Serendipity, although rare, still occurs in university life. As an adjunct instructor whose livelihood revolves around the number of courses that may be squeezed into a limited number of days, I have been considering online courses. As an avid watcher of horror movies—excellent preparation for adjunct life these days—I have attempted to sample the genre widely. It is therapeutic to see people in fictional situations worse than my own. While attending a training course on constructing online courses earlier this week I was surprised to find out my instructor was Brent Monahan, a versatile and talented individual of whose presence at Rutgers I was unaware. Most famously Dr. Monahan wrote the novel and screenplay for An American Haunting, a movie I had written a post on back in January.
Compulsive in my desire to be on time, I generally show up to all appointments early. For this particular session I was the first person present, so, not recognizing my teacher, we struck up a conversation about my field of studies. (He asked; I try not to lead with my chin.) He was nonplussed about the fact that I am affiliated with the religious studies department—in general this is a conversation stopper since, along with politics, it is a forbidden topic in polite company. Before I realized who he was he suggested that perhaps people go into this field because of their internal struggle with good and evil. It was a perceptive statement and it made sense when it came out that he was a writer of horror films and novels.
Since I’ve been exploring the nexus between religion and horror I have wondered what the deeper connection might be. Clearly fear of the unknown, the overly powerful, and the randomness of life in an uncaring universe play into it, but perhaps it is also the struggle of good and evil. Horror films often present the “what if” scenario: what if the side of evil were allowed free reign? Often the fount of that evil, in horror films, is religion gone awry. Certainly in An American Haunting a pious man is driven by inner demons to the abuse of his own child. That he is a religious man is made plain from the near-constant presence of a clergyman in his house once the haunting starts. While the exact relationship remains to be parsed, it is clear that fear and religion reside very near one another in our brains, perhaps as near as good resides to evil.