Applying redemption through ﬁ lm: challenging the sacred-secular divide
The aim of this chapter is to explore the extent to which the language of redemption may be found to possess any viability outside the traditionally demarcated religious sphere and be appropriated in a secular context. As an applied theologian who works at the interface between theology and ﬁ lm, I was delighted to be invited to participate in the ESRC Life after Punishment conference that took place in Belfast in November 2006, where many of the same underlying questions which arise in theological circles concerning the remit of redemption came to the fore. How exclusive, autonomous and doctrinally speciﬁ c is the concept of redemption? Do attempts by theologians to break down barriers between ‘redemption’ in theology and ‘redemption’ in ﬁ lm — assuming, of course, that any sort of clear line of demarcation can be drawn between the sacred and the secular in the ﬁ rst place — not overlook the possibility that theological themes are simply being ‘read into’ ﬁ lms, whose religious or theological underpinning may be no more than coincidental and, even, unintentional on the part of ﬁ lm-makers? How susceptible are theologians to the charge of misrepresentation? Although the term ‘redemption’ has undeniable theological connotations and, in Clive Marsh’s words, “forges an obvious link to theological discussion” (Marsh 1998 : para 21), why should it automatically follow that a ‘religious’ reading of a ﬁ lm such as (to give an obvious and, as we shall see, much cited example) The Shawshank Redemption (1994) can simply fall into place? After all, does not religion only exist in concrete and particular forms, such that even within Christianity itself there are to be found a whole plethora of different types and varieties of ‘redemptions’, rather than any universal, objective and monolithic brand in relation to which a straightforward dialogue may accrue? As Marsh puts it, “unless it be claimed that scholars of religion … are somehow able to transcend the concreteness of religious particularity and the detail of human living, it is necessary to attend to the speciﬁ cs of what religions … actually claim and promote” (Marsh 1998 : para 11). With this in mind, if, as is believed to be the case among many criminologists, it is possible to develop a new, secular argument in favour of the ideal of redemption, such as in the context of the role of
confession, repentance and forgiveness among habitual criminal offenders, then some attention needs to be paid to the appropriateness of the vocabulary that is being used in view of the origins of the term ‘redemption’ in a Christian context, where it is inextricably bound up with Christian thought, faith and practice.