Religion in Contemporary American Film

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RELG 325


Dr. Ronald Green       Office: AOC2 332            Phone: 349-2782
           Office hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays 8:30-9:15 and 10:50-12:05

Course Description:

A critical study of religious beliefs and religious practices as seen through the lens of film. Students will view contemporary American films and film clips through the eyes of religious studies. Through movies, the course examines religion and culture, religious symbols, and the genre of religion and film.

Course Objectives:

In the process of this study, student will come to

1. think critically about representations of religions in film;

2. broaden their understanding of the term “religious” and realize its significance in the plot, narrative, and imagery of films;

3. foster insights into other perspectives through a careful examination of one’s own thinking.

Student Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this course, students will have

1. demonstrated knowledge of the beliefs, practices, narratives and important persons associated with   
    major religious traditions of the world.

2. expressed themselves on issues concerning representations of religions in film.

3. fostered appreciation of global diversity through understanding how religions contribute to and are
    affected by individual and collective behaviors.

4. gained knowledge of the cultures, languages and social structures of other countries of the world        
    (Goal 5B of the CCU Core Curriculum).

Required Texts:

The reading materials for our course consists entirely of academic articles available at the following internet sites plus two handouts. (See Schedule of Courses below for specific readings.)


1. Three Tests and a Final Examination

There will be three tests and a final examination (see Schedule of Classes below for dates). Each if these is worth 20% of the final grade for the term. The Final Examination will be the same format and length as the three tests. Each of these (including the Final) will be on of the four sections of the course, as listed below. The tests and the final exam will consist of thirty questions. Twenty of these will be multiple choice and ten will be short answer. The short answer questions will be grade on the basis of how well the student demostrates familiarity with the readings and films as well the quality/depth of independent reflection on these.

2. In-class Group Presentation

The class will be divide into groups of between three and five students for the purpose of group presentations. Eight films will be shown in this class and each group should choose one of these films, not to be duplicated by another group. The group presentation is worth 20% of the final grade for the term. All students in the group will receive the same grade, unless a problem student is identified within the group. Groups will have an entire 50-minute class session to present. Group members may decide among themselves what portion of the session should be used for the presentation and how best to present. Presentations should include the following content but do not have to be limit to this.

  movie camera icon a.   A summary or in-depth treatment of the religion under consideration or some aspect of it.
  movie camera icon b.   A summary or in-depth treatment of the film under consideraton in terms of the religion.
  movie camera icon c.   An analysis/critique of the film in terms of representations of religion.
  movie camera icon d.   A reflection on representations of relgion/s in the film, for example, what it could have done better.

  Note: Students may use the assigned readings and/or other academic sources to facilitate their presentation.

According to the above two points, grading for the course may be summarized as follows:

Test 1:
Test 2:
Test 3:
Group Presentation:
Final Exam:

Final Examination: Friday, December 9, 11:00 in our regular classroom

*Attendence Policy: Students who miss 25% of classes (excused or unexcused) will receive a grade of 'F' for the term.

Schedule of Classes:

Monday, August 22: Introductory meeting: What are we doing in this course and why. Methodological and other issues in this course.

1. Indian Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism

Week 1:
August 22-26




 Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, 2008, 82 minutes)

Reading: "Review of Sita Sings the Blues" in Journal of Religion and Film


"Sins against Sita: A review of SITA SINGS THE BLUES" at

Week 2:
August 29-September 2
Reading: "The Ramayana, A Summary" by Stephen Knapp

Week 3:
September 7-9

Monday, September 5, 2016
Labor Day holiday
no classes

The Big Lebowski (1998, Coen brothers, 117 minutes)
Reading: "The Dude and the Zen Master"
Week 4:
September 12-16
Reading: Basics of Buddhism: A Five Minute Introduction
Week 5:
September 19-23

Group Presentation

TEST 1 - Friday, September 23

2. Native American Spirituality and Japanese Shintō

Week 6:
September 26-30


Skins (Chris Eyre, 2002, 84 mins.)
Reading: Review by Roger Ebert

Week 7:
October 3-5

Friday, October 7
Student Holiday
no classes

Onmyōji (Yōjirō Takita, 2001, 116 minutes)
Reading: A handout will be provided.
Week 8:
October 10-14

Group Presentation

TEST 2 - Friday October 14

3. Chinese Religions: Confucianism, Daoism, Yin/Yang, and Five Elements

Week 9:
October 17-21
The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan, 2010, 1h 43min)
Reading: "The Yin Yang School" in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy by Wing Tsit Chan pages 244-51:
Week 10:
October 24-28
Reading: "The Lao Tzu (Tao-te ching) in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy by Wing Tsit Chan page 139-76.
Week 11:
October 31-November 4

Group Presentation


4. Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Week 12:
November 7-11


The Last Temptation of Christ (162 minutes)
Reading: "Jesus in Film: Hollywood Perspectiveson the Jewishness of Jesus" by Adele Reinhartz in Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 2, No. 2 October 1998

Week 13:
November 14-18

Reading: "Screening the Temptation: Interpretation and Indeterminacy in Cinematic Transformationsof a Gospel Story" by David B. Howell in Journal of Religion and Film, Vol. 11, No. 2 October 2007

Thanksgiving Break - Monday, November 21 through Saturday, November 26, 2016

Week 14:
November 28-December 2



Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001, 113 minutes)
Reading: A handout will be provided
Review of Buddhism and American Cinema by Ronald S. Green

Group Presentation

Week 15:
December 5-7

Children of Heaven (Majid Majidi, 1997, 89 minutes)
Reading: "Majid Majidi and New Iranian Cinema" by Annie Gregory in Journal of Religion and Film

Final Examination: Friday, December 9, 11:00 in our regular classroom

Contact information:

Ronald S. Green
office: AOC2 332           
           office hours:  Tuesdays & Thursdays 8:30-9:15 and 10:50-12:05 (Stop by. Have some tea!)

phone: 349-2782