Increasingly, professors of religion are using movies, both fiction films and documentaries, in their classrooms. Reasons for the attractiveness of the medium as a pedagogical tool abound: ready availability, immediacy of impact, congeniality for young audiences who are more attuned to images than to words, to name just a few. But how many of us who use texts check our critical tools at the movie house door and settle for a credulity vis-a-vis the visual image, a credulity that we otherwise find unacceptable in the classroom? We know that history, no less than fiction (even if differently from fiction) is an imaginative work that involves shaping events into a story. But how many of us knowledgeable ones use documentary films in our classroom as if they showed students "what Buddhism is really like"? Doesn't such an attitude amount to a sort of film fundamentalism?

If films are to remain an important resource for "teaching about religion", perhaps it is time to become somewhat more reflective about what they mean. There are plenty of good reasons why we are not particularly adept at reading films critically, and many of them have to do with the medium itself. Indeed, most movies positively conspire against us in our critical task. What is that conspiracy and what can we do about it? How can we deal with movies on their own terms? First, then, let's look at some ways in which movies work at seducing us into critical somnolence.