Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Wulff explores the psychology of religion

Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary (2nd edition; Wiley, 1997), which has been translated into Swedish, Polish, Farsi and Chinese. His current projects include the editing of a handbook on the psychology of religion for Oxford University Press and the development of what he calls the “Faith Q-Sort,” a device for assessing a wide variety of positions on faith, ranging from indifference or even hostility toward religion or spirituality to strongly favorable attitudes, both conservative and liberal. In addition to being an accomplished professor and author, he has been a sought-after speaker at conferences. Last year alone he traveled abroad three times to address conferences in China, Italy and Denmark. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lund University in Sweden in 1993, and has been honored in various ways by the American Psychological Association. In May he plans to retire from Wheaton to devote more time to his projects, including consulting with two universities in China to help set up psychology and religion programs there. We talked to him about his most recent research.

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Faith prototypes

Traditionally Theistic: feels personally forgiven and protected by a spiritual being as well as guided and sustained by religious scriptures and prayer.

Secular-Humanistic:  guided by scientific and rational principles as well as a core of values in striving to make the world a better place to live.

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Publications, honors and creative works


Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, professor of religion, was a contributing writer to the book The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011). His student research assistant, Seth Robinson ’11, aided Brumberg-Kraus in the writing process.

Michael Gousie, professor of mathematics and computer science, presented “Focus + Context for Visualizing Uncertainty in DEMs” on Oct. 24, 2011, at the IEEE Information Visualization Conference in Providence, R.I.

Nancy Kendrick, professor of philosophy, presented “Wollstonecraft on Friendship, Utility and Pleasure” on Oct. 27, 2011, at the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Hamilton, Ontario.

John Kricher, professor of biology, presented “Neotropical Bird Speciation” to the Essex County Ornithological Club on Nov. 2, 2011, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. In his presentation, he spoke of bird speciation patterns and species generation causation, with a focus on Ecuador.

Yuen-Gen Liang, assistant professor of history, along with the executive committee of the Spain-North Africa Project (SNAP), organized a one-day conference titled “Spanning the Straits: Unity/Disunity in the Western Mediterranean” at Catholic University of America, on Nov. 30, 2011. As executive director of SNAP, he gave the opening address and moderated a roundtable discussion.

M. Gabriela Torres, assistant professor of anthropology, received the New England Council of Latin American Studies 2011 Best Article Prize on Nov. 5, 2011, for “Precursors to Femicide: Guatemalan Women in a Vortex of Violence,” an article she co-authored with David Carey Jr. The article, which was published in the Latin American Research Review, was recognized by the committee as “an important contribution to Latin American gender history and our current understandings of post-war violence against Guatemalan women.”

Joanne Mouradjian, assistant professor of music in performance, performed “Groung” (The Crane) at “Salute Armenia,” a celebration at St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral in Providence, R.I., on Sept. 10, 2011.

Exploring cinema through a bigger lens

Talitha Espiritu, assistant professor of English and coordinator of Wheaton’s journalism studies minorTalitha Espiritu, assistant professor of English and coordinator of Wheaton’s journalism studies minor, teaches “Introduction to Film Studies,” “World Cinema” and “Third Cinema.” A former journalist in her native Philippines, she has a Ph.D. in cinema studies from New York University. Her research focus is on global popular culture, identity and representation, which gives her exploration of film studies a personal as well as global scope.

What do you find most interesting about cinema studies?

Cinema studies grapples with how and why films “matter” in our world—that’s what I find to be most compelling about the discipline. As the most popular storytelling medium of our time, film is our window to the world. It has been a principal means of imagining the world and our place in it. In that respect, it has been a window to our own identities. This is something I teach my students all the time. Who are you? What identity are you constructing for yourself? We don’t usually examine it, but the movies have produced the myths and symbols that we use daily to define ourselves and others. And now, that shared visual culture includes new media and the Internet. So when I think of the cinema, I don’t think of it as a discrete entity, an exhibited object, or a leisure activity; I think of it as this networked world of images in which we live.

Has the approach to cinema studies changed over the years? 

The traditional model in cinema studies has been to study film as a distinctive art form. Over the last 50 years, the discipline has evolved in many directions, incorporating insights from linguistics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, cultural studies and more recently, globalization studies. We now talk about film as a language, a social practice and a global-cultural commodity. Given the breadth of these approaches, I feel it would be anachronistic to teach students in the traditional cinema studies way, where we’re only talking about film directors, cinematography or the narrative. That’s not really giving them the wider context, the real-world context, to allow them to see film as part of a broader culture. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s very, very important for students to know how to “read” a film and appreciate the art in it, but they also need to know that their reading of a film doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s part of a symbolic economy. We live in this age of globalization. The United States’ biggest export is popular filmed media—such exports have overtaken exports in the agricultural, automotive and even aerospace industries. If it’s such a big part of the political economy of globalization, shouldn’t we think about it critically? I ask my students: Is it dangerous when you have a very small number of huge media conglomerates basically owning and controlling all our electronic images? How do those images create meaning, and what do audiences actually “do” with them? Do these images dictate who we think we are, or how other people view us? Is there a way to resist these images?

How do these ideas relate to your current research?

My general research focus is on “third cinema,” which I’m teaching a course on this fall. Basically, it’s looking at cinema and media studies from the perspective of the Third World and from Third World realities. I’m interested in this because the discipline still does not have the language to express the lived realities of people in those parts of the world that have struggled with colonialism, neocolonialism, and now globalization. “Third cinema” has been an umbrella term for militant cinema movements that emerged in Latin America, Africa and Asia in support of anticolonial movements from the late 1950s to the 1970s. The Vietnamese victory over the French, the Cuban revolution and the Algerian war of independence were the historical signposts. These anticolonial films took diverse forms—militant documentaries produced clandestinely with the direct assistance of revolutionary organizations in Argentina, for example, or popular melodramas with allegorical messages of resistance in the case of the Philippines, my country of origin. My research explores the ways in which these anticolonial films have influenced contemporary alternative media. The case of Afro-Reggae in Brazil is a good example. You have a group of young musicians in the favelas of Rio using the documentary form to spread a message of hope to other disenfranchised communities of the African diaspora. So basically, I’m interested in how older notions of “underground” or “guerrilla” cinemas have provided models for cultural activism in the global era. The basic question is: How might films be used for community empowerment?

What is the biggest lesson that you hope students learn in your film courses?

I hope that my students learn that we live in a world of images, but these are not “just” images; they have symbolic and material effects in the world. How films create meaning, how they represent social identities, how they circulate across cultural difference, how they empower some and disenfranchise others, how they can break down cultural barriers and also deepen social inequalities—all these issues make cinema so much more than a cultural pastime. It’s the medium of globalization.