Kristian Petersen
Islamic Studies
Department of Religion
Gustavus Adolphus College

Gustavus Adolphus College

Department of Religion

800 West College Ave.

St. Peter, Minnesota, 56082

Kristian Petersen

Curriculum VitaeCurriculum_Vitae.html

Cinema and the Sacred: Religion and Film

REL 111 – January Term 2012

Instructor: Prof. Kristian Petersen

Department: Religion

Office: Old Main 304C

Office Hours: View calendar or by appointment

Virtual Hours: via Skype

                        T & W 1-2pm


Class Meeting Days, Time and Room:

MTWThF 10:30-12:20 OM 05

Course Description

This course explores the use of film to study religion and employs religious themes to study film. We will use films as a platform for asking questions about various dimensions of religion and the religious. And conversely, we will use images, metaphors, and teachings found in religion to discuss the layers and elements visually and audibly portrayed on screen. Through different critical approaches, this course will examine how religion, as variously defined, pervades the modern cinema and how one may engage in dialogue with this phenomenon.

Course Objectives

Goals for students enrolled in this course include:

oTo think and discuss critically about film from a religious studies perspective.

oTo broaden understanding of the term “religious” and then to realize its significant role in film plot, narrative, and imagery.

oTo develop a narrative about “religious” themes and learn how to express it visually through film.

Assignments and Evaluation

Final grades will be based on…

Twitter Reviews: 30%

Reflection Blog and Twitter Essays: 35%

Religion and Film Exhibit: 35%

General Twitter Instructions

Create a Twitter account and use the class hashtag. Start following people you know or like.

Use Twitter on your computer (Twitter app Mac, Twitterrific, TweetDeck, etc.), portable devices, or connect via Facebook.

Follow class hashtag on Twitter, TweetDeck, or Monitter.

Use Word Counter for real time character count.

Objectives for employing Twitter in the classroom

Disintegrate the physical borders of classroom learning and exploration

Continue dialogues and debates outside of the class

Empower hesitant voices to make their opinions heard

Connect and continue to get to know each other

Twitter Reviews

During each film write at least 3 tweets – asking, explaining, showing, revealing, seeking, finding, etc. – about the theme we are exploring (140 characters)

Twitter Essay

Answer the question in 140 characters. Be clear, concise, and detailed! This seems short but a lot can be conveyed in this space. Good Luck! (140 characters)

Thick and Thin Tweets

When tweeting for class you need to convey pertinent and useful information or queries in a succinct manner. This can be achieved by writing “thick” tweets. Only thick tweets will count towards your assignments.


“In scene Luke meets Yoda,, Yoda appears too ordinary to provide the supernatural aid Campbell suggests the Hero needs”

“Sound - Julia CPR scene uses ominous music vs silence in great contrast to represent death & life. Does this happen elsewhere? Didn't notice”

“Final scene Truman- So good! Editing, music, M-E-S, cinematography-What are your thoughts? Is this death, liberation, birth, something else?”

“What scene stands out for you in Kundun? How does its M-E-S affect your understanding of Tibet or the Dalai Lama?”

Reflection Blog

For each pair of films we watch you need to write a blog reflection analyzing the religious theme exemplified in the films. These should be analytical (not simply descriptive!) essays, using basic film theory terminology, which highlight how religion or the religious is expressed through the films. Reflections should examine the films in a comparative perspective and should not be film reviews. Each reflection should be roughly 25o-500 words.

Religion and Film Exhibit

The final project for the class is a multi-modal presentation revolving around religious themes and analytical skills for approaching film introduced in course. The project consists of two parts: a film mash-up and annotated explanatory guide.

Film Mash-Up

The film mash-up requires you to explore a religious theme in two films of your choice or a series of films by a single director. After you decide the films and theme you will edit them in dialogue with each other creating a new piece of cinema that highlights these films effectiveness for exploring your chosen religious subject matter.

Annotated Explanatory Guide

Accompanying your video you will need to produce a brief synopsis for each film, a detailed explanation of the religious theme and how each film explores it, several questions that arise from watching these films, and how your new film emphasizes the religious theme.

Attendance Policy

Attendance is required because your participation is an essential part of the learning process. Our class time will be spent covering material during lectures, reading and film discussions and debates, and peer dialogue. Students are given one (1) absence (excused or unexcused) without penalty. A second (2) absence will result in a 10% reduction of your overall grade. A third (3) absence will result in a Fail grade for the class. Students are responsible for all readings and assignments on absences.


Please come to class on time. I do not accept late assignments. If there are extenuating circumstances (family death or illness, hospitalization, etc.) we can discuss an action plan. Failures in technology, such as hard drive crash, forgot to save, etc., are not legitimate excuses. Please take the necessary precautions to back up and save your work. If you have extended circumstances that cause your absence from several classes please talk with the Barbara Knight Kaiser, Associate Provost and Dean Academic Programs ( or x7541).

Class Technology Use

While I encourage the use of technology, such as laptops, in the class and for your own development please do not abuse the privilege. Any misuse of technology in the classroom will result in its exclusion for the student. Cell phones should be turned on silent when you are in class. Texting, instant messaging, etc. should not be done in class. Please do not use Facebook, email, surf the web, during class time. Occasionally, I will ask that all computers be closed in order to stimulate an engaged class discussion.

Course Outline and Assignments

All assignments and films on the schedule must be completed before the class they are listed under. Films are viewable on Netflix – please sign up for a month long trial if you don't have a membership already.

This is a map, not a contract. Assignment schedule is subject to revision.

Download Course Schedule

Disability Services

At the May 2011 Faculty Meeting, the faculty approved changes to Handbook Section 2.2.7: “Through information provided in syllabi, faculty members will notify students of the availability of disability services at Gustavus and how to access them.” The following statement is recommended for inclusion on all syllabi: “Gustavus Adolphus College is committed to ensuring the full participation of all students in its programs. If you have a documented disability (or you think you may have a disability of any nature) and, as a result, need reasonable academic accommodation to participate in class, take tests or benefit from the College’s services, then you should speak with the Disability Services Coordinator, for a confidential discussion of your needs and appropriate plans. Course requirements cannot be waived, but reasonable accommodations may be provided based on disability documentation and course outcomes. Accommodations cannot be made retroactively; therefore, to maximize your academic success at Gustavus, please contact Disability Services as early as possible. Disability

Services ( is located in the Advising and Counseling Center.”

Disability Services Coordinator Laurie Bickett ( or x6286) can provide further information.

Help for Students Whose First Language is not English

Support for English Language Learners (ELL) and Multilingual students is available via the College’s ELL Support staff person, Andrew Grace ( or x7395). He can meet individually with students to consult about academic tasks and to help students seek other means of support. The ELL Support person can also consult with faculty members who have ELL and multilingual students enrolled in their classes. The College’s ELL staff person can provide students with a letter to a professor that explains and supports academic accommodations (e.g. additional time on tests, additional revisions for papers). Professors make decisions based on those recommendations at their own discretion. In addition, ELL and multilingual students can seek help from peer tutors in the Writing Center.

Questions about these policies can be directed to Barbara Knight Kaiser, Associate Provost and Dean Academic Programs ( or x7541).

Academic Honesty

At the November 2006 Faculty Meeting, the faculty approved changes to Handbook Section 2.2.9:

“Through information provided in syllabi and/or other means, faculty members will explain to students how the Honor Code will operate in their respective courses.” The following statement is suggested as a pledge for students to sign on all graded assignments and projects:

“On my honor, I pledge that I have not given, received, or tolerated others’ use of unauthorized aid in completing this work.”

A similar statement may be signed by students at the beginning of a course, indicating that their work for that course will comply with the academic honesty policy and the Honor Code.

Full descriptions of the Academic Honesty Policy and the Honor Code can be found in the catalogue on the web at:

For more information about the Honor Code, contact Barbara Kaiser ( or x7541).