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Julian Clark ’25 has long been fascinated by religion, and the role it plays in both the lives of individuals and groups. Growing up in the Methodist and Baptist churches, Julian began to think deeply about the endless well of ever-complex issues relating to religion. Eventually, he merged this curiosity with another strong interest of his—film—and as a high schooler, directed a film titled The In-Between Hour, which Julian describes as “an alternate look at the concept of purgatory and the self-expressive presumption of ego.” The film premiered in July 2021, raising $500 for Mental Health America.
When Julian arrived at Pace a few months later, he was planning on taking his interest in film even further, majoring in film and screen studies while planning on using New York City as the ultimate backdrop for movie-making. Yet, the pull of religious study remained strong. In his first semester, Julian took a class titled Introduction to the Study of Religion, taught by Philosophy and Religious Studies Assistant Professor Daniel Barber, PhD. In the class, Julian was able to further explore ideas pertaining to how religious studies is approached. He also became interested in the concept of religious formation around material goods, and the ways in which religions evolve over time to meet the needs of the current moment.
“Religions are and will continue to be made and corrected based off the needs of the current era,” says Julian. “Christianity has evolved dramatically from what it was in the past—it reflects the lives of people now. I wanted to conduct research around the origins of faith, how these practices are meeting the needs of the present, in order to understand how in the past, they were made fit to meet the needs of the past.”
I wanted to conduct research around the origins of faith, how these practices are meeting the needs of the present, in order to understand how in the past, they were made fit to meet the needs of the past.”
Julian’s appetite for further exploration around these topics naturally coincided with his interest in film. After discussing his ideas with Barber—who helped him solidify his focus and offered further research recommendations—Julian developed a research proposal, and was successfully accepted into the Provost’s Summer 2022 Student-Faculty Research program.
His project, Religion and Non-fictitious Film-making: The Fallacy of "Accurate Portrayal", explores the relationship between faith and filming. As Julian uncovered—through both filming sessions around New York City, as well as intense study of religious and film scholars ranging from Trinh Minh-Ha to Jean-Luc Godard to Talal Asad—this relationship is inevitably fraught, as faith is a task unobtainable for film-makers to wholly capture. Julian likened it to an unspoken violation of a moral code.
“What I started to realize was that there was no real way that I could document a participant's experience without infringing on a moral code. This idiosyncratic connection is something that you’ll never truly be able to capture the truth of someone’s relationship as a foreigner to these credences—especially with something like religion, which is so incredibly personal, and so complexly tied to such a shared social context, that it ends up preventing diligent film-making from those who seek it.”
Julian’s experiences culminated in an academic research paper in which he explores this relationship in great detail—as well as the ways in which religious connectivity can and cannot be captured through film. In addition to possibly submitting the paper for academic publication, the experience has reframed how he approaches filmmaking, as well as his Pace experience going forward—fittingly, Julian is now a double major in both Film and Screen Studies and Philosophy and Religious studies.
As he continues both his collegiate and filmmaking career, he hopes to take what he’s learned from his experiences and research to push and explore boundaries in the unique space where filmmaking and religious studies co-exist.
“The research really inspired me to go deeper, and not just look at the formation of religion, but to think about faith as a unique social experience,” said Julian. It changed how I am going to film moving forward.”