Religion and Film scholars from Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, including Claremont McKenna College Professor Gastón Espinosa, attended the international conference on Protestant Reformation on Screen: Religion, Politics, and Aesthetics in European and American Movies, June 24-27 at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany. Espinosa first proposed the idea of the conference to his two co-directors – Erik Redling of the University of Halle and Jason Stevens of the University of Maryland – during their sabbaticals at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.
Hosted by the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and the Muhlenberg Center for American Studies at Muhlenberg College (Germany), conference organizers wanted to fill a major gap in the fields of Religion and Film and Religion and Popular Culture Studies by examining how cinema has portrayed the Protestant Reformation and the rise and spread of Protestantism throughout Europe and the New World in American and European film.
The international nature of the conference compared representations, aesthetics, values, gender, sexuality, and religious traditions, symbols, and leaders, as well as political ideologies across decades and national film industries. While Hollywood has produced many of the “Bible and Sandals” films (positive portrayals about Jesus and other religious leaders in the Bible), post-1970 films have been more subversive and pushed the boundaries of Protestant and Christian notions of identity. Given the size of the global Protestant movement around the world (800 million) and in the United States (about half of the U.S. population), the conference focused on how the Protestant movement has been portrayed in international cinema, and continues to be felt in contemporary movies (as evidenced in the recent releases of Noah, Exodus: God and Kings, Fury and the remake of Left Behind), adding a crucial perspective to religious studies, cultural history, and the story of film. Espinosa will serve as the lead editor for a book titled Protestantism on Screen: Religion, Politics, and Aesthetics in American and European Movies. One of his ultimate aims is to generate a book that scholars can use in religious and media studies and that students can use in his RLST 171 – Religion and Film classes, which he teaches every spring at Claremont McKenna College.
Specializing in American Religious History, U.S. Latino Religions, Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements, American Religion and Politics, Religion and Film, Dr. Espinosa spent one year in post-doctoral studies at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television and worked with Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender on showcasing Innocent Voices about child solders in El Salvador and marketing An Inconvenient Truth about the environment and climate change.
Dr. Espinosa is the author of Latino Pentecostals in America: Faith and Politics in Action (Harvard University Press, June 2014), William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Duke University Press, 2014), and is the recipient of the National Humanities Fellowship, the Northwestern University Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Dartmouth College César Chávez Fellowship. He is also the Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College.