Season 3, Episode 2

Religion & Horror

It’s October, the time of year when Americans celebrate Halloween and indulge their fascination with all things haunted, hideous, and horrifying. And what’s a common theme in the monster movies and spirit possession thrillers that are so popular this time of year? Religion! Whether we’re reading novels by Stephen King, revisiting classic films likeThe Exorcist, or watching new television shows like Midnight Mass, religion is everywhere in the horror genre. It’s the source of inspiration for many of the characters, plots, and imagery that make horror so compelling. At the same time, many Americans learn about religious people, ideas, and practices through horror. Join us for a thought-provoking discussion with an interdisciplinary panel of experts who will help us understand the enduring power of religion and horror in American popular culture.

Host: Melissa Borja

Melissa Borja is Assistant Professor in the Department of American Culture and core faculty member in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program at University of Michigan. Dr. Borja researches and teaches about religion, migration, race, ethnicity, and politics in the United States and the Pacific World, with special attention to how Asian American religious beliefs and practices have developed in the context of pluralism and the modern American state. Her book Follow the New Way: Hmong Refugee Resettlement and Practice of American Religious Pluralism (Harvard) is forthcoming.

Andrea's full bio

Panelist: Douglas E. Cowan

Douglas E. Cowan is Professor of Religious Studies and Social Development at the University of Waterloo. He specializes in religion and film, television, and popular culture. His more recent works include Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen (Baylor), Sacred Space: The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television (Baylor), America’s Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King (NYUP), and Magic, Monsters, and Make-Believe Heroes: How Myth and Religion Shape Fantasy Culture (California University Press) . For many years he was a co-general editor of the premier journal of new religions study, Nova Religio, and chair of the New Religious Movements Group of the American Academy of Religion. He is a former Director of the Joint Laurier-Waterloo PhD Program in Religious Studies.


Douglas' full bio

Panelist: Erika Engstrom

Erika Engstrom is Director of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media. A nationally known gender and media scholar, Dr. Engstrom holds extensive administrative experience, having previously served as the associate dean of the multidisciplinary Greenspun College of Urban Affairs and as acting general manager of the campus radio station, KUNV-FM, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Areas of academic administrative expertise include enrollment management, event coordination, scholarships, and faculty development. She has published books and articles on the portrayal of gender, weddings, and religion in mass media including the book Television, Religion, and Supernatural: Hunting Monsters, Finding Gods (Rowman & Littlefield).


Erika's full bio

Panelist: W. Scott Poole

W. Scott Poole is Professor of History at the College of Charleston. Dr. Poole is the author or co-author of nine books, including Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (2011; revised edition 2018) that won the John Cawelti award for best textbook dealing with popular culture. He is a Bram Stoker Award nominee for his 2016 biography of H.P. Lovecraft, In the Mountains of Madness. His most recent book is Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror (2018) looks at the lives of directors, artists, and writers who collectively created the culture of contemporary horror.  Wasteland was chosen for “notable book” lists by The New York Post, The Toronto Free Star, and the Indie Booksellers“Indie Next” list. Poole’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, PopMatters, Jacobin, and People’s World,as well as in academic essay collections including, most recently, The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allan Poe (2019).

Scott's full bio

This event took place on October 20th, 2022.

Additional Resources

Check out additional resources for learning, teaching and watching.

Religion & Horror Teaching Resource

“Religion &”: Center Conversations on the State of Religion and the Current Moment

“Religion &” is a series of monthly conversations between leading academics and thinkers in multiple fields hosted by the Center to continue these critically important interventions.  Every Third Thursday at 3p ET we discuss a topic that looks at the relationship between religion, the pressing issues of our day, and their impact on the fields we study.

Previous episodes of “Religion &” can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

A JOURNAL OF INTERPRETATION: This semiannual publication explores the interplay between religion and other spheres of American culture.

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