UNO is no stranger to international engagement, but just a few weeks ago, it took another step toward becoming a world leader in expanding discussion and knowledge around the world.
Faculty from UNO’s Religious Studies program made their way to Istanbul, Turkey from May 21 through May 24 to take part in the 2015 International Conference on Religion and Film – it is the world’s first conference dedicated solely to film and religion, and it all started in our own backyard.
It was just last year that UNO professor Bill Blizek, who is considered a world leader on the subject of film and religion, put together the very first conference. Scholars from all over the world gathered at the Peter Kiewit Institute to present research on what film can tell us about religion – and vice versa.
In its second year, the UNO-sponsored conference took place at Marmara Üniversitesi in Istanbul. Blizek said they received over 400 proposals from 28 countries and narrowed it down to around 100 papers, which will be published as a book. There were also 350 guests in attendance.
Participating scholars came from all corners of the globe, with presenters hailing from the following countries: Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, England, Finland, India, Ireland, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States.
Along with Blizek, UNO professors Gloria Epps and Paul Williams served as chairs at one of the sessions. Another UNO professor, Kristian Petersen, presented a paper entitled “For God and Country: Muslims in Cinematic.”
The conference is an outgrowth of the UNO’s very successful online journal, the Journal of Religion and Film, which Blizek helped launch in the 1990s alongside fellow religious studies professor Ron Burk, who passed away in 2002.
Over the years, the Journal of Religion and Film has published scores of articles on films that cover nearly every genre, religion and language, including Oscar winners like “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and even “Avatar.”
Such articles inspired Turkish professor Bilal Yourlmaz, who helped Blizek coordinate this year’s conference, to come to UNO as a visiting scholar.
“My decision to come to UNO depends on that journal,” Yourlmaz says. “I found many institutions — some in New York and some in Edinburgh and Australia — but I decided to come here because of that journal. I figured that if they have a journal it means they are taking this seriously.”
In 2013-2014, Dr. Yorulmaz studied religion and film at UNO under the mentorship of Dr. Blizek. He suggested the move to Marmara Üniversitesi in Istanbul as a way to attract a larger number of scholars. With nearly 500 attendees, the conference experienced massive growth in its second year.
Yorulmaz thinks Dr. Blizik may have started something big. “I think this field will be so popular in 10 to 20 years,” he said.
“There has never been anything like this before,” Blizek says. “There are sessions at the American Academy of Religion where they talk about religion and film … but this is the first time [a conference] has been devoted to religion and film.”