24118RE: [Yuricon] Re: Utena and Academics
- Dec 1, 2007Thanks very much for the URL, Crimson. I'll definitely check that site out.
I hear what you're saying about religious imagery often not reflecting a real religious interest or theme in the anime. Evangelion is certainly a good example of that. As a theologian it was often very annoying to see so many religious themes (not to mention iconography, but that's another discussion) just thrown into the mix without actually using them; especially when the series' real philosophical point was so poorly expressed. It's all a bit of a missed opportunity as far as I can see.
Still, the use of imagery as fetish aside, there are many genuinely theological themes in anime that would certainly support academic exploration. I wouldn't want to limit the scope of enquiry to be Christian theology (although that is my area of expertise) or even Western theology in general - Buddhism and Shintoism are used liberally in anime, which makes them fertile ground for further discussion. I've not watched enough of Utena to develop any ideas about overarching themes (looking forward to watching more than one episode!), but I'll definitely look out for any Gnostic overtones. If one was to explore that particular area, I believe one would have to focus on a particular variety of Gnosticism, rather than risking losing oneself in the myriad of different ideas gathered under that very inclusive umbrella term. Restricting oneself to Valentinian Gnosticism or that of Basilides for example might be more fruitful than using a much more generalised overview. I think one has to be careful in these kind of enquiries to do a little projecting as possible. That is, I think it possible to use the anime source material as a kind of focusing device, where one takes the themes raised and then explores them without suggesting that the author was an expert on that particular area of academic study. For example, it might be the case that Ms. Saito has never heard of Valentinus, but that doesn't mean that her work might raise interesting questions that can be further explored through reference to Valentinus' beliefs.
For myself though, I think I would like to explore themes rather than focus on particular historical theologies. My area of theology is Christian systematics, which means I'm interested in the construction of theologies. Unlike our historical or biblical brethren, we systematic theologians go about exploring and constructing theology through a study of broad themes - creation, redemption, salvation. One of my favourite anime series, and it is probably my favourite for just this reason, has a surprisingly well developed doctrine of sin and redemption. Haibane Renmei is a wonderful example of a series with well-realised religious themes, and I would love to use it as my focusing device to further explore ideas of the meaning and reality of sin, and the process of redemption. I think it also has something to say about the state of salvation, but that is more of an afterthought, since the focus of the story is the process of coming to salvation and less about the state itself.
It's good to know that a forum for such discussion does exist though - I would hate to get caught up in this kind of study and then discover that there was no audience for it at all. I know for a fact that I would get laughed out of town if I tried to talk about religious themes in any kind of popular media in the vast majority of academic theological journals. It's the nature of academia, I suppose, to equate "popular" with "shallow". Though I accept that plenty of popular media is indeed nothing more than shallow entertainment, there are examples of particular works, in a variety of different fields, having far more to say than simply being caught up in the business of entertaining a given audience.
Anyway, food for thought. Once my thesis is completed I might start putting a little something together.
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