In this wide-ranging interview with A. David Lewis, comic books are presented as an irreplaceable cultural medium for engaging with issues of mortality, identity, subjectivity, and cosmology. With an overwhelming slate of comic book driven television series (Walking Dead, Gotham, ...

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

About this episode

Comic books are reliable. Every month readers can expect another installment of their favorite comic on the shelves. Characters facing insurmountable odds will find a way to victory. Nemeses will be defeated. And should a hero die, they are likely to be re-born. In some sense, to be a hero is to be immortal. Even extraordinary humans such as Bruce Wayne (Batman), find their identities preserved for all time by turning the secret hero’s mask into a mantle to be bequeathed on worthy successors. One widespread trope has been much ignored by comic fans and scholars–the journey to the afterlife. Like the katabasis or descent into the Underworld of Orpheus, Odysseus, Gilgamesh, Theseus, and dozens of other mythical figures, modern comic book superheroes routinely journey to heaven, hell, and other landscapes of the afterlife.

A. David Lewis, comic books are presented as an irreplaceable cultural medium for engaging with issues of mortality, identity, subjectivity, and cosmology. In the pages of comic books, Lewis explains, the popular elements of the journey to the afterlife become surfaces upon which can be written a kind of “special reality” whose artificiality makes it possible for readers (and writers) to have discussions about serious issues but never fully commit to the vision of the comic books. For Lewis, that so many different versions of this journey exist but have yet to be readily acknowledged speaks to the major tensions in western culture. One central concern, he maintains, is the unspoken effort to preserve models of self that are unified. “We don’t want see our selves as multiples,” says Lewis. We want to be unified, “whole individuals.” And yet recent work on healthy multiplicity by Helene T. Russell and J. Hills Miller suggests that by accepting “people [as] constructed by many selves” we can further the work of religious pluralism and enhance inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

comicFor those who may still see comic books as unworthy material for serious scholarship, A. David Lewis’ recent work (2014’s American Comics, Literary Theory and Religion: The Superhero Afterlife or his 2010 co-edited collection Graven Images) should be a warning to re-think your position. With an overwhelming slate of comic book driven television series (Walking Dead, Gotham, Flash, Green Arrow) and a rising tide of superhero films and franchises (X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Avengers), there has never been a more essential time to recognize the cultural merits of comic books and seek out their academic rewards.

Listeners might also be interested in our previous interview with A. David Lewis on “Religion and Comic Books“, and also recent interviews with Carole Cusack on “Religion and Cultural Production” and Alana Vincent on “Religion and Literature“. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, orAmazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost buying comic books, pizza cutters, incense sticks and other cultural products.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

Podcast

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, ...
Some Questions about Spiritual Tourism

Response

"On a more fundamental level, this raises the question whether ‘spiritual’ refers to a quality that may come in addition to an identification as religious, or whether the two refer to different groups and types of persons." In this podcast Alex Norman defines a spiritual tourist as a person who is travelling for spiritual betterment. As he himself admits, this is a pretty loose term.
Exploring the Richness of Nonreligion

Response

"Josh Bullock’s and David Herbert’s study advances our understanding of un/belief, belonging, and the sociality of nonreligion across different countries and generations," writes Dr. Rachel Shillitoe in response to Episode #313 "Unbelief as a Social Phenomenon"

Responses to this episode

Outside the Panels: Comics and Context

Comic books frequently include alternative or heterodox religious ideas, something underscored by the fact that two of the most acclaimed writers working today (Alan Moore and Grant Morrison) are practising magicians, and their work frequently contains references to their practises. At several points during his most recent interview with the Religious Studies Project, A. David Lewis alludes to the prominence of religious themes and images in comic books.

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Ancient Christian Origins: A Heterogeneous History

Podcast

In this week’s episode, the RSP’s Sidney Castillo talks with Professor William Arnal about ancient Christian origins and the development of Christianity through New Testament sources such as the Gospel of Thomas and Q.
Beyond ‘Faith-Based Organizations’: Religion and NGOs in comparative perspective

Podcast

In this interview, we talk with Erica Bornstein about her studies of religious giving and social activism in India and Africa, and what the results of her research contribute to our understanding of the complex configurations of ‘Faith-Based Organizations’ across diverse religious contexts.Since the turn of the twenty-first century, ...
Doe Daughtrey on Teaching Religious Studies Online

Podcast

As online communications technologies become more pervasive and sophisticated, this provides new opportunities and challenges for the creation of alternative learning environments which may differ in significant ways from traditional face-to-face environments. In this interview, Doe Daughtrey talks to Kevin Whitesides about the issues surrounding this increasingly important aspect of academia.
Christian Beauty Pageants: Beauty is in the eye of the creator

Podcast

By comparing the Miss Christian America pageant to other more well known pageants Miss USA and Miss America, Chelsea's study provides a look at the intersections between religion, gender, and collective identity. Using Christian Smith's ideas of subcultural identity, Belanger examines how the structure of the Miss Christian pageant helps develop a unique form of embodied religion.
The secularization of discourse in contemporary Latin American neoconservatism

Podcast

In this week’s podcast, Professor Jerry Espinoza Rivera explains how Latin American conservatism became neoconservatism. Though Latin America is diverse, conservatism has been a widespread in the region shaping not only the political power plays of religious institutions but the people's daily experience of the world. Recently, however, neoconservatism has managed to develop a language of its own that blends science and philosophy with historical analysis of the contemporary world political landscape to become an significant religio-cultural force.
Authors meet Critics: “New Age Spirituality”

Podcast

Following from our interview on Monday with Ingvild Gilhus, today's podcast presents an "authors meet critics" session on the new edited volume by Ingvild Gilhus and Steven Sutcliffe, New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion. This was recorded at the University of Edinburgh at the launch of the book,

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).