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The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film

September 20, 2011:

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film
London: Routledge, 2009
Editor: John Lyden, Chapter 10 by Antonio Sison, C.PP.S.

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film brings together a lively and experienced team of contributors to introduce students to the key topics in religion and film and to investigate the ways in which the exciting subject of religion and film is developing for more experienced scholars.

This definitive Handbook provides an accessible resource to this emerging field and is an indispensable guide to religion and film for students of Religion, Film Studies, and beyond.

Excerpt From Chapter 10:
Imaging Postcolonial Religious Syncretism: Focus on the Philippines, Peru, and Mexico

by Antonio Sison, C.PP.S.

The profound resonances between Mexican, Peruvian, and Filipino colonial experience may be appreciated by looking into the indigenous culture’s reception of the Christianizing process. Roman Catholicism, the Spanish imported religion, was successfully implanted by the Spanish missionaries who saw themselves as liberators ordained by God to wage spiritual battle against the devil’s stronghold on the pagan peoples. The missionaries imposed Christianity as an entirely new religion and any resemblance they may have observed in the primal religions was believed to be a work of deception plotted by demonic principalities. This mindset primarily accounts for the iconoclastic zeal that characterized the Spanish missionary enterprise. This, however, did not result in the complete displacement of the indigenous religions by Roman Catholicism as the Spaniardshadanticipated, but in a two-way mediation or fusion of these distinguishable religious identities. It is vital to remember that the cultures of the Aztecs, Incas, and native Filipinos shared a plasticity that allowed for the entry of the imported religion without the obliteration of the indigenous religion…  Spanish Catholicism, as such, found new roots in the New World and in Southeast Asia, but not in the original form within which it was delivered. For the colonized cultures, the religious syncretism would incarnate in multiform variants of Folk Catholicism or popular piety. The religious syncretism embodied in Folk Catholicism would remain even after the fall of the Spanish empire and would continue to characterize postcolonial religious practice in both Latin America and the Philippines. 

In light of this religious-historical backdrop, it is not difficult to surmise that religious syncretism would find cultural validation in the respective cinemas of the Philippines, Peru, and Mexico.  My project here is mainly hermeneutical. I wish to explore the ways in which specific films from the aforementioned countries represent religious syncretism within a contemporary postcolonial context. The feature films I have chosen as exemplars offer cinematic representations of religious syncretism as Folk Catholicism. My intent is not to homogenize cultural differences but to examine religious syncretism precisely within the cultural differences portrayed in the cinematic text. The film Santa Santita (2004) by noted Filipino filmmaker Laurice Guillen ushers us into the very marrow of Philippine Folk Catholicism where syncretistic practices form part of the quotidian. Claudia Llosa’s Madeinusa (2006), on the other hand, has little direct connection with actual religious practice in Peru but offers a thought experiment that blends a surreal world of religious syncretism with unmistakable inflections of the historical. Santiago Parras’ Guadalupe (2007) cues us to consider the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, the very image of which is a symbol par excellence of syncretistic Folk Catholicism.

Link to Publisher’s website:

Editorial Reviews
‘A young field – the study of religion and film – has come of age with the publication of this wonderful volume. Comprising essays by the leading scholars of the subject, this book illuminates how religions have responded to films, how films have responded to religions, and how we might best go about interpreting what this reveals about our culture.'- Joel Martin, University of Massachusetts, USA

'The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film shows a new academic field finally coming of age. Lyden's collection is comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and conscientiously designed. Contributors are experts in their fields and intelligently weave together the complex threads of theory, method, aesthetics, and belief. This is a book I want on my own shelf - but more importantly, it's a book I want my students to read. Expect The Routledge Companion to become a staple on Religion and Film courses everywhere.' - Rachel Wagner, Ithaca College, USA

'This volumecontains a wealth of well-presented and detailed information that will be of use to those with an interest in religion and film. For those undertaking study in this area it is probably essential reading, not simply because of the scope of its content but because of the clarity with which important concepts are explained.' - Eleanor Jackson, University of Leicester, UK