As the title suggests, Scoring Transcendence by Kutter Calloway (Baylor University Press, 2013) is concerned with parsing the theological implications of film music. Callaway’s thesis is premised on the notion that the divine Spirit is present and active in all human activities, including those activities outside the bounds of traditional religion. His goal in writing is to help readers become aware of the Spirit’s activity, particularly in our film experiences.
Callaway begins by showing that films, particularly film scores, have the potential to provide first-order spiritual encounters with the Transcendent. Using Pixar’s short library of animated films, his first set of examples will be accessible to most readers. Moreover, by starting with a list of films many would initially dismiss as “children’s movies,” Callaway is able to make a plausible case with more clarity and less effort than if he had begun with less accessible films like “The Tree of Life.”
Methodologically, Callaway engages in second order theological reflection by analyzing film scores, while first-order theological experiences are drawn from personal interviews with movie-goers and from his own encounters with the divine in film. This is essential to his argument that “’meaning’ emerges through the interplay between both the film’s form and the film’s reception.” In other
words, meaning cannot be solely deduced through the process of analytic logic from a distant observer, viewers engage a range of inherent meanings through the totality of their experiences. A two way hermeneutical movement occurs between our life experiences and our film experiences, so that what we experience in life affects how we watch films, yet our experiences watching films also profoundly impact the way we live our lives.
Book Review: The Myth of Religious Violence
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)
In The Myth of Religious Violence, William Cavanaugh argues that the concept of religion as a transhistorical and transcultural entity distinct from secular social features like politics is a mythic construct, not rooted in reality (3). As such, the notion that one can distinguish between violence motivated by religion and violence driven by other cultural, political and social motives is patently false. This is a careful, philosophical book, in which the author takes time to define his terms and explain exactly what his argument is and is not, using more examples than will interest most readers in the cause of being thorough (7).
Cavanaugh’s stated goal in writing The Myth of Religious Violence is to show that the distinction between the categories “religious” and “secular” is a false, western, modernist construction that only came into existence with the rise of the secular nation-state (3). Prior to this, religion and governance comingled so that it never occurred to declare violence either religious or non-religious. These categories had not yet been teased apart. By identifying violence with religion, westerners are able construe reality in their favor, creating a false sense of distance between “safe” secular institutions and “dangerous” religious institutions. Yet the ideologies and institutions deemed “secular” can be just as irrational and absolutist as those that are termed religious (6).