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Seeing Beyond Death: Images of the Afterlife in Theology and Film

Deacy, Christopher and Vollmer, Ulrich, eds. (2011) Seeing Beyond Death: Images of the Afterlife in Theology and Film. Schüren Verlag, Marburg, 202 pp. ISBN 978-3-89472-742-0. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:29683)

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Whether we are talking about the Christian understanding of ‘heaven’ or the Buddhist cycle of transmigration and rebirth, imaginations concerning a life after death play an integral role within many, if not indeed all, religious traditions. Outside explicitly religious contexts, also, the question of immortality has arisen as a result of work undertaken over the last forty years in the territory of Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences. Religious, theological and philosophical perspectives relating to an afterlife have thus formed, and continue to form, a substantial part of our Western, cultural consciousness.

It is quite ironic, therefore, that the academic study of eschatology is not quite as established as such other sub-disciplines of religious and theological enquiry as (in the case of the Christian tradition alone) Christology, soteriology, doctrine and ethics. At the same time, however, filmmakers have often encroached on what one might have supposed was quintessentially theological terrain by delineating on celluloid images and narratives relating to ‘Heaven’, ‘Hell’, ‘Purgatory’ and ‘Reincarnation’.

With these considerations in mind, it seemed only fitting that, after two decades in which the European research project group ‘Film und Theologie’ – a collaborative project of departments of theology and religious studies from Freiburg, Münster, Fribourg, Zürich, Innsbruck, Graz, Louvain and Lampeter – have met to examine particular topics relating to theology and film, their attention should have turned to this relatively under-examined field. In previous years, the themes looked at by the research group have included world religions in film, the relation of time, images and theology, religious dimensions of cinematic child-figures, film and social ethics, eros and religion, as well as explorations into the oeuvres of individual directors. The closest that their work has come to exploring the province of eschatology has been the 2009 volume on outer space, which focused on the construction of alternative worlds in science fiction films. It was not until June 2009, at the Katholische Akademie Schwerte, that specific attention was accorded to the extent to which cinematic representations of an afterlife are able to impinge upon theological territory regarding the survival of personhood after death.

The insights of that conference, at which a dozen papers were presented by a combination of established academics and emerging scholars, have been selected for inclusion in this volume. Questions to be asked in the chapters that follow include whether or not religious traditions have anything to learn from such ‘cinematic eschatologies’ and whether films might even be thought to precipitate better theology than that which is conducted by theologians and religious studies practitioners. What sort of parallels and/or differences can be found by bringing into dialogue questions pertaining to an afterlife that have been generated within the study of religion and films such as A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946), No Te Mueras Sin Decirme Adónde Vas (Eliseo Subiela, 1995) and What Dreams May Come (Vincent Ward, 1998)? In displacing eschatological concepts and images into a fresh context, has cinema changed their original meaning? Why is it the case, for example, that, in cinematic representations, life after death appears as a much more material reality, is far less symbolic and has much more of a this-worldly focus than in traditional eschatological contexts?

Some of the papers focus on specific films, while others are more methodologically-based and address the two-way dialogical question of what eschatology can learn from cinema and what cinema can learn from eschatology.

Item Type: Edited book
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal Theology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Depositing User: Chris Deacy
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2012 14:35 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:07 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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