Religion in the Frame

A six-day exploration of religious ideas, themes, and conflicts as depicted in films. Presented in collaboration with Facets Multimedia.

The Martin Marty Center celebrates its 20th anniversary – and Martin Marty's 90th birthday – this February. 

This six-day series runs from January 28 to February 2, 2018. After each screening, Gretchen Helfrich – a member of both the Facets Board and the Martin Center Advisory Board – will talk with a Divinity School faculty member to explore the religious content of each fllm, deepening the audience's engagement with the material. 

All screenings are at Facets, 1517 West Fullerton Avenue in Chicago at 6:30pm (note: Elmer Gantry on Sunday January 28th will screen at 6pm). No registration is required. This event is open to the public; a suggested donation of $10 can be offered at the door. 

Parking and transportation info for Facets

Sunday, January 28, 6pm
Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960): with Martin E. Marty, Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity      

Monday, January 29, 6:30pm
Kumare (Vikram Gandhi, 2011): with Christian Wedemeyer, Associate Professor of the History of Religions

Tuesday, January 30, 6:30pm
Witness (Peter Weir, 1985): with Laurie Zoloth, Dean and Margaret E. Burton Professor 

Wednesday, January 31, 6:30pm
A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009): with Sarah Hammerschlag, Associate Professor of Religion and Literature, Philosophy of Religions and History of Judaism

Thursday, February 1, 6:30pm
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993): with Daniel A. Arnold, Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Religions

Friday, Februay 2, 6:30pm
The Lizard (Kamal Tabrizi, 2004): with Alireza Doostdar, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and the Anthropology and Sociology of Religion

From tent revivals to do-it-yourself ministries, just about everything that makes American Protestantism unique is on display in this 1960 classic. Best Actor-winner Burt Lancaster plays a charismatic, silver-tongued, ethically dubious salesman who takes a liking to a pretty evangelist (Jean Simmons), and decides he can sell religion too, if it will get him closer to her. In this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 novel, salvation meets show-biz, and Elmer Gantry makes the introduction.

Martin Marty, author of the three volume masterwork Modern American Religion, is one of the preeminent authorities on protestantism in America. He is also the namesake of the Martin Marty Center for Religion and Public Life at the University of Chicago, the co-sponsor of this film series. Marty will take part in a post-screening discussion of the film’s depiction of American Christianity. 

In a Borat-like move, New Jersey filmmaker Vikram Gandhi decides to pose as an Indian holy man, Sri Kumaré, who takes his invented philosophy to Phoenix, Arizona, to see if he can get anyone to follow him. This unusual documentary takes off in an unexpected direction, however, when Kumaré’s new-found acolytes begin to teach Gandhi some profound lessons in what - and who - is holy. Roger Ebert wrote that the film “reflects a truth that is often expressed in three words: ‘Act as if.”

Religious historian Christian Wedemeyer (University of Chicago Divinity School) comes to Facets for a post-screening discussion about spiritual seeking — with so many religious options available today, how do people make their way through the crowded religious marketplace?

Directed by Vikram Gandhi, USA, 2011, 84 mins. 

Samuel Lapp, an 8-year-old Amish boy, witnesses a murder in a Philadelphia train station. Against their will, Samuel and his recently widowed mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) are drawn into the violent, dangerous world of the “English” (the non-Amish). At the same time, police detective John Book (Harrison Ford) is forced into the Amish world, the only place he can be safe from the murderous and corrupt elements in his own police department.

Laurie Zoloth, Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and past president of the American Academy of Religion, will be on hand for a post-film discussion of the film’s depiction of religious life as an idealized escape from contemporary urban reality.

Directed by Peter Weir, USA, 1985, 112 mins. 

Physics professor Larry Gopnik’s life is nothing but tsuris - Yiddish for “troubles.” His wife is leaving him, he’s alienated from his kids, and he’s in danger of losing his job. And it just goes downhill from there. In this critically acclaimed film, the Coen brothers tell a modern-day Job story as a dark comedy about faith, suffering, and the divine.

Sarah Hammerschlag, historian of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, will be participating in a post-screening discussion of the film’s religious themes, including Jewish conceptions of God and the meaning of suffering as well as the figure of the Jew in the contemporary imagination.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, USA, 2009, 106 mins. 

Directed by former Facets Board Member Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is one of the most beloved - and hilarious - American comedies of the last 25 years. It has also been called “an underground Buddhist classic.” Bill Murray, as TV weatherman Phil Connors, is forced to relive the same day over and over, giving us a depiction of the Buddhist concept of “Samsara" - the

endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth into a world of suffering. What does Phil learn from his multiple reincarnations? How does he escape the cycle, and where does the escape take him?

Dan Arnold, a scholar of Indian Buddhism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, joins Gretchen Helfrich for a post-screening conversation about the film’s engagement with Buddhism, rebirth, and Phil’s journey out of the cycle.

Directed by Harold Ramis, USA,1993, 101 mins. 

In this Iranian comedy, a thief, Reza, escapes from prison disguised as a mullah. He flees to a small border town where he is mistaken for the real mullah the villagers had been expecting. Keeping up the ruse, Reza comes to a new, deeper understanding of Islam, transforming some of the villagers as well. The film takes some pot shots at the Iranian clerical establishment, but also explores serious religious themes such as the relationship between internal states and external appearances - an important concern in Shia Islam. And it’s funny!

After the screening, Alireza Doostdar, a scholar of Islam at the University of Chicago Divinity School whose work focuses on Iran, will be on hand to talk about and reflect on the religious dimensions of the film.

Directed by Kamal Tabrizi, USA, 2004, 115 mins.