One of the dominant images of Jesus emerging in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is that of the Super Jesus. Building on the hyper-masculinity of the American superhero, the recent portrayals of Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Philip Saville's The Gospel of John demonstrate how the figure of Jesus is often represented as a Super Jesus — strong, impervious to pain, ultimately triumphant. In these movies, Jesus' body is subjected to extreme violence and yet he is able to control and transcend his broken body both before and after death. Drawing on the work of disability scholars both in and outside of religious studies, this paper argues that the model of the Super Jesus constructs an ideal of masculinity that prevents the exploration of alternative theologies of disability, alternatives that present different understandings of Incarnation, resurrection, and heaven.


Christopher Reeve walks across a stage to accept an award for spinal cord research, to thunderous applause. This commercial for Nuveen Investments aired during the 2000 NFL Super Bowl to anything but applause from the disability community. Some did praise Reeve's unshakable hope and optimism; others, however, "characterized the advertisement as 'disgracefully misleading' and accused Reeve of distorting reality and offering false hope to those with spinal cord injuries" (Ganahl and Arbuckle, 2001, p. 33; see also Krauthammer, 2000, p. 100). In either analysis, the media representations of Reeve always involve a certain irony: Superman has lost his ability to move his limbs and control his bodily processes; Superman is now earthbound, enmeshed in steel and tubes. Through the miracle of film, this commercial allows Reeve to regain control over his body and transcend its limitations as Superman transcends the limitations of normal human bodies. More specifically, as embedded in his name, Superman transcends the limitations of normal male bodies.

Superman's super-natural abilities are not his only hallmarks of divinity. The interconnections between Jesus and Superman began to emerge in the early 1970s when the character Jesus wore a Superman t-shirt throughout the cinematic production of Godspell (1973). The superhero story itself has a Christic subtext, so much so that Superman has been called "the American pop culture movie Messiah" (Kozlovic, 2002, p. 1). As his story unfolds in Superman: The Movie (1978), numerous parallels to the Christ story emerge.1 Kal-El, Superman's true name, is the only son of Jor-El. Kal-El comes to earth from the heavens in a "little star-of-Bethlehem spaceship" (Kozloff, 1981, p. 79 as quoted in Kozlovic, 2002, p. 4). At eighteen he feels a mysterious call and understands it to be from his father. He goes into the Artic wilderness for 12 years in order to listen to this call and prepare himself to do his father's work. Superman returns to the world at the age of 30 to begin his mission, saving people through his other-worldly abilities, fighting the forces of evil, and embodying an ethic of humility, gentleness, and love. Superman has his own death and resurrection as well — Lex Luthor (note the similarity to the name Lucifer) nearly triumphs when he captures Superman with a rock of Kryptonite hung around his neck (like Jesus carrying his cross across his neck and shoulders), and inters him in a swimming pool. Superman, however, is able to revive and emerge from his watery tomb to return and save the world from Luthor's malevolent plans — a salvation that involves transcending both space and time, flying into the heavens, and even descending into the core of the earth (Kozlovic, 2002, pp 2-9).

The Christic subtext is not accidental. The producer Ilya Salkind and the director Richard Donner intentionally shaped the script in order to make it resonant with the Gospel stories. For example, Marlon Brando, fresh from his role as the Godfather, was cast as Superman's father. Salkind notes that it was like "literally getting God for Jar-El" (interview in Burns, 2006). Donner also references this identification: "It's a motif I had done at the beginning when Brando sent Chris to Earth and said, 'I send them my only son.' It was God sending Christ to Earth" (as quoted in Kozlovic, 2002, p. 1). Whereas it is common for a director to speak of his or her actors by their real names rather than their character names, this statement of Donner's underlines an identification that also happened in the popular imagination. An unknown actor leapt into the public eye and captured the public's imagination. Christopher Reeve did not just play Superman; he was Superman.2 Further, implicit connections between Reeve and Jesus or, using Donner's language, Chris and Christ also became a part of the rich and complex mythology of this man.

A history of Superman is also a history of American masculine ideals (Burns, 2006) and Christopher Reeve's portrayal was influenced by the Hollywood action hero;3 Superman and Reeve evolve into paragons of late-twentieth century masculinity. Likewise, the figure of Jesus is also a paragon of masculinity, both through and separate from the interconnections with Reeve and Superman. In the case of Jesus, however, the portrait of who he is and was changes as it passes through different times, different cultures, and different mediums. From the gospels to the silver screen, Jesus is not just God made flesh but God made man and ideals of masculinity shape understandings of the Christ.

We argue, therefore, that one of the dominant images of Jesus which emerges in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is that of the Super Jesus. We contend that the model of the Super Jesus constructs an ideal of masculinity that prevents the exploration of alternative theologies of disability, alternatives that present different understandings of Incarnation, resurrection, and heaven. We examine the recent media portrayals of Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Philip Saville's The Gospel of John to demonstrate how the figure of Jesus is often represented in contemporary culture as the Super Jesus. Each of these movies relies heavily on the Gospel of John and blends contemporary and first-century (as represented in the gospel of John) constructions of masculinity. By doing so, these movies promote an image of a Super Jesus who heroically transcends his physical limitations. We then turn to the work of disability studies scholars Brent Hardin and Marie Hardin to explore how constructions of masculinity and disability intertwine to promote the "ideal" American male body or, in our case, the Super Jesus.

Disability studies scholars draw a distinction between a medical model approach and a social model approach to disability, along with a distinction between impairment and disability. The medical model of disability understands limitations, differences, and chronic conditions as problems with the individual body that need to be corrected through medical intervention. The medical model focuses exclusively on the physical impairment as disability. The social model of disability, in contrast, embraces a more comprehensive view of disability and considers bodily conditions within the broader cultural and religious milieu. The disability is a result of prejudicial attitudes about bodies that do not fit the socially constructed and defined "normal" body (Goering, 2002; Morris, 2001). Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (2005) explains the difference between the social and medical models of disability as: "…a cultural interpretation of human variation [social model] rather than an inherent inferiority, pathology to cure, or undesirable trait to eliminate [medical model]" (p. 1558). Throughout the paper, we use the language of disability that is most consistent with the social model. However, the terms "impairment" and "disability" are "fluid and dynamic" (Birch, 2007, p. 187), and the two models have both explanatory power and interpretive limitations (p. 194). One of our objectives in the paper is to highlight the tension as demonstrated through the complicated story of Jesus' resurrection between the medical and social models of disability, or between impairment and disability. To this end we acknowledge that at times the concepts of impairment and disability may intersect and appear conflated.

First-Century Constructions of Masculinity

The Gospel of John is distinguished from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke (collectively known as the Synoptic Gospels because of their similarities) in numerous ways. John's Jesus is older, he performs only seven "signs" rather than numerous miracles and exorcisms, he speaks in long, eloquent discourses about himself rather than short, pithy sayings and parables, and he is crucified the day before Passover rather than on Passover itself (Brown, 1966; 1970). In addition to these differences, John is the only gospel that explicitly contains the idea of Incarnation — that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (John 1).

Biblical scholar Colleen Conway (2003) opens her analysis of the Gospel of John by noting that

Since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 C.E., Jesus has been confessed as "perfect in Godhead and … perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man" [1968, Kelly, p. 339]. The Fourth Gospel played a central role in the development of this confession, with its unabashed display of the divinity of Jesus. Not coincidentally, …Jesus' manliness is also fully displayed in this Gospel. In other words, the desire to show the true divinity of Jesus, a desire that shapes the "high" Christology of this Gospel, results in a particularly masculine Christology (p. 163).

John's Jesus is not affected by physical pain and is not limited by his body even in the midst of the particularly painful impairment of torture and crucifixion. In the Synoptics, Jesus is unable to carry his own cross, therefore Simon of Cyrene is conscripted by the Roman guards to carry it for him (Mark 15:21, Mt 27:32, Lk 23:26). John, however, makes it clear that Jesus carried his own cross and needed no help (John 19:17). In Mark and Matthew, Jesus calls out once to God while on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, Mt 27:46). John deletes this cry of despair. Instead, John's Jesus has a conversation with his mother and the beloved disciple, and then decides when it is time to die (John 19:25-30). In short, John's Jesus reflects the image of a superman who is in control and impervious to pain. In the Gospel that became the primary source for the Orthodox doctrine that Jesus was fully and perfectly human and divine, Jesus also embodies the first century ideals of masculine manhood.

In particular, as Conway (2003) argues, Jesus in the Gospel of John exemplifies self-mastery, the primary first-century marker of masculinity. Unlike the contemporary dichotomy between male and female, those in the Greco-Roman world believed that there were not two opposite sexes, but only one. An individual's masculinity was based upon his position on a vertical continuum. "The perfect man was featured at the top with other less complete or perfect versions of masculine identity falling at various lower points on the axis" (p. 164; see also Laqueur, 1990). High social status moved one up the axis and thus was an indicator of greater masculinity. But ruling others was only one aspect of social status — ruling the self was the virtue out of which the authority to rule others flowed.

The 2003 movie The Gospel of John (directed by Philip Saville) reproduces such masculine ideals in its portrayal of Jesus. As a remarkably faithful reproduction of the Gospel text, the same masculine ideals from the Gospel are re-envisioned on the silver screen. Saville's Jesus begins his mission by exhibiting a bit of righteous anger in the Temple — just enough to be bold but not enough to have really lost his temper — and then control over self and others throughout the rest of his life. During his Passion, the beatings take place off screen, reflecting the Gospel's reticence to focus on the body in its most vulnerable moments (another aspect of first-century masculinity; Conway, 2003, p. 171), and Jesus carries his own cross as well as controls the moment of his death. In Conway's words (2003) about the Gospel of John, "Far from expressing anguish, this Jesus faces death with the strength and courage of a superhero" (p. 173).

Mel Gibson, in his 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, draws on all four gospels as well as extra-biblical material, particularly the work of "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" by the 19th century mystic and nun Anne Catherine Emmerich. Gibson's portrayal of Jesus blends the Gospel of Mark's suffering Messiah with the Gospel of John's superhuman Messiah. The result is that the masculinity of the first-century context is transmuted into a twenty-first century context. In other words, this is not a Jesus who appears to float above the crowds and the situation, calmly demonstrating mastery over all but most especially mastery over his own self. This is a Jesus who demonstrates mastery in the face of brutal beatings — from the first punches when he is arrested to the final moments of the crucifixion, all in full display of the audience. No mere man could take such abuse. Consequently, the already high masculinity of the Gospel of John is further heightened. Jesus embodies a hyper-masculinity in his ability to "take it" like a superman.

Twenty-first Century Constructions of Masculinity and Disability

One of the most common sites for exploring constructions of masculinity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is the arena of sport. Consequently, disability studies scholars have also turned to sport to better understand the intersections between constructions of disability and gender. For example, Marie Hardin and Brent Hardin (2005) in their article, "Performance or Participation… Pluralism or Hegemony?", examine the photographic images found in a leading disability sport magazine — Sports 'n Spokes. Hardin and Hardin (2005) identify and describe constructions of gender in relationship to sport and provide some points of entry for our discussion.

Hardin and Hardin (2005) argue that cultural hegemony functions to define certain ideological and political agendas as normative for all groups. Dissenting views are either suppressed or subsumed into the dominant framework. Sports and sports media have emerged in the industrialist capitalist age as ideal sites for asserting American capitalist values such as "…respect for authority, individualism, sacrifice 'for the team,' and hard work" (p. 4). From this perspective, rugged individualism is promoted as the ideal while any type of interdependence is fiercely rejected as demonstrating weakness and passivity. Moreover, autonomy and physical fitness are asserted as the "ideal" American model for the body.

The ideal American masculine body is largely defined by its ability to participate not only in sports, but in competitive sports.4 Through competitive sports men participate in what Hardin and Hardin (2005) call "power performance" which involves "…overcoming an opponent, setting a record, and using the sculpted body for performance" (p. 4). To engage in this type of performance they note, "Hard work, pain, risk, and dedication are prerequisites" (p. 4). Even more than a simple ideal, this ideology becomes "a moral order of the body" (Hahn, as cited in Hardin and Hardin, 2005, p 4), one that systematically excludes anyone whose body differs from this male, muscular, athletic model.

Hardin and Hardin (2005) note that some facets of the disability community have embraced the definition of sport as a demonstration of power and performance. For example, quad rugby ball, nicknamed "murder ball," is the world's fastest growing wheel chair sport. Players are encouraged to, "…transform the stigma of physical disability into performances of hyper-masculinity, reifying patriarchal notions of gender and sport" (Lindeman, 2004, as cited in Hardin and Hardin, 2005, p 4). Through Hardin and Hardin's analysis of sport, we see how hegemonic definitions of masculinity link power performance with the ideal body. Embedded in this connection is the implicit expectation that through hard work, risk, pain, and dedication, the body is pushed to its ultimate physical limit, or that the limitations of the body are somehow (or should be) transcended.

Christopher Reeve, although certainly a courageous figure, drew some criticism from the disability community precisely because he seemed to succumb to these dominant definitions of what is meant to be the "ideal" American model of the masculine body. Rather than focus his money and energy on challenging negative stereotypes surrounding disability, or making the world more accessible to people with disabilities, he poured his resources into finding a cure for spinal cord injuries. He held out the radical hope for a cure and his goal was always to be able to overcome or transcend the limitations of his disabled body and regain his fit, athletic, non-disabled body. Reeve's hope for a cure is an example of the pursuit of the ideal masculine body through power performance; Reeve made every effort to conquer his opponent (disability) in the hope of reclaiming and resurrecting his perfectly abled, ideally masculine, Superman body.

What we see in Mel Gibson's film is yet another explicit endorsement of the linkage between the ideal body and power performance. Perhaps the most obvious and graphic example of power performance as expressed through the ideal male body of Gibson's Jesus is his endurance of the scourging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, a beating mentioned in the Gospels (Mark 15:15, John 19:1) but amplified and expanded in Gibson's vision. In spite of the fact that his body is beaten raw, the skin nearly flayed off front and back, and in spite of the pints of blood lost during the course of the ordeal, Gibson's Jesus always gets back up off the ground and he does not lose consciousness. John Dominic Crossan (2004), a scholar of the historical Jesus, observes:

The scourging would have killed or completely incapacitated any normal human being, but that is exactly the sub-text for Gibson. They can scourge Jesus to their exhaustion but he will still stand up and stagger to the cross. No scourging, however long or brutal, could have killed him — that was not God's plan. There is in that scourging a ghastly undertone of divine machismo and transcendental testosterone. (p. 23)

Gibson's Jesus exhibits all of the characteristics outlined by Hardin and Hardin (2005) in their description of the moral order of the ideal American male body: "hard work, pain, risk, and dedication" (4). Jesus is "overcoming an opponent;" in fact, he is overcoming the opponent, Satan. And because of the soteriological perspective highlighted at the beginning of the movie — "He was wounded for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5) — Jesus is, in effect, making a sacrifice "for the team."

Gibson heightens Jesus' macho endurance not just through the creation of scenes like the scourging, but also by blending the Gospel of Mark's suffering Messiah with the Gospel of John's superman Messiah. Such blending is exemplified in the scenes with Simon of Cyrene. As aforementioned, Simon is a character in the Synoptic Gospels — according to Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus was unable to carry his own cross. The Roman soldiers conscript Simon from the crowd and force him to carry Jesus' cross for him. Apparently rejecting such a tradition, the writer of the Gospel of John explicitly notes "they took Jesus, and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull" (NRSV; emphasis ours; John 19:16b-17a). In The Passion, Simon of Cyrene is enlisted to help Jesus carry his cross, but he does not carry it alone. The soldiers help him lift it, and then they prop Jesus up underneath it, resting its weight on both Jesus and Simon. The soldiers continue to beat Jesus as they proceed down the street. Jesus trips and falls, and as he looses his grip on the cross, Simon stumbles himself, unable to hold it up without Jesus' help. Again this scene is repeated — again Jesus stumbles and falls; Simon buckles under the full weight of the cross.

The effect of such a blending of the Synoptic and Johannine traditions is actually a heightening of Jesus' physical and mental strength and endurance. Simon, a seemingly healthy and physically fit man, struggles under the weight of the cross. We the viewers are to understand that while the severely wounded Jesus managed at least for a time to carry the cross on his own, the healthy man Simon is unable to do it without the assistance of his impaired partner. Do we also see in this scene a subtle display of competition when defeated and exhausted Simon is released from his cross-carrying duty, but the beaten and even more exhausted Jesus forges on, not yet defeated, bearing the burden of the heavy cross on his own?

Even more remarkable, Jesus remains conscious and even talkative as he hangs on the cross. This is so in the Gospel of John itself, but because Gibson harmonizes all the Gospel accounts, his Jesus has even more to say than John's Jesus. Gibson's Jesus strings together the different words spoken on the cross as reported by the four gospel writers (Mark 15:34-37, Mt 27:46-50, Lk 23:34-46, Jh 19:25-30). Like in the Gospel of John, Jesus controls the moment of his death.

Saville's Jesus, through his display of the first-century masculine ideal of self-mastery, also demonstrates the twenty-first century masculine ideal of power performance and the ideal body. We do not see as explicitly in Saville's film as we do in Gibson's the super Jesus overcoming the abuse and scourging of the Romans, but we do witness Jesus exhibiting self mastery and transcending severe bodily pain during his death by crucifixion. Unlike Gibson's film, however, there are moments in Saville's film where the definition of first-century masculinity ruptures the ideals of twenty-first century masculinity.

Colleen Conway (2003) continues her analysis of masculinity in John by examining the wisdom language, borrowed from such texts as Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon. She demonstrates that there is a "gender fluidity" in Wisdom's characterization because Wisdom is a feminine noun and even personified as a woman in texts such as Proverbs 1-9. Since Jesus is associated with Wisdom throughout the Gospel, such gender fluidity impacts the representation of Jesus' gender as well. Conway (2003) concludes, "With respect to the people who populate the Gospel, Jesus is certainly an exemplar of masculinity. Yet when it comes to his relationship with God the Father, he assumes a less masculine status" (p.179). In other words, Jesus' masculinity fluctuates and moves back and forth along the first century gender continuum. Despite his self-mastery and his control of other people, "[w]hat Jesus clearly did not control was the boundaries of his own body" (Gleason, 2003, p.326). And, as the Gospel of John (represented in both Saville's and Gibson's movies) makes clear, despite the apparent power the leaders of Rome and the Temple may have over Jesus, the power actually comes from God alone — ultimately, it is God who gives Jesus over to be beaten and killed.

The Hope of Resurrection?

In an essay on post-9/11 constructions of masculinity, Jeff Staley (2003) finds Conway's analysis of the wisdom language in John to be "the point at which we move into a no-man's land that can be life giving; where the canon as weapon turns in upon itself and becomes a fecund opening to a world of restructured masculinities" (p. 332). Staley's choice of descriptive terminology — "fecund opening" — could not be more important for our purposes. The image that arises is of the canon wounding itself, a wound that is not life-threatening, but life-creating; a wound that allows the reader to enter into the constructions of Jesus' gender identity, much like how the Jesus of John's Gospel invites Thomas to put his own hands within Jesus' wound, to penetrate him, thus reversing the masculine/feminine hierarchical relationship established between Jesus and his followers.

Since Saville's film follows the Gospel of John verbatim, we see a similar overturning here. The resurrected Jesus bears the signs of the physical trauma he has suffered. Granted, he has overcome the ultimate disabling condition of death, and his resurrected body is in remarkably good physical shape given what it has endured. Yet the open wounds and scars remain, reminding us that even super Jesus could not completely escape physical trauma and bodily limits. The scars and wounds are not to be covered up or transcended, but are evidence of God's continuing presence in the world.

Saville's depiction of the resurrection can be contrasted with Gibson's brief post-resurrection scene where a completely naked and buff Jesus struts off into the sunset (or sunrise, rather) bearing only one reminder of his ordeal — a hole in his hand. Gibson's picture of the resurrected Jesus shows a sculpted body wearing a mark of his crucifixion not as a tender reminder, but as a badge of honor.

Both films end on the note of resurrection. There is embedded within Christianity, a radical hope — a hope not just about being forgiven of one's sins, but overcoming death; and not just overcoming death through an immortal soul,5 but to overcome death in one's own body: reborn, rejuvenated, resurrected. The resurrection of the body is the triumph of bodily existence over its limitations, over its injuries, over its death. Superman always gets back up, his body heals from injury almost instantaneously, and even death is only temporary.

Because of the focus on overcoming the limits of bodily existence in a new kind of body, Christianity will always be in tension with some strains of the disability movement. In particular, the social model of disability rejects the idea that the body is in any way disabled, and instead insists that the "disability" experienced by different bodies is a result of socially created categories and the ways in which we construct our environments. For example, a person who does not have the use of his or her legs is only "disabled" insofar as culturally created categories of "normal" and "disabled" exist; and only insofar as culturally constructed environments lack ramps and elevators.6

When Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse, he fractured his upper cervical vertebrae. "When a fracture dislocates the spine and shatters the vertebral bones, small hemorrhages from broken blood vessels seep into the viscous tissue of the spinal cord, resulting in swelling. Since the cord is contained within the bone of the vertebral column, there is little room for expansion, and the circulation of vital oxygen and nutrients is cut off. Nerve cells within the cord are starved [to death]" (Groopman, 2003). Reeve's hope to walk again was nothing short of the hope of resurrection; the hope that his body would regenerate after parts of it had died. There is something wild in this hope, maybe even something misleading and irresponsible. And certainly something culturally construed as "normal" and "masculine."

Maybe one should picture heaven as a place of ramps and elevators, a place of Braille and sign language, a place perfectly constructed to match the needs of any resurrected body regardless of ability. But that is not how the hope of resurrection has ever been conceptualized or represented. Superman could leap up and fly off into the heavens; after his death, Jesus too leaps up and eventually takes flight into the heavens. Cinematic representations of the super man, super masculine, super Jesus — such as Gibson's and to a lesser extent Saville's — fuel contemporary constructions of the masculine body wherein ideals of "power performance" intertwine with Christian hope through resurrection. The images that we are left with exclude the multiple ways in which we are embodied in the world, excluding in particular the disabled body. The images that we are left with are of the divinely perfected body — one that exemplifies the characteristics of ideal masculinity, and one that is supremely, even sublimely abled.

Works Cited

  • Birch, B.C. (2007). "Impairment as a Condition in Biblical Scholarship: A Response." This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, Avalos, H., Melcher, S., & Schipper, J. (Eds.), Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature. 185-95.
  • Brown, R.E. (1966). The Gospel According to John (I-XII). Anchor Bible Commentary. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
  • ---. (1970). The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI). Anchor Bible Commentary. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
  • Conway, C.M. (2003). "'Behold the Man!' Masculine Christology and the Fourth Gospel," In Moore, S. & Anderson, J.C. (Ed.) New Testament Masculinities, Semeia 45. 163-80.
  • Crossan, J. D. (2004). "Hymn to a Savage God," in Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Film, the Gospels, and the Claims of History, Corley, K.E. & Webb R.L. (Eds.), Continuum: London and New York. 8-27.
  • Ganahl, D.J. & Arbuckle, M. (2001). "The Exclusion of Persons with Physical Disabilities from Prime Time Television Advertising: A Two-Year Quantitative Analysis," Disability Studies Quarterly, 21(2). 33-40.
  • Garland-Thomson, R. (2005) "Feminist Disability Studies." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30(2). 1558-87.
  • Gleason, M. (2003). "By Whose Gender Standard (If Anybody's) Was Jesus a Real Man?" In Moore, D. & Anderson, J.C (Ed.) New Testament Masculinities, Semeia 45. 325-8.
  • Goering, S. (2002). "Beyond the Medical Model? Disability, Formal Justice, and the Exception for the Profoundly Impaired." Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 12(4). 373-88.
  • Groopman, J. (2003, November 10). "The Reeve Effect." The New Yorker. 82-8, 90-3.
  • Hardin, B. & Hardin M. (2005). "Performances or Participation…Pluralism or Hegemony? Images of Disability and Gender in Sports 'n Spokes Magazine." Disabilities Study Quarterly 25(4). 1-16.
  • Kozlovic, A. K. (2002). "Superman as Christ-Figure: The American Pop Culture Movie Messiah." Journal of Religion and Film 6(1). 1-19.
  • Krauthammer, C. (2004, February 14). "Restoration, Reality and Christopher Reeve," Time 155(6). 100.
  • Laqueur, T. (1990). Making Sex: Bodies and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Morris, J. (1991). Pride Against Prejudice: Transforming Attitudes to Disability. London: The Women's Press, Ltd.
  • ---. (2001). "Impairment and Disability: Constructing an Ethics of Care that Promotes Human Rights." Hypatia 16(4). 1-16.
  • Staley, J.L. (2003). "Manhood and New Testament Studies after September 11," In Moore, D. & Anderson, J.C (Ed.) New Testament Masculinities, Semeia 45. 329-35.


  • Godspell (1973, dir. David Green)
  • The Gospel of John (2003, dir. Philip Saville)
  • Look Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006, dir. Kevin Burns)
  • The Passion of the Christ (2004, dir. Mel Gibson)
  • Superman: The Movie (1978, dir. Richard Donner)
  • Superman II (1981, dir. Richard Lester)


  1. Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster created Superman in the early 1930s and he debuted in the comic books in 1938. Some of the Christic elements are present in Superman's earliest manifestations and only heightened by the 1978 movie; other elements are created under Richard Donner's direction.

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  2. This identification continues to be evident. For example, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation for spinal cord injury research sells metal tags stamped with the Superman logo to raise money. (http://www.christopherreeve.org).

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  3. This influence is particularly evident in Superman II after Richard Lester took over the direction from Richard Donner.

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  4. Hardin and Hardin note that the idea that competitive sports are somehow superior to non-competitive sports is a decidedly American phenomenon. They observe that in cultures where cooperation is a valued model of functioning, competitive sports are not necessarily the standard or norm.

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  5. Although quite popular now, the idea of an immortal soul was not the original Christian vision of life-after-death.

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  6. The disability movement does not speak with one voice on this issue. Some reject or at least want to modify the concepts of social disability. For example, Jenny Morris states, "…there is a tendency within the Social Model of disability to deny the experience of our own bodies, insisting that our physical differences and restrictions are entirely socially created… to suggest that this is all there is to it is to deny the personal experience of physical or intellectual restrictions" in Jenny Morris, Pride Against Prejudice: Transforming Attitudes to Disability, London: The Women's Press, Ltd (1991) 10. Compare with the definition of feminist disability studies presented in a review article entitled "Feminist Disability Studies" by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30:2 (2005) pp 1558-87.

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