Story Magazine - Winter, 2010

Faith on Film

by Tracy Behrendt, Correspondent

Lutherans can find God in a multitude of places. For Tyler Beane, a first-year M.A. student in systematic theology at Luther Seminary, God works through film.

"The first time I felt a deeper connection to my faith occurred in a non-traditional way: while watching the film 'Contact' when I was 13 years old," recalls Beane. "Near the end of the story, Jodie Foster's character is overwhelmed with awe and the realization that we are not alone. That was how I felt watching this film, that I was not alone."

Since then, Beane's faith and understanding of God have been closely tied to film. When he entered St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., Beane's adviser encouraged him to connect his two interests. By his senior year, Beane had written several papers on theology in film and established contacts outside of the college to assist in his studies. It was also in college that he discovered that the study of film and theology was a growing academic field, with numerous scholars researching movies' religious undertones. Beane co-led the St. Olaf Film Club, which gave him the space to hold open conversations on religion in film. He eventually led a faith-and-film series in 2008 at Holden Village in Washington, at which people candidly discussed faith issues in the films. Current Luther Seminary professor Christian Scharen and his wife, Sonja Batalden, coordinated the program that summer.

After nearly two years of considering graduate school, Beane decided to focus his study on theology while connecting it to film whenever possible. And that led him to Luther Seminary.

"Although Luther does not do much with film specifically, I found that the people I was talking to at Luther were very open to me exploring these interdisciplinary interests of mine," Beane says. "So here I am."

Beane is pursuing an independent study in science fiction, film and theology this spring and plans to eventually focus his thesis on the power of film. In addition to his studies at Luther Seminary, he attends classes at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities through its Theology and the Arts program. Beane particularly appreciates the classroom experiences and the openness of discussion at both seminaries.

"One of my favorite parts of grad school is that my classes all connect more explicitly than they ever did in college," he says. "I've been able to have theology and arts conversations in all of my classes, and those conversations have leaked over into other classes so as to feel like one big conversation."

Beane hopes to work toward his doctorate degree in theology and ultimately teach in a Christian-affiliated liberal arts college. But, most important to his journey, he knows he's in the right place.

"I feel called to struggle with how this experience of God in film works, and it is one reason I feel called to come to seminary to learn about theology, art and film."