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Sacred Terror
Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen

By Douglas E. Cowan

Sacred Terror
Paperback, 325 pages $29.95
Published: 1st February 2016
ISBN: 9781481304900
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Cultural Studies, All Religious Studies, Religion & Popular Culture

Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power-and the powerlessness-of religion.


1 Tickets, Please                                                                       

An Introduction to Sacred Terror

2 Lying at the Heart of Horror                                                              

Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen 

3 Angels to Some, Demons to Others                                       

Fear of Change in the Sacred Order

4 No Sanctuary                                                                         

Ambivalence and the Fear of Sacred Places

5 Stalking Life                                                                                      

The Fear of Death and of Dying Badly

6 Mainstreaming Satan                                                              

Fear of Supernatural Evil Internalized and Externalized

7 The Unholy Human                                                               

Fear of Fanaticism and Fear of the Flesh

8 Curtain and House Lights                                                     

Possibility Persists in the World Outside the Frame




Readers should take up this darkly pleasurable book... A remarkably engaging colloquial work on the salience of religion for the neglected genre of horror films... Recommended. All readers, all levels.


"Crisply organized and well written, Sacred Terror is an excellent introduction for general readers and especially undergraduates to the academic study of horror, the basic concerns of religion, and how religion informs film."

—Sybil A. Thornton, Entangled Religions

Well written and expertly organized, this book will certainly be exciting to movie buffs, and, because of its central emphasis upon the cultural and religious angst inherent in horror movies, will appeal to the intelligent thinker. American Studies scholars may find it a welcome exploration into a topic little explored in American scholarship.

—Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas, November 2009 (Vol 40)

"Cowan’s analysis of the horror film genre reveals that our primary concern is not secular or rational behavior, but a deep ambivalence toward religion."

—Kate Rae Davis, Anglican Theological Review

Cowan proves that the genre of horror film belongs firmly in the interest of religious studies.

—S. Brent Plate, Associate Professor of Religion and the Visual Arts, Texas Christian University, and author of Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-creation of the World

Sacred Terror will prove a compelling and necessary read for a motley audience.... For those interested in religion and film, this is a must read as it investigates and legitimizes an oft-overlooked niche of the film world. Further, the revelation of cultural ambivalence towards and fear of religion necessitates dialogue and study in theological and sociological environments.

Nova Religio 13.4 (May 2010)

Douglas E. Cowan (Ph.D. University of Calgary) is Professor of Religious Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo.

Publication Details:

 Paperback , 325 pages
 9in x 6in

  PER004030, SOC039000, SOC052000
 Baylor University Press

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