Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals

Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals

Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals

Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals


"Lyden's book is well-written, insightful, and especially engaging for anyone who loves movies."- Religious Studies Review"..offers several new perspectives on this increasingly popular and gradually more critical area. It also is wellsuited for the religious studies classroom. Lyden's writing is clear, and he nicely describes some of the more difficult theories of religion in ways that are accessible to undergraduates. In fact, the next time I teach my course "Myth and Ritual on Film" I will assign Film as Religionbecause of its analogizing methods of showing how film does indeed function as religion in contemporary U.S. culture."- Journal of the American Academy of Religion "Lyden offers perceptive criticisms of some of the most influential ways of talking about myth." - Crisis Magazine

"Lyden lays an imrpessive and sound foundation for his vision: to provide a systematic method for connecting religion and film studies.... This is truly significant, immensely compelling, and dynamically provocative work. Essential." - Choice

Film as Religion argues that popular films perform a religious function in our culture. Like more formal religious institutions, films can provide us with ways to view the world and values to confront it. Lyden contends that approaches which interpret films only ideologically or theologically miss the mark in understanding their appeal to viewers. He develops an alternative method which shows how films can be understood as representing a "religious" worldview in their own right.Lyden surveys the state of the study of religion and film, offering an overview of previous methods before presenting his own. Rather than seeking to uncover hidden meanings in film detectable only to scholars, Lyden emphasizes how film functions for its audiences- the beliefs and values it conveys, and its ritual power to provide emotional catharsis. He includes a number of brief cases studies in which he applies this method to the study of film genres- including westerns and action movies, children's films, and romantic comedies- and individual films from The Godfather to E.T., showing how films can function religiously.


In recent years we have seen a surge of interest in religion and film studies. The study of religion and film is not exactly new, but there are a few reasons why the field is currently growing. For one thing, the availability of inexpensive VCRs has made classroom showings of movies much easier than it was in the days when one needed a 35 mm film projector and access to films in order to study them in a college classroom. Now anyone can walk into a video store and, for a few dollars, rent any of hundreds of movies made over the last seventy years. Religion professors, like teachers of many subjects, have noticed how easy it is to incorporate the discussion of films into their courses, and students obviously appreciate such use of popular media.

But there is obviously more to it than that. The growing interest in film also indicates a growing appreciation for the role that technological media play in our lives, from teLévision to computers. We are beginning to realize that we cannot understand or interpret our society except in its relation to these unavoidable additions to it. Some welcome them and some fear them, but they are here to stay.

Scholars of religion are also more interested in interdisciplinary study than they used to be, when they were more comfortable to remain in their isolated fields. Today, there is a greater awareness of academic fields that study the surrounding culture, including popular culture studies such as those regarding film. The study of popular culture itself has also evolved in recent decades, so that there is more for this newer field to share with the older areas of academic study.

Given the fact that film has now been recognized as part of the modern culture with which religions will inevitably interact, a wide range of approaches has been suggested, all of which seek, in one way or another, to relate the study of religion to that of film. There is no real consensus about what approach religion scholars should take to film, but almost all agree . . .

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