Ghosts, ghouls and other scary stories

By Costa Maragos Posted: October 30, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Professors (l-r) William Arnal and Kevin Bond are finding ways to connect Religious Studies classes with new students.
Professors (l-r) William Arnal and Kevin Bond are finding ways to connect Religious Studies classes with new students. Photo courtesy of Rae Graham - U of R Photography.

Kevin Bond and William Arnal have a knack for promoting their Religious Studies class. 

Their ghoulish poster, on display around some campus bulletin boards, was an attention grabber. The poster is an edited version of the original 1968 zombie film, Night of the Living Dead.

The class is titled Ghosts, Monsters and Demons.

Monster Poster
The poster promo for the Religious Studies class Ghosts, Monsters and Demons (Courtesy of Kevin Bond and William Arnal).

“With this being a new course, I hoped to create a poster that would stand out and draw student interest across faculties,” says Dr. Kevin Bond, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies.

“I wanted to move away from certain conventions and have fun with the process but in particular to present something atypical in order to challenge common student assumptions about what exactly we do or don’t do in Religious Studies.”

The poster plan worked. Students quickly signed up.

“I thought the poster was hilarious,” says Annie Trussler, a student who recently switched her major to Religious Studies. “I was looking forward to this class the second I knew it existed. Students here love it. They’ve always loved it. My friend took it last semester and we talk about this class constantly.”
Scary sells.
“I’d like students to walk away with an appreciation that the fun and fear of demons and ghosts should direct our attention to supernatural entities as rather sophisticated products of the human imagination that have been used for centuries to express or deal with such anxieties as death, xenophobia, misogyny, social crises, political protest, or even national identity,” says Bond.

”I also hope students learn to consider fantastic creatures as a critical tool to think about religion in ways that can challenge common over-simplistic perceptions today.”

Bond shares class teaching duties with Dr. William Arnal, professor and head of the Department of Religious Studies.

“Monsters have always been, and still are, fascinating for people cross-culturally,” says Arnal. “It’s not only that we enjoy giving ourselves a playful jolt of fear, but also because they have in many ways functioned as the fundamental tool of critical thinking in a wide variety of folk cultures, symbolizing our fears and anxieties and shaping and guiding our protective strategies.
Fascination with the horror genre has been around for awhile and the U of R’s related courses indicate it still grabs our attention.

For example, classes offered in the Department of English, include; Horror Fiction (“Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King”); Early Modern Horror (“Modern dramatic literature that aims to shock or horrify”) and Sympathy for the Devil (“Supernatural male protagonists by women authors”).

The Department of History offers the class, The European Witch Hunts ("Origins, development and decline of the witch persecutions in Western Europe from 1400-1700").

The Film Department will continue its tradition of the study of all things horror on the big screen with "Horror and Mysticism" in the upcoming Winter semester.

 In the meantime, if you are seeking some inspiring literature that might scare the socks off of you, here is a recommended reading list from professors Bond and Arnal.

Happy Halloween.

William Arnal’s Recommendations:
- On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears by Stephen Asma.
- Evil Incarnate: Rumours of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History by David Frankfurter.

Kevin Bond’s Recommendations:
- The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore
- The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters.