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Columbia Spectator Staff

Students in search of a little cinematic transcendence, or at least an intelligent presentation of religion, need look no further than Columbia's Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration, and Religion. The center has organized "In the Names of Gods," a month-long series dedicated to recent documentary films that deal with the relationship between religion and politics. A departure from the lectures and discussions the CDTR routinely puts together, the five upcoming screenings aim to use the popular media of film to present new ways of thinking about questions that are raised about religion and its place in current global affairs. As Cindy Choung, film series organizer for the CDTR, said, these films look at issues that come up time and time again in new ways. The issue of gay rights, for instance, will be further illuminated by "A Jihad for Love" on Nov. 5, a mosaic portrait of homosexual Muslims living in various parts of the world, from France to Turkey to South Africa. A fascinating and utterly groundbreaking film about different people united in their struggle to reconcile their sexuality with their religion, it makes its way to Columbia after being showcased in such prestigious film festivals as Toronto, Berlin, and Tribeca. Several of the films are more historically-minded, telling stories that, while perhaps not very well known, are extremely important. "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" narrates the efforts of thousands of Liberian women who, transcending their religious and generational differences, united against their country's corrupt and violent regime. As a result of these women's efforts, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the Liberian presidency, becoming Africa's first female head of state. The film, which won Best Documentary at Tribeca Film Festival two years ago, will be screened on Nov. 12, followed by a Q&A with producer Abigail Disney, who earned a doctorate in philosophy at Columbia. For another film about women taking politics into their own hands, this Friday at 8:30 p.m. in 569 Lerner there is a special preview screening of "The Lord is Not On Trial Here Today," which is slated to make its official premiere on PBS this coming March. The film tells the incredible story of Vashti McCollum, a suburban mother living in Illinois in 1945, who almost single-handedly introduced the separation of church and state to public schools by combatting the Board of Education in a heated First Amendment trial. For films that integrate contemporary subjects with the shadow of history under which they live, CDTR is showing "Hiding and Seeking" on Oct. 24 and "Constantine's Sword" on Oct. 29. The former, directed by current School of the Arts professor Oren Rudavsky, follows Orthodox Jew Menachem Daum as he takes his two sons to Poland to show them the homeland of his parents, who survived the Holocaust thanks in part to the humanity of one Catholic Polish family. The latter, directed by Oren Jacoby, tells the story of James Carroll, a former priest who renounced his religion after increasingly contemplating the history of Christian violence. The son of a Catholic Air Force officer, he was particularly disturbed to learn of the religious discrimination in the Air Force Academy, but he was also alarmed to learn of the church's role in the Holocaust. Nearly all of the screenings will be followed by Q&A sessions with the films' directors. This fortunate arrangement only further enhances the series' goal of fostering debate among various members of the Columbia community about the variety of issues raised by the films. More importantly, each film offers a truly unforgettable story.