This page will introduce you to documentary films on American religious life, including ethnographic portraits that can immerse your students in diverse religious communities, as well as more focused explorations of specific issues in contemporary religious life.
Please note that this is not a comprehensive or carefully curated list. We’ve included films documenting diverse faith traditions, but we certainly haven’t covered everything. We would love to hear your suggestions of additional films to include, as well as your thoughts or concerns about any of the films on the list.
For more resources and films, see this list of films for the religious studies classroom, and especially the website of The Journal of Religion and Film. The site offers a wide range of materials that can enrich your students’ understanding of religion on film, including an extensive bibliography of scholarly articles and film reviews, all available in full-text.
Buddhism and Martial Arts
Shaolin Ulysses: Kung Fu Monks in America 2004 NR
If you get a kick out of kung fu, you’ll love this exhilarating film that traces the journey of five kung fu monks in search of the American dream. Hailing from China’s legendary Shaolin Temple, these Zen masters and kung fu stars have left their homeland to forge a new life and bring their special brand of martial arts to the West. Hear their personal stories and watch in awe as they display some of their best moves.
Christianity and Christian Communities
Chase the Devil 1983 NR
Originally aired on PBS, these documentaries focus on the music and exuberant preaching styles of prominent religions in the southeastern United States, from the Baptists to the Holiness Church. The sights and sounds, combined with extensive interviews and personal accounts, offer a first-hand look at the myriad music and traditions that converge to create this geographic region’s own unique, provocative culture.
Devil’s Playground 2002 NR
For the Bible Tells Me So 2007 NR
Friends of God 2006 TV-14
Hell House 2001 NR
Jesus Camp 2007 PG-13
Knocking 2006 NR
Let the Church Say Amen 2004 NR
Rejoice and Shout 2010 PG
Soldiers in the Army of God 2005 NR
Waiting For Armageddon 2009 NR
Witnesses of Jehovah 1988 NR
Hinduism and Yoga
Ashtanga, NY 2003 NR
Yoga enthusiasts take their practice to a higher level in this fitness documentary that reveals the power of Ashtanga, a high-energy regimen that works the mind, body and soul and promotes strength and healing. Filmed around the same time as the tragedy of September 11, Ashtanga, NY shows how yogis and other practitioners helped a populace find peace during a terrible and taxing time for the city’s denizens.
Islam and Muslim Communities
Allah Made Me Funny 2008 NR
New Muslim Cool 2009 NR
Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football, and the American Dream 2011 NR
On a Wing and a Prayer 2009 NR
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam 2004 NR
Judaism and Jewish Communities
Four Seasons Lodge 2008 NR
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America 1997 NR
Praying with Lior 2007 NR
Interfaith Relations and American Religious Politics
Brother Born Again 2001 NR
The Calling 2010 TV-PG
Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath 2006 NR
Fremont, USA 2009 NR
Lord, Save Us From Your Followers 2008 PG-13
So Help Me God 2008 NR