What do Captain America and Aslan have in common? Dr. Adam Barkman, professor and chair of Redeemer’s Philosophy department, has a theory.
Barkman travelled to the Université Paris Nanterre in Paris, France last November to deliver a lecture series called “American Religion and Heroic Films.” He was asked to give these talks because of his recent explorations of philosophy in the works of contemporary film directors like Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and James Cameron. Barkman has also taken on a new position as editor of the series Critical Companions to Contemporary Directors, which is being published by Lexington Books. The series, which has three titles released so far, explores film through the lens of philosophy and other academic disciplines.
Barkman’s lecture series, supported by grants from both Redeemer and Paris, was drawn from two of his main interests: the philosophy of C. S. Lewis and contemporary film. “While C. S. Lewis was not an American philosopher, he has been massively influential on American Christianity,” Barkman says. “That influence includes, but is not limited to, his view of the intersection between reason, imagination and myth making.”
Lewis’s own novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, have sparked the imagination of Hollywood and are ingrained in the minds of secular audiences. The fantasy series has been adapted for television, radio, stage and film. It’s even been picked up by Netflix. The streaming service announced in the fall of 2018 that it is developing new series and film projects based on the beloved book series.
Barkman’s lecture brought Lewis’ perspective to American films. “This typeof reading,” Barkman explains, “is less suspicious of heroic films as propaganda— though heroic films can be this. It is more attentive to supernatural imagery that breaks in and the ethical behaviour that is upheld for instructive purposes.”Lewis, known for his prolific writing on apologetics, used fiction to teach lessons on morality and religion.
Barkman found a sense of camaraderie with Lewis. C.S. Lewis described a sense of rightness when he attended a lecture discussing the theology of John Milton at Oxford University, a place that began as a Christian institution. Barkman experienced a similar feeling as he lectured openly about Christian ideas at the Université Paris Nanterre. He says, “I’m sure Thomas Aquinas was paying me no mind, but if he were, he might have smiled to see another philosopher at his university doing the work the university had been made for.
Dr. Barkman will be giving another series of talks on philosophy in film at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in April 2020 and delivering the keynote at the Film, Philosophy and Religion conference at Concordia University of Edmonton in May 2020.