Upcoming Workshop: Buddhism and Film

Here’s a call for papers for a very interesting sounding workshop on “Buddhism and Film”, at the Free University in Berlin.

Call for Papers
Buddhism and Film: Aspects and Perspectives of Media-Communicated Religion

Workshop at Freie Universitaet Berlin, June 2nd and 3rd, 2011

During the past several decades in North America and Europe a continuously increasing interest in Buddhism can be observed which is also reflected in the mass medium of film. More and more movies are being released which can somehow be related thematically to Buddhism — even though they do so without contributing to a more precise understanding of this pluralistic religion. In general, standardized images and preconceived ideas and  imaginations of Buddhism are neither challenged nor reflected as a consequence of stereotyped representations. Rather, they are consistently reproduced and perpetuated. As in Western receptions of the 19th and 20th century, Buddhism serves as a projection screen for Western criticism of its own culture as well as for alternative conceptions of  religion and spirituality, or for suppressed dreams, hopes and desires.

This complex topic will be analyzed more closely in the workshop “Buddhism and Film.”  The workshop aims to explore the cultural self-conceptions and self-understandings as well as aesthetic and hermeneutic patterns upon which Western movies with Buddhist themes are based. Furthermore, tensions between Eastern traditions on the one hand, and Western modernism and postmodernism on the other (“Colonizing the Other”) are to be revealed: between the interior and the exterior view of Buddhism; between self-perception and perception through others; and between fiction and reality. For this purpose, we  intend to involve information about the producers, directors and actors as well as to analyze distinct genres regarding their differences and similarities of the representation of Buddhist matters. Additional attention will focus on selected examples of how symbolic values of Buddhism and the picture language of cinema are related, and how religious and political resources as well as financial and material forces and energies of circulation relate to each other during the production and reception of the movies.

We invite you to discuss the following questions in your paper:

  • Which standardized images of Buddhism were re-shaped in movies with Buddhist themes  within the past decades? Upon which historical developments and cultural parameters are these images based?
  • In what ways do Asian movies provide models of imagery for Western film productions?
  • What kind of cultural self-perceptions are produced or selected in Western films? Are these self-perceptions related to specific genres? Which cinematic techniques (perspective and motion of the camera, takes, montage, colors, music, sound etc.) and codes (symbols, language, gesture, mimic etc.) are used?
  • Which films reveal a level of meta-reflection or self-critical hermeneutic by broaching the issues of how perspective is interpretively intertwined with the continuous creation of Buddhism (as Western perceptions of Buddhism in the 19th and 20th century had already been picked up again in Asia)?
  • Which films provide illustrative material and function as a medium of education? Which films serve to create room for self-awareness? How is this achieved?
  • By which cinematic techniques and codes are social and political, spiritual and religious  norms and values, conceptions and goals of the respectively depicted schools and traditions visualized?
  • How is intended “work on the consciousness” implemented by cinematic technique? Does it catch the recipient? Is spiritual knowledge of the recipient linked to a certain genre? How do recipients communicate spiritual knowledge they gained from watching certain movies about Buddhism?
  • Which psychological patterns are picked up as central in advisory movies that deal with  Buddhist teachings and doctrines? How are these patterns said to be cured through these  engagements with Buddhism?
  • Which connections are evoked between Buddhism and other religions through the medium of film? On which reference points are these connections fixed?

The call for papers is also especially addressed to young academics. Submissions from different areas such as Cultural and Religious Studies, Psychology, Film and Media Studies, Journalism, Communication Science as well as Sociology and Social Science are welcome.

Please send your abstract (max. 500 words) and a short biographical note by January 31st 2011 to: buddhism@geschkult.fu-berlin.de. The conference languages will be English and German. Participants may therefore choose to make presentations in either of the two languages, however, there will be no interpretation service.

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About Jovan Maud

I'm a lecturer in the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany. Interests include: transnational religious networks, popular religion in Thailand, religious tourism and commodification, and digital anthropology.
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