1) metaphors are rarely ever "mere metaphors"; 2) an author’s particular use would not wholly determine, and thus control, all subsequent interpretations of the term; therefore, 3) even if the author - in this case Stephen King - had intended no religious reference, he does not have the last word; an author cannot use an evidently theological term and then expect the theological references to be disregarded.

12. And the location of the story - in the USA - itself suggests that a Jewish or Christian reading might be expected, though here we are faced with that intriguing conundrum that one of the world’s most Christian countries is at the same time one of the most multi-faith.

13. The Penguin Dictionary of Religion ed. John R. Hinnells (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1984), pp135, 159, 173, 176, 201. There is no article on "redemption" as such. The article on "salvation" (p281) draws attention to the Judaeo-Christian origins of the technical use of the term, though notes its general applicability as "rescue or release from a state which is evil or imperfect".

14. To which one common response, of course, is: why do this? Why not just use the Bible? To venture into such territory - though important, and sadly necessary - would be to open a different discussion again.

15. See e.g. Arvind Sharma ed. Our Religions (HarperSanFrancisco 1993) and the profound piece on "Dialogue" by John Cobb Jr. in Death or Dialogue? From the Age of Monologue to the Age of Dialogue L. Swidler et al. (London SCM/ Philadelphia TPI 1990), pp1-18, esp. section V. "Dialogue, persuasion and conversion" (pp8-9).

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