Professor Jenn Lindsay on Documentary Film as Interreligious Dialogue

Professor Jenn Lindsay recently published the article “Documentary Film as Interreligious Dialogue: A Cognitive Perspective” in the journal Religions. Professor Lindsay is a social scientist, documentary filmmaker, and musician whose work explores social diversity, intercultural relations, community building, personal transformation, and social change movements.

Jenn Lindsay

Jenn Lindsay

Research and personal experience affirm that watching a movie can change the way someone lives their life. Documentary storytelling is a multidimensional change agent, a digital media artifact that is rooted in real communities, real lives, and real stories. Because documentary is rooted in the human social world, watching one is a cognitively, psychologically, emotionally, socially, and politically complicated act. Thus, it is a potent medium for stimulating discourse, reflection, and behavioral change. Professor Lindsay’s article explores the power of visual storytelling and positive media representation as a Parasocial-Relational form of interreligious dialogue and delves into practical application as it contemplates best practices for how filmmakers might harness that power, reviewing the literature on the possible social, cognitive, and neurobiological impact of documentary. This interdisciplinary cognitive-sociological theory of change posits documentary film as a lever for increased interreligious competence because of its unique ability to disarm with visual storytelling and engaging characters, leading to a potentially reflexive experience of humanization and perceptual shift.

Jenn Lindsay earned her Ph.D. from Boston University in the social science of religion, conducting ethnographic analysis of interreligious dialogue in Rome and in the Middle East, published in 2021 with the release of her book Pluralismo Vivo – Lived Religious Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue in Rome. She also earned a Master of Divinity degree with an emphasis in Interfaith Relations at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, studied Playwriting at Stanford University and Theatre Management at Yale University School of Drama.

Professor Lindsay is also the Co-Founder and CEO of So Fare Films, a film production company in Rome that creates media about social diversity and offers an internship program for professional formation in media business, marketing, and production. For ten years prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Dr. Lindsay worked in the film and music industries in New York City, producing ten studio albums and serving as a story editor for MTV and the Sundance Channel. She has screened her films throughout the world, the topics ranging from an African Buddhist monk’s life and teachings, computer scientists simulating the spread of religious terrorism, the Indonesian Muslim headscarf, atheist Jews from Boston, and Italian hippies building artistic nativity displays. She served for six years as the video documentarian for the Center for Mind and Culture.

Watch the animated visual abstract of the article prepared by Prof. Lindsay’s research assistant, student Rebecca Proietti.