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Reviewed by:
  • The Religion and Film Reader
  • George Pattison
Jolyon Mitchell and S. Brent Plate. 2007. The Religion and Film Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 470, Pb, £21.99. DOI: 10.3366/E1354990108020078

Theologians and students of religion are taking an increasing interest in film, and one can now speak of what the editors call 'the emergent interdisciplinary field of "religion and film"' (p. 5). For those who welcome this development and are using it in their own teaching, this Reader will be welcome. Some of the selections were predictable, but also necessary. There would have had to be something on The Passion of the Christ [End Page 94] (a discussion ably provided by the editors themselves), and one would have expected appropriate attention to such film artists as Dreyer, Bresson and Scorsese. The Reader covers such basics with a good selection of contributions that includes 'classic' writers on film and interviews with important film-makers as well as more obviously theological or Religious Studies discussions. Where the Reader goes over and above the call of duty, however, is in fulfilling the editors stated intention 'to historicise and globalise the scholarly approaches to religion and film' (p. 5). Important early sources (including Pius XI's 1936 encyclical affirming the 'Legion of Decency') show how an agenda of 'for' or 'against' (wholesome recreation versus sex-and-violence) was constructed in the first half-century of film. In global terms, we are treated not only to a nod in the direction of the Indian film industry, but to illuminating chapters on Ghanaian video films, the stabbing of Santa in Bethlehem, and many other glimpses of the extraordinarily cultural diversity of what 'film' actually means. Leading contributors to the recent theology and religious studies literature are given their say, and, for this reader, the one that most touched on what happens in the great moments of film experience is Nathaniel Dorsky, when he writes of film as devotion, saying 'Devotion . . . is born out of the vastness and depth of our view. Out of darkness, behind all light, this vastness . . . reveals our world. It is accurate and humbling and yet, for all its pervasiveness, it is not solid' (p. 414). There is a lot to think about there, and it is just a micro-sample of all that is to be found in this milestone collection. [End Page 95]

George Pattison
Christ Church, Oxford University


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pp. 94-95
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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