Season 3, Episode 7

Religion & the Movies

In addition to the Beatles being bigger than Jesus Christ, we might argue that movies have been bigger than religion. Movies played in “cathedrals” to popular culture, and the silver screen created icons that defined eras for people all around the world. Furthermore, from the origins of the medium to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the movies have used religious stories, figures, and tropes to attract audiences. But we also know that as much as the idea of religion has grown elastic and contested, movies that depict religion and faith have reflected this complexity. Our panelists expand upon the history of religion in the movies to include other visual mediums and provide a critical comparative perspective on faith and films.

Host: Raymond Haberski, Jr.

Raymond Haberski, Jr. is Professor of History and Director of American Studies at IUPUI. He also directs the Institute for American Thought and is part of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. For the 2008–2009 academic year he held the Fulbright Danish Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the Copenhagen Business School. Haberski is trained in twentieth century U.S. history with a focus on intellectual history and his books include It’s Only a Movie: Films and Critics in American Culture (2001), Freedom to Offend: How New York Remade Movie Culture (2007), The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court (2008), God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (2012), Voice of Empathy: A History of Franciscan Media in the United States (2018), with Andrew Hartman, eds., American Labyrinth: Intellectual History for Complicated Times (2018), and with Philip Goff and Rhys Williams, eds., Civil Religion Today (2021). With Andrew Hartman, he is co-host of the podcast Trotsky and Wild Orchids.

Ray's full bio

Panelist: Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. He is the editor of Muslims in the Movies: A Global Anthology (2021), New Approaches to Islam in Film (2021), and the Bloomsbury Handbook of Muslims and Popular Culture (2023). He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Cinematic Lives of Muslims.

Kristian's full bio

Panelist: Jeanette Reedy Solano

Jeanette Reedy Solano is Professor of Comparative Religion at California State University, Fullerton. She is a professor, mother, filmmaker, and author of the recently-published book Religion and Film: The Basics (Routledge)She first discovered the power of using film to understand spirituality sitting in the den of her professor’s study in Hyde Park watching Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev in 1990 and has loved studying religion and film ever since!  She has served as a film critic for The Journal of Religion and Film at Sundance and other Film Festivals.  She is delighted to be reunited with her colleagues from the American Academy of Religion’s Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Group to discuss film and religion today.

Jeanette's full bio

Panelist: Rachel Wagner

Dr. Rachel Wagner is Professor of Religious Studies and Coordinator of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Ithaca College. She has published extensively on religion and media on topics including virtual reality, film, apps, role play, media rituals, and guns as a mode of mediation. She has written two single-author books: Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality (Routledge, 2012), and Cowboy Apocalypse: Religion, Media, Guns (forthcoming, NYU Press, 2024).


Rachel's full bio

This event took place on March 16, 2023.

Additional Resources

“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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