Religion & Cinema

Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments    

IC Library Print & Media Resources

Movies--Films--Motion Pictures--Cinema

    What the writers of books and articles may refer to as movies, films, or cinema is assigned the Subject Heading  Motion Pictures by the Library of Congress. This will be effective in Library catalogs and in the many databases of newspaper, magazine, and journal articles which follow the Library of Congress (but remember that databases may also use their own Subject Headings: “Religious Movies” in General OneFile or “Films—Religious Aspects” in ATLA). 

     The two Subject Headings that will be most useful in library catalogs are
Motion pictures--Religious aspects   [this is assigned to most material on the subject]
Religion in motion pictures

     There are also Subject Headings that take the form of  “--- in motion pictures” :

     You can perform Subject searches on individual films—though keep in mind that not many films inspire book-length criticism:
Passion of the Christ (Motion picture)

     Also try searching the film title “as a phrase” in the “Table of Contents” field in the Library catalog’s Advanced Search. This may locate essays from collections (and remember that to see the Table of Contents in an IC catalog record you must click on "Expanded View"):
Seeing and believing : religion and values in the movies  [chapter on Passion of the Christ]
Big screen Rome  [chapter on Monty Python's Life of Brian].

    Two Subject headings that are broader than Motion Pictures but might lead to film criticism:
Popular culture--Religious aspects--Christianity
Mass media--Religious aspects--Christianity

     For more general works on film criticism try     
Film criticism
Motion pictures--Moral and ethical aspects

     For the films in the IC Library media collection that have been categorized as "religious":
Religious films

Not in the IC Library?

     WorldCat via FirstSearch  is a "union catalog" that allows you to search the holdings of over 10,000 libraries from accross the country and around the world: over 41 million items. Check WorldCat to discover what the entire universe of possible resources looks like for your topic. 
     Note that upon opening any record there will be an "ILL Order" link that gives you direct entry into IC's interlibrary loan form (when you sign in--IC e-mail user name/password--the form will already be populated with both item identification data and your personal contact info).

User Advisory:
  • At the search interface begain by scrolling down and changing the default "Rank by" setting to "Date"--this will display your retrievals in reverse chronological order with the newest first.
  • This is such a large database that you should set a "Limit Type" to "Books" or "Visual Materials" or whatever you are specifically interested in finding.
  • When using a Subject search--advisable in such a large database--choose the looser "Subject" search rather than "Subject Phrase"--which requires an often frustrating exactitude.

Older Films: Articles/Reviews

If you want to focus on just the contemporary reviews of a film, be aware first of all that most databases only access articles from the last 40 years—at most. Both ProQuest Historical New York Times  and JSTOR have deeper pockets and might be able to provide a contemporary review of an older film like The Gospel of Matthew or Jesus Christ Superstar--see below.   
     In the Reference collection of the IC Library you will find several print resources that provide reviews of older filmsNew York Times Film Reviews 1913-2000 (REF PN 1995 .N4), Variety Film Reviews 1907-1988 (REF PN 1995 .V34), and Film Review Annual 1982-2002 (REF PN 1995 .F465). MaGill’s Survey of Cinema (REF PN 1993.45 .M3) offers overviews of older films. See too MaGill’s Cinema Annual 1982-2003 (REF PN 1993.3 .M34).

IC Library Databases (Articles)

Journal of Religion and Film

Journal of Religion and Film is an invaluable scholarly e-journal in this field--and full text is available at the site. Perhaps the best entry is under Indexes--especially the Film Index where you can browse by title.  Frustratingly, there is no Subject or Keyword searching, but browsing the Article Index may reward your patience.  

Recommended Databases

ProQuest Research Library :
     Criticism of particular movies is best retrieved by entering the medium as a Subject search--“Motion pictures”--and then adding the title of the film in the “Citation and abstract” field (if the title is more than one word put it in quotation marks).  
     If you're not getting enough hits, try changing the search field of the title to “Document text.” In both cases, look at the articles in the “Scholarly Journals” tab for the most substantial criticism.
     For articles on more general Christian themes in movies try combining the Subject "Motion Pictures" with another Subject such as "Christianity" or "Bible" or "Jesus Christ" (be sure to put names in the "Person" slot--see Advisory below).
     User Advisory: ProQuest is fussy about entering Subject searches in the designated slots. If your subject is a person, enter the name--last name first--in the Person slot; if a named group of any kind--the Catholic Church, Microsoft, the New York Mets, the Democratic Party, the Rolling Stones--enter it in Co/Org; if a place enter it in Location.

Academic Search Premier , Communication Source :
     For these two EBSCO databases there is a work-around which allows you to run a very targeted Subject search on an individual film—thus guaranteeing that the retrievals will be substantively about the film.  Choose the "Reviews & Products" option from the "Select a Field" drop-down menu and enter individual film titles according to the following formula:
          jesus of montreal film
          passion of the christ, the film
     And note: if, as in the second example, the title of a film starts with "The," it must be transposed to the end of the title--but before "film."
     The above search will target actual film criticism, but also try broadening your search by running the title--in quotation marks if more than one word--in the "Abstract" field.  If the film is mentioned in an article's abstract, this guarantees that it is a central topic.  If the results are still too scanty, go ahead and run a search on the title in "Select a Field," which is the Keyword option. If even this produces little or nothing, a last resort is to search the full text of all the full-text articles in the database.  This can be done by changing the search field to “TX All Text.” The downside of an “all text” search is that you may retrieve many articles where the film is mentioned only in passing.
     For more general Subject searches in these databases, both offer "Religious Films" and "Religion in Motion Pictures" as Subjects.  Academic Search Premier offers the most additional Subject Headings in this area, among them "Jesus Christ in motion pictures," "God in motion pictures," "Anti-Christ in motion Pictures," and "Catholic Church in motion Pictures."

General OneFile :
     Criticism of particular movies is best retrieved using the “Advanced Search” option.  Enter the medium as a Subject search in the first slot: “Movies.” In the next slot enter the particular title—in quotation marks—as a Keyword search.  If these results seem too skimpy, you can change the Keyword search to an “Entire Document” search. This will increase your retrieval set, although the new articles may not discuss the particular film at length.
     For broader searches on religious themes in movies use the General OneFile Subject heading Religious Movies or run a Subject search on Movies, open its "Subdivisions," and click on "Religious aspects."  
     For most subjects such as Christianity or Jesus Christ or Bible General OneFile will offer a Subdivision "Portrayals."  Here you will find articles on how that Subject is portrayed in books, on television, and in the movies.
     User Advisory: When viewing any retrieval set in General OneFile, note that you are viewing only the Magazines and must click on the "Academic Journals" or "News" tabs to see those resources.

ATLA religion database with ATLASerials :
     Our discipline-specific database for religion research.  Setting search limits on the home page is a good idea if you are looking specifically for journal articles (under "publication type" select "article" to eliminate books and essays in books, which will not be available full text) or if you read only English (under Language select "English" to eliminate retrievals in other languages).
     Subject searching is available--just open the "Select a Field" drop-down menu to the right of the search slots.  And you can preview the Subject Headings available here by clicking on "Indexes" above the search slots and selecting "Subjects All."  Not only will this allow you to confirm Subject Headings, but for each one you will be given a "count" of how many records have been assigned it, so you can see in advance where the greatest number of resources are available for your topic.  Among the Subject Headings used here: Films--Religious aspects, Films, religious, Jesus Christ in films, and Bible in films.
     Special Feature: Above the search slots note "Scriptures."  This refers to only the Judeo-Christian scriptures contained in the Bible (no Apocrypha), but it does allow you easily to search for articles by chapter and verse for each book of the Bible. 

LexisNexis Academic :
     Our best national, international, and local newspaper coverage. Don't settle for the default "General" search--choose "News." Then change the default "Anywhere in document" search to "In headline & lead paragraphs" (this is a Keyword search of 100% full text and if you search "anywhere" you'll get too many minor hits). Use the "Specify date" limit to narrow results--LexisNexis becomes cranky if you retrieve more than 3000 documents. If you need more focus in your results, try setting the “Sources” field under the search slots to “Book, Movie, Music, Play and Video Reviews.”  
     One interesting trick that LexisNexis can perform is to target sources from one or more states. To do this click on the “Sources” tab at the top of the opening screen and then click on the folder labeled “News” under “Publication Type.” This will open an alphabetical list of news types and sources, including each of the 50 states: “Alabama news sources,” “Indiana news sources,” etc. You can combine as many of these as you like. If you choose Mississippi and Massachusetts, for example, this will allow you to compare how the controversy surrounding The Passion of the Christ or The Da Vinci Code was reported and/or commented on in different states—red or blue, conservative or liberal, urban or rural, northeastern of midwestern. When you’ve selected your states, just click the “OK continue” button on the right of the screen and then enter the title of the film--in quotation marks.

     The journals covered are scholarly, and it's 100% full text. It does not cover the latest 2-3 years of journals, but once coverage kicks in it always extends back to the first issue of a journal--even into the 19th century, so this might be a good place to look for contemporary response to religious themed films of the 1920s-1950s. More of a problem is the search interface: JSTOR can only perform Keyword searching of all its full text, so articles will be retrieved in which search terms are only briefly mentioned. But the JSTOR relevancy ranking of retrievals is quite effective and the most sustained discussion of your search terms should appear on the first page or two of results. To prevent book reviews from clogging your results, check "Article" below the search slots.  
     Because this is Keyword searching of full text, generic searches like Religion and (movie* or film* or cinema) will retrieve hundreds of articles in which these words occur but which are not central to the main topic (the asterisk * is the truncation symbol here, so that movie* retrieves both movie and movies).  Searching exact film titles works better--and be sure to put titles in quotation marks to search them as a single phrase.
Project Muse :
     Although a smaller database, this complements JSTOR. LIke JSTOR it provides 100% full text of mostly scholarly journals, but its coverage is entirely current--mainly spanning the last 10-15 years.  Muse uses a "black box" search approach--you enter your search terms in one slot with no designated field options--but in addition to slapping in keywords, you can use the same Library of Congress Subject Headings that work in the Library catalog (see above under "Subject Searches").  This broad approach to searching tends to generate large retrievals, so it's best to be as specific as possible.  And note--once you have a retrieval set, you can add more search terms by clicking "Modify Search" at the top.

     Psychology also uses its own "Descriptor" vocabulary (for instance "Films" is to be used instead of movies or motion pictures).  Check out what terms will work in the  PsycINFO "Thesaurus" which you'll find at the bottom of the opening screen.  Films and Religion as descriptors will retrieve a handful of interesting articles (and be sure to check the "Journal Articles Only" limit beneath the search slot).

MLA International Bibliography :
     MLAIB provides the most complete and fully indexed coverage of articles and books on modern literatures, linguistics, folklore, rhetoric, and composition from 1925 to the present. There is ample full text provided by ProQuest, as well as links to full-text articles in JSTOR and Project Muse. Full text from other IC databases is also readily available via the "GetIt" links below article citations.

     Because books, book chapters/essays, and dissertations will usually not be available full text, you may wish to limit your search to "Journal article" under "Source type."
     "Author's Work" and "Author as Subject" will be especially helpful search fields at finding literary criticism. And for additional search field options either click on "Show more fields," or, for the complete list, open the drop-down menus to the right of the "Anywhere" default for the top three rows of search slots. This list includes both "Literary Influence"--who influenced a particular author you have entered--and "Literary Source"--who was influenced by that particular author.
     If you set up a free "My Research" account with Proquest (top right), you can save all the articles you check, all the searches you want to remember, and set up e-mail or RSS notification for any new articles that match your search terms.

New York Times (1851-2009) :
     If the film you wish to write about dates from before 1980, most of our databases cannot supply contemporary reviews and commentary. But this database offers the full text of the New York Times from 1851 up to 2005, so you can access contemporary reviews of The Ten Commandments or The Greatest Story Ever Told. Enter a Keyword search, putting title phrases in quotation marks. You might begin by searching in the “Citation and Abstract” field, then, if this doesn’t yield enough results, expand to the default “Citation and document text” field.

Where's the Full Text for this Article??

     Few databases offer 100% full text.  Most retrieve a mix of full text articles and article "citations"--article title, author(s), publication info, and usually an "abstract" or one-prargraph summary of the content.  When a citation makes you want the full text, look below it for this icon: 
     Clicking "GETIT" checks (almost all) the IC Library's other databases to see if any offers the full text of the article--or if the Library has a print subscription to the journal in which the article appeared.
  • "GETIT" will usually find the full text in another database and open it in a new window.  
  • If none of our databases can access the full text but we have a print subsciption to the journal, "GETIT" will retrieve the Library catalog record for the journal so that you can see if the date of the article falls within the date range we have on hand.
  • If full text is not available from any database or from a print subsciption, "GETIT" will provide a link to the IC Library's Interlibrary Loan.  Log in (same as your IC e-mail)--and set up your account if you've never used it before.  "GETIT" will have populated the article request form with all the necessary information and you simply submit the request elecrtonically.  Most articles are supplied as digital files and will be sent to you via e-mail when they arrive.

Contact Us

picture of Lisabeth Chabot

Lisabeth Chabot

College Librarian
(607) 274-3182

Search Argos

Related Guides

And Don't Just Take My Word For It . . .

 Jennifer Strickland (Fine Arts Librarian) offers a research guide for Film.

Reference Resources

  • Online
  • Print
Note: The Reference collection is shelved at the far end of the Library's main floor.

Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed) See entry for "Film and Religion."
New Interpreters Bible
New Catholic Encyclopedia

Web Resources

Religious Themes in the Movies and Television: Annotated list of films from the library at UC Berkeley. 

Christian Spotlight on Entertainment: A good site to visit to see how evangelical Christians approach film. Use the Film Title A-Z index at the top right.

Google Directory: Christianity: Movies:  Really just a single list of Web sites concerned with rating movies from a Christian perspective.

Web Directories

Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a much higher degree of quality control.  The two best should prove useful in their categorization of Media resources:

Citation Help

MLA Citation

MLA is the citation style used by most disciplines in the Humanities. Here is my guide to the latest (2016) update of the MLA style.