Reel Presence: Explorations in Liturgy and Film

REL648
Spring 2017
F 1:30pm - 3:20pm
Area: 
Area II, Area V
Professor: 
Permission Not Required
Limited Enrollment
Course Description: 

Film continues to be a key feature of contemporary visual culture, shaping not only the cultural imagination but also our own inner lives.  Films function not only as “entertainment” but as significant “meaning-makers.”  The church cannot and does not stand apart from this, witness but the frequency with which films turn up in sermons.  Interestingly, Christian liturgy as well as religious rituals more broadly feature in many films.  These “reel presences” are the subject-matter of this course, which focusses on worship as it comes to be constructed and reflected in the medium of film.  Representations of worship in films are never value-neutral, they carry within them re-readings and re–interpretations of ritual practices of faith.  How then do film-makers image, exploit, or advance assumptions about Christian worship?  This course proposes films as theologically and liturgically “pertinent texts” (Irena S. M. Makarushka).  To sharpen our ability to “read” and interrogate the construal of Christian worship in films, specific films will be paired with readings from the field of liturgical studies which illumine the topic embedded in the film’s (sub-)text about worship. Together, films and readings will open a space for dialogue on contemporary concerns and insights about the meaning of liturgy.

Key learning outcome objectives are as follows:  First, to strengthen liturgical literacy, as it pertains to contemporary visual culture.  Second, to give students a strong sense of the cultural context and its (often unintended yet powerful) knowledge production about Christian worship.  Third, to deepen student’s appreciation not only of the coding (often critical) of Christian ritual in films but also of the power of ritual communicated in many contemporary films.  Fourth, to enable students to address contemporary filmic imagination and possibilities in the lives of their faith communities and their own spiritual journeys. 

Background Expected: 

“Foundations of Christian Worship” will be a plus.

Course Requirements: 

Much of the work in this course will center on a) the attentive, detailed viewing of films or film scenes, b) the close reading of texts paired with a film, and c) the interpretation of both film and written text.  The weight of evaluation will fall on a class presentation done by each student based on a brief reflection paper (30% altogether), on participation in discussion, including some online postings (30% altogether), and on a final paper (40% of the final grade).  In particular, each student will submit a written review and critique of one of the films in conversation with the assigned reading during the semester.  This paper (3-4 pages, double-spaced) will be the basis for the student’s presentation in one of the weekly class discussions.  A final written paper of 10-12 pages will be due at the end of the course.   There will be no exams. 

Basis of Evaluation: 

Final grades will be determined according to the following formula: participation (including online postings): 30%; class presentation, with written reflections: 30%; final paper: 40%.