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Teaching post: Watching ‘Shikoku’ in ‘Religion in Documentary Film’

Today, for my Religion in Documentary Film class, my students and I are watching one of the Bruce Feiler Sacred Journeys: Shikoku. We are using the film as a window to some Buddhist ideals and experiences, while examining how the film frames the Shikoku pilgrims.

I ask my students to compare the Shikoku pilgrims to people visiting a Sufi tomb/mazar. What are the purposes, experiences, and rituals, in this Buddhist pilgrimage? Is it similar or different from Hajj or umrah, or pilgrimages to the gravesites of revered Muslim persons? What is the role of hardship, nature, relics? How does the Shikoku pilgrimage shed light on the key pursuits and concepts of Buddhism? What appear to be features of the Shikoku pilgrims’ religious and spiritual lives? What questions about Shikoku pilgrims and Buddhist life does the film not answer?

But technically and politically, I ask them to compare the framing of this film to Life in Hidden Light, a film about Carmelite nuns which uses no voice-over narration. What purpose does the narration play? How does it frame the religious experience? How does the creator of the documentary portray the Shikoku pilgrimage and the pilgrims?

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