Some ideas for festive reading, viewing and listening…

From staff in the Department of Religious Studies

We asked our staff and students what they would recommend for students of Religious Studies, Global Philosophies and Asian Studies to get stuck into over Christmas, and here’s what they came up with:

Ward Blanton, Reader in Religious Studies, says:
For holiday reading I wholeheartedly recommend a really short novel called Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. McCarthy is a far out writer sometimes compared to one of my favourite (and equally far out) media theorists named Friedrich Kittler. This book follows an anthropologist working for a huge and largely secret corporation which is paying him to map, well, EVERYTHING about contemporary life. It’s sort of a ‘holy grail’ story, like can we find the hidden secret that somehow explains who we are and how we’re all interconnected? Before it’s all done, our intrepid corporate anthropologist is wondering about oil spills, romances gone wrong, and murder – you’ll love it, a rhapsody for contemporary life!

I’m currently on a religious studies kick about how films imagine the use of medicines and mind-altering substances in the future (e.g. the use of imaginary drugs like ‘soma’ in Brave New World, ‘melange’ in Dune, or all the weird things they consume in Naked Lunch). But I think I’ll settle in to watch again Prozac Nation, one of the first seriously popular texts to explore youth cultures in relation to what was sometimes in the 1990’s imagined as a kind of breakthrough for ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology’. And my weird religious studies wonder behind all this? These contemporary cultures have a lot to do with the fact that we’re living through a tradition which imagined, from Plato to Prozac Nation, divinity or ‘spirit’ as something which is ‘self-affecting’ – something which manufactures its own mood… Give it a look and come and map out these questions with us at Kent!

Leslie de Vries, Lecturer in East Asian Studies, says:
I’m waiting for two films to show on Netflix soon: Lulu Wang’s The Farewell with Awkwafina (famous from Crazy Rich Asians, a film I recommended last year). The Farewell is a moving comedy-drama. It tells the story of a Chinese-America girl who returns to China to visit her terminally ill grandmother who seems to be the only person not aware of her condition. The film engages with different cultural approaches to illness, something which fascinates me as a historian of medicine. Maybe I’ll buy the DVD… Have a look a the trailer. I’m also looking forward to watching Parasite, a Korean Black Comedy by Bong Joon Ho awarded with the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Check out this trailer, too.

Maybe not the most appealing book title, but I’m really interested in Bryan Van Norden’s Classical Chinese for Everyone: A Guide for Absolute Beginners (2019). I would especially recommend this book if you can’t wait learning to read and write Chinese characters and if you already want to know something more about Chinese philosophy. Van Norden makes this ancient language accessible for everyone in a very lucid and funny way.

Wahida Ahmed, recent graduate in Religious Studies says:
I would recommend Ninian Smart’s The World’s Religions. It gives a really good insight into the course, particularly useful for the core module of ‘What is Religion?’. It helps to understand the complexity of the term ‘religion’ and looks at religions across the world as well as from secular perspectives.

Chis Deacy in front of a copy of the Christmas Radio Times 2017 editionChris Deacy, Reader in Religious Studies, says:
I look forward to watching several Christmas films over the holiday. I wrote a book about Christmas and religion, Christmas as Religion, a few years ago, in which I looked at how ‘secular’ Christmas films such as The Santa Clause and It’s a Wonderful Life have much to teach us about the transcendental and the supernatural in a world where we are supposed to be scientifically and technologically minded and have no time for myth or magic. I am also fascinated by the question of what Christmas is all about – is it a religious festival that is about the Nativity or a secular festival of consumption and materialism? Can Christmas be religious because of, rather than in spite of, its secular dimensions?

Professor Yvonne SherwoodYvonne Sherwood, Professor of Biblical Cultures and Politics, says:
During the holidays I’m really looking forward to writing the Very Short Introduction to Blasphemy (Oxford), which was based on new module, Blasphemy: Sex, Scandal and Religion that I taught here in the spring. I’m seriously going to be looking through the ‘best bits’ of student essays, as there were so many good ideas from that class. I’m also going to be watching and rewatching some films that were accused of blasphemy (maybe with a box of Quality Street to make it feel more Xmassy!). I’ll be re-watching the Indian satirical film PK (meaning Tipsy)–the story of an alien (with good muscles) who ends up stranded on earth and is very confused by the plurality of religions. I’m also going to re-watch La Ricotta (Passolini) and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

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