Review of Spiritual Sensations: Cinematic Religious Experience and Evolving Conceptions of the Sacred by Sarah K. Balstrup

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This painstakingly researched dissertation turned monograph is the latest offering in a scant series of academic endeavours akin to Devotional Cinema (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2003), Cinema and Sentiment: Film’s Challenge to Theology (Clive Marsh, 2004), and Dreams, Doubt, and Dread: The Spiritual in Film (Zachary Settle & Taylor Worley, 2016). Balstrup attempted to use the popular cinema for ‘an exploration of spiritual experiences and the conditions that are necessary to bring them about…[because] film directors are particularly well equipped to engage the senses and to facilitate powerful viewing experiences’ (p. 1).

Inspired by the work of Paul Schrader, but rejecting his notion of transcendental style in favour of an alternative spirituality, she focused her research upon three contemporary Western, English-language filmic exemplars, namely: Stanley Kubrick’s SF classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [hereafter 2001], the France-based Argentinean Gaspar Noé’s erotic fantasydrama Enter the Void (2009), and the Denmark-based Danish Lars von Trier’s doomed SFdomestic drama Melancholia (2011). Balstrup claimed that these directors generated ‘viewer responses that are reminiscent of traditional accounts of mystical experience’ (p. 1) via their deployment of cinematic ‘devices of richness and intensity that overwhelm the viewer’s senses’ (p. 3). This overwhelming of one’s senses was a psychophysical defining marker that (supposedly) established ‘the increased importance of intense and abstract experiences as characteristic of an authentic encounter with truth’ (p. 2), whatever ‘authentic’ and ‘truth’ operationally meant to her...
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalThe Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2023


  • Literature critique
  • Sarah K. Balstrup
  • Spiritual Sensations
  • religion-and-film


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