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Heaven, Hell and Hollywood - Sacred Imagery on Film

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Over the past 100 years, cinema has supplanted the Christian church to become a 'secular religion' in much of the Western world. Viewing such diverse genres as Biblical epics, fantasy and horror films, art and exploitation and underground classics, this course will explore the 'hidden history' linking cinema and church. The course will also give some consideration to other faiths as represented in both western and non-Western cinema.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge required.

Content of Course

Week 1 – “Is God in Show Business Too?” Introduction to the main themes and genres to be studied.

Week 2 – In the Beginning… Biblical Epics I – The Old Testament. The Ten Commandments and more.

Week 3 – Jesus Christ Superstar Biblical Epics II – The New Testament and early Christians. DeMille vs. Mel Gibson.

Week 4 – Out of this World Cinematic visions of Heaven and Hell. Powell, Pasolini and others.

Week 5 – Angels and Demons Angels, devils and creatures from beyond: Barbarella to Angel Heart.

Week 6 – Nasty, Naughty or Nice? Nuns on film: The Sound of Music to Killer Nun.

Week 7 – In the Name of the Father Priests, preachers and saints: Brother Sun, Sister Moon to Night of the Hunter.

Week 8 – The Devil Made Them Do It Witches and black magic. Rosemary’s Baby to The Wizard of Oz.

Week 9 – “The Ceremony Is About to Begin” Rituals on film – weddings, funerals, Black Mass.

Week 10 – Ritual or Racism? Non-Western spiritual traditions in Western and other cinemas.

Week 11 - Unseen Assessment

Teaching method(s)

For each session there will be an introductory lecture illustrated by film excerpts followed by class discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Evaluate the artistic and ideological impact of Christian faith on Western cinema.
  • Discuss the ways in which different spiritual traditions (i.e. Catholic, Protestant, pagan) have informed the work of different film-makers.
  • Assess the ongoing influence of religion in today’s ‘secular’ culture.
  • Recognise the ways in which Western film-makers have misrepresented and, to some degree, ‘slandered’ other faiths.
  • Show an awareness of the ways in which non-Western film-makers express their own religious heritage.


Core Readings

Mary Lea Bandy and Antonia Monda (eds.) - The Hidden God: Film and Faith. New York: Museum of Modern Art; London: Thames & Hudson, 2003
Clive Marsh - Cinema and sentiment: film's challenge to theology, Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2004.
Paul Coates - Cinema, religion, and the romantic legacy, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003
Kathleen E. Corley and Robert L. Webb (eds.) - Jesus and Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’: the film, the Gospels and the claims of history, London: Continuum, 2004
Christopher Deacy - Faith in film: religious themes in contemporary cinema. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005
Peter Fraser- Images of the passion: the sacramental mode in film, Trowbridge : Flicks Books, 1998
Joel W. Martin, Conrad E. Ostwalt. (eds.) - Screening the sacred: religion, myth and ideology in popular American film; Oxford: Westview Press, c1995
John R. May (ed.) - Image & likeness: religious visions in American film classics, New York: Paulist Press, c1992
John R. May and Michael Bird - Religion in film, Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1987
S. Brent Plate (ed.) - Representing religion in world cinema: filmmaking, mythmaking, culture making, New York; Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003

Class Handouts

The tutor will provide photocopies and other notes for students.


Open Studies 10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.

Student support

Please see the Open Studies Studying for Credit Guide for details about credit study, assessments and marking criteria. Full details are available from Reception.

Let our Student Guidance Officer know if you feel you have specific requirements to enable you to study an Open Studies course or complete assessments. Please contact Reception to arrange a confidential appointment with her. Giving us this information will enable us to make arrangements to meet your requirements for studying in accordance with your rights under the Disability Discrimination Act.