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The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television
As humans, it is our trust in something larger than ourselves that invests our lives with meaning and value. We hope that outside the boundaries of everyday living there lies something greater. As Doug Cowan argues, science fiction is the genre of possibility and hope, a principal canvas on which writers, artists, and filmmakers have sketched their visions of this transcendent potential for generations. In Sacred Space, he leads readers in a compelling exploration of how this transcendence is manifested in science-fiction cinema and television of today.
From the millennial dreams of a future bright with potential to the promise of evolution from some as-yet-undreamed engine of creation, science fiction’s visions of transcendence animate the pages of Sacred Space. Drawing on the most popular examples—Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, and Stargate SG-1—as well as the lesser known but no less important, Cowan reveals the multivalent religious ideas present in this media. Why do these themes that consistently appear in science fiction matter? What do they reveal about the often ambivalent relationship between outer space and our spirits? Cowan insightfully shows how these films and shows express and reinforce culturally constructed conceptions of transcendent hope, and along the way provides a provocative reflection on what this ultimately says about our culture’s worldviews, hopes, and fears.
Part I. Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence
1. The Brightness against the Black
2. Pinocchio’s Galaxy
Science Fiction and the Question of Transcendence
3. First Contact
Human Exceptionalism in the Calculus of Hope
4. “Intellects Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic”
The War of the Worlds and the Transcendence of Modernity
Part II: Science Fiction and the Modes of Transcendence
5. Heeding the Prophet’s Call
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
6. The von Däniken Paradox
7. All Alone in the Night
8. So Say We All
9. The Truth is Out There
Transcendence and the Neverending Quest
"An intriguing and entertaining look into some of the questions that science fiction raises, especially what it means to be human, and sometimes more than human....[E]ven casual Trekkies and sci-fi buffs will be engaged by Cowan's interpretations and possibilities."
"Sacred Space is a valuable exploration of the place of God through a particular genre. It is an original contribution to an underexplored subject, and it establishes an important reference for future research on this element of life.”
—David H. Pereyra, Religion and the Arts
“From the ‘millennial dreams’ and ‘apocalyptic nightmares’ of alien contact to the Buddhist visions of Neo’s matrix, Doug Cowan weaves a grand adventure for fans and students of religion and science fiction. If the hope for transcendence is the universal human religious question, as Cowan ably presents, then science fiction film and television are the blank screens most qualified in our media-rich culture to propel us on that journey.”
—Conrad Ostwalt, Professor of Religious Studies, Appalachian State University
“Cowan convincingly demonstrates that modern science-fiction films and television shows have made religious questions and answers central to the issues they raise about human identity, values, and purpose. By emphasizing the diversity of religious ideas present in these media, Cowan shows how they are as multivariant as the nature of religion itself. In so doing, he sheds light not only on what religion is, but also on what it might be.”
—John Lyden, Professor and Chair of Religion, Dana College, and author of Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals
“Highly recommended. Here we learn that science fiction is more than bug-eyed aliens and saucers—and that it often reveals our quest for the sacred.”
—John W. Morehead, editor, www.theofantastique.com
“Cowan’s in-depth exploration of the religious content of science-fiction films and television shows is a great step forward for the study of religion and popular culture. By taking fictional religions on their own terms, he uncovers complex meanings within some of science fiction’s best-loved films and television shows. His discussions of the role of religion in War of the Worlds, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Stargate SG-1 are the most thorough you’ll find.”
—Gabriel McKee, author of The Gospel According to Science Fiction
Douglas E. Cowan is Professor of Religious Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. His most recent publications include Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen; Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet; and Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.