This page will introduce you to feature films set in American religious communities, including critically acclaimed works of cinema, light romantic comedies, and everything in between. These films can help you teach about the everyday lives of diverse religious communities, but they cannot be mistaken for non-fiction portraits of these communities. In order to teach effectively with these films, you need to see them as creative works, and help your students understand and critique their genre conventions. Perhaps even more than literature, the visual immediacy of film promises us access to other people’s lives and experiences — teachers should work to realize this promise with their students, while maintaining a critical awareness of its limits.
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 Buddhist Communities
Little Buddha 1993 PG
In a big American city, a boy and his family discover the story of a prince in a land of miracles. But the miracle becomes real when Tibetan monks appear, searching for their leader’s reincarnation, who they believe to be the boy. Suddenly, their worlds meet, leading the Americans on an extraordinary adventure.
Folk Religion in Chinese-American Communities
A Great Wall 1986 PG
The Joy Luck Club 1993 R
Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity 2004 NR
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers 2007 NR
Christianity and Christian Communities
The Apostle 1997 PG-13
Sonny responds to his wife’s infidelity with a crime of passion that sends him on a new and uncharted quest for redemption. Under the assumed identity of “The Apostle E.F.,” he settles in a tiny Louisiana town to revive an old church, where he undergoes a transformation of spirit and purpose that enlivens his community. But will the law catch up to him? Does he deserve to be punished? The answer is left to the viewer.
Blood of Jesus 1941 NR
But I’m a Cheerleader 1999 R
Doubt 2008 PG-13
Elmer Gantry 1960 NR
God’s Army 2000 PG
Household Saints 1993 R
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2002 PG
Witness 1985 R
Hinduism and South Asian Communities
ABCD 2001 NR
When Anju moved her kids from India to New York CIty, she hoped they would still accept their Hindu roots. Instead, she wound up with sarcastic teenage daughter Nina, whose promiscuity and aloof nature are tiresome. Anju’s only hope lies with her son Raj, who seems to embrace an arranged marriage. But when Raj is let down at work, will he give up on his new bride and respond to a co-worker’s advances?
Islam and Muslim Communities
American East 2007 R
Malcolm X 1992 PG-13
Mooz-Lum 2010 PG-13
My Name is Khan 2010 PG-13
The Taqwacores 2010 NR
Prince Among Slaves 2008, NR
Judaism and Jewish Communities
Avalon 1990 PG
The Chosen 1981 PG
Hester Street 1975 PG
Native American Spiritual Traditions and Communities
Older Than America 2008 NR
Rain in the Mountains 2006 NR
Smoke Signals 1998 PG-13
Sikhism and Sikh Communities
Ocean of Pearls 2008 PG-13
When young Sikh surgeon Amrit Singh senses that his outward appearance could cost him dearly when it comes to professional opportunities in America, he shuns his traditional family, takes off his turban and cuts his long, black hair. But shedding his religious convictions proves far more complicated in this penetrating tale about racism and self-realization.
African Diaspora Spirit Traditions and Communities
The Color Purple 1985 PG-13
Daughters of the Dust 1991 NR
Interfaith Relations, both Serious and Silly
David: The Movie 2011 NR
Keeping the Faith 2000 PG-13