4. Sensing Reelism: Portals to Multiple Realities and Relationships in World, Indigenous, and Documentary Cinema

Religion and Sight - Louise Child

Louise Child [+-]
Cardiff University
Dr. Louise Child is a lecturer in myth, ritual and film studies at Cardiff University, U.K. with research interests in altered states of consciousness including dreams, visions, mysticism, shamanism, and possession trance and their depictions in popular and indigenous films. She is a member of the British Association for the Study of Religion and has published on indigenous film in New Zealand for their journal. Her book Tantric Buddhism and Altered States of Consciousness: Durkheim, Emotional Energy and Visions of the Consort has recently been re-issued in paperback by Routledge. She is currently working on a second book project, Mothers, Vampires and Ghosts: Anthropological Perspectives on the Sacred and Psychology in Film and Television.


The tendency to assume that film can capture social reality persists. Scholars such as Carp (2008) have suggested that recent trends in the scholarship of the senses (Classen, 1998 & 1993, Stoller, 1997) are important both for explaining the phenomenon and providing a more balanced engagement with indigenous cultures. This essay therefore explores ways in which the equating of seeing with consciousness, rationality, understanding, and truth can be challenged by anthropological studies of personhood that suggest that perception, the senses, and emotions are not simply expressed or described differently in diverse cultures but are fundamentally shaped by social relationships (Stoller, 1997, Lutz, 1988). Nevertheless, the study of lived religions does suggest ways in which sight can be enormously powerful. Not only can sacred objects and persons return the gaze, making mutual looking a form of touch, but persons who look without taking appropriate care can be destroyed as a consequence. Sight, in common with other senses, can be used as a portal to other dimensions or a gateway to altered states of consciousness (Hume, 2007), within which encounters with persons or insights become possible. Moreover, what one sees and the experience of sight itself may have significant qualitative differences in these states, so that, for example, bodies may appear to glow with coloured light; or mountains, lakes and wells may express their personhood or reveal portals to other dimensions. This paper therefore also explores a range of ways in which films have depicted the mythical power of the gaze and the revelations of a range of visionary experiences, arguing that indigenous films in particular tend to contextualize these experiences as a reflection of relationships between persons who may take human, animal, ancestral, god-like, and spiritual forms. In doing so I suggest that films can both portray and act like portals, offering windows to multiple realities and creatively animating indigenous story-telling.

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Child, Louise. 4. Sensing Reelism: Portals to Multiple Realities and Relationships in World, Indigenous, and Documentary Cinema. Religion and Sight. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Jul 2020. ISBN 9781781797495. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=35747. Date accessed: 21 Nov 2019 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35747. Jul 2020

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