Faith, Film and Philosophy—The Evolution of an Idea

A book I did with James Spiegel, Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, was released late last fall by InterVarsity Press. Today I heard from Cindy Gould, leader of a reading group called “Verbivores” (suggesting an appetite for words). Cindy asked about the origin of the book, how we decided on films to write about and how we selected contributors. Here’s the answer to that question.

Jim and I are college professors who teach philosophy and enjoy film. We decided we wanted to bring these interests together into a book. When big ideas are packaged in a compelling film, they have great potential to influence culture. We wanted to test this thesis by inviting other philosophers who like film to share their perspectives. We wanted this to be fun, so we thought about friends of ours who share this interest and asked them to participate.

We had an idea how long we wanted the book to be and decided we could manage about a dozen chapters. We ended up with fourteen. We didn’t start with a detailed structure for the book and then recruit authors to fit into that structure. Instead, we began with a list of people we knew we would enjoy working with. They also had to be people with talent for thinking about cultural trends and a gift for writing with wisdom and an engaging style. With list in hand, we approached each one with the basic idea and asked this question, “If you were to write a chapter for this book, what film or films would you want to write about, and what ideas would you like to discuss?” We picked the authors; they picked the films.

Now I have to qualify. We knew that if we were going to do a book of this kind, we had to include a chapter on The Matrix. Some people think of this film and its sequels as the most philosophical of relatively recent films. A potential reader couldn’t pick the book up expecting to find a discussion of The Matrix and be disappointed. Instantly we knew who we needed to get for this chapter. We just hoped he would agree. He did.

When we had chapter proposals from everyone, we recognized there was this remarkable range of film coverage that included the classic and the contemporary, the familiar and the intriguing, the safe and the edgy. On top of that, our hoped-for contributors had all settled on different topics and issues, resulting in a surprising balance of treatment of themes in philosophy. With chapter ideas set side-by-side, a natural structure for the book emerged. People who liked film could read this book and learn more than a smattering of philosophy—philosophy made (almost) painless.

I’m anxious to hear how the Verbivores respond to the book during their discussion on Wednesday. Maybe some of them will post their comments here.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

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