Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Seeing Angels and the Spiritual in Film - An Interdisciplinary Study of a Sensuous Experience
Martha Blassnigg
2nd Author
3rd Author
Masters of Arts (for Cultural Anthropology and Film Theory)
Number of Pages
University of Amsterdam
Thesis Supervisor
Prof. Patricia Pisters (Film Theory) / Prof. Jojada Verrips (Cultural Anthropology)
Supervisor e-mail /
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
Film Theory / Cultural Anthropology
Languages Familiar to Author
German, English, Dutch, French, Italian
URL where full thesis can be found
film angel cinema mind clairvoyance spirit
Abstract: 200-500 words
The MA thesis Seeing Angels and the Spiritual in Film – An Interdisciplinary Study of a Sensuous Experience by Martha Blassnigg is a combined thesis for two MA studies (European model including both BA and MA), Film Theory and Cultural Anthropology, which includes a theoretical thesis and the documentary film Shapes of Light, A/NL 2000, Video, col., 35 min. Both the thesis and the documentary are based on field research in Vienna from 1997 until 2000 on the phenomenon of the perception of spiritual apparitions and the inter-subjective communication involved in these spiritual phenomena. This study does not treat these multi-sensorial experiences in a framework of institutionalized beliefs but focuses rather on the mechanisms of perception and compares them with the perception in cinema that similarly can be characterized as a multi-sensorial experience. In this way it opens a gateway for a metaphysical approach to technology by incorporating popular culture related to contemporary cinema and spirituality within a philosophical-anthropological discourse. The theoretical thesis explores these phenomena from a philosophical and anthropological perspective: it first lays out the differentiation between transcendental and immanent approaches to spiritual phenomena in philosophy. This discussion segues into three differing treatments of the spiritual in film, by Paul Schrader, Andrej Tarkovsky and Edgar Morin, and finally culminates in a synthesis with the film philosophy by Gilles Deleuze. The theories by Morin and in particular by Deleuze set out the framework in which the following film analysis is laid out and synthesized; based on an immanent approach to the spiritual, the thesis follows Deleuze’s framework of philosophy which significantly draws on Henri Bergson’s concept of time as duration as well as Morin’s anthropological study of the cinema experience – both reflecting on a comparison between the screen and the mind. The analysis consists of a comparative study of the representations of the angelic imaginary in films and the results from the empirical research on angelic apparitions as perceived by clairvoyants. The synthesis of these outcomes is both informed by a textual analysis as well as a metaphysical approach to the cinema as institution where the audiences constitute the focal point in their participating engagement in a sensuous experience. The conclusion suggests a critical revision of the term “seer”, since the multi-sensory experience of both clairvoyants and the spectators contrasts with the dominance of vision - pertinent with Deleuze’s criticism of the term representation - and shows how the concept of time and affect form crucial aspects in the perception of both phenomena. The thesis follows Deleuze’s philosophical approach to cinema and transfers his broader philosophical thinking onto an anthropological study of a comparison between clairvoyants and the cinema spectators. Both the thesis and the documentary film are self-standing volumes and are available with the author. The author is currently conducting doctoral research into the interrelation between consciousness and cinema, again drawing on a comparative study of clairvoyance and cinema yet in their purely perceptive processes, now revisiting Henri Bergson’s philosophy through the filter of new historicism in film theory. (For info on the author see