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Now We Know Religion is Not Disappearing

Postsecular, like postmodern, is a title applied to phenomena in society that do not seem fit into an earlier paradigm and has thus been named post-something because it perhaps is not yet visible what comes next. It is an end of an era but also a shift towards another and has the academic world digging out all the blind spots of the earlier theories, suddenly noticing a variety of things that weren’t perceived before. The secularisation theories saw traditional institutionalised religion slowly disappearing: less people in churches, less belief in God and more non-Christians answering surveys. When the shift arrived this time, it was noted that religion is not disappearing. Secularisation was defined in less all-inclusive ways – or even as a minority phenomenon of the educated elite, as Peter Berger saw it (eg. Berger: 2002: p. 291–294.) – and new theories appeared. Only, now the question became ‘how is religion changing’ instead of ‘how is religion disappearing’.

Gray mentions 9/11 as an example of how religiosity has become very visible in the political sphere. Another, less grim, example is the various new religious movements that seek to establish a presence in politics through challenging the hegemony of traditional churches in a very peculiar way. I am referring especially to the Pastafarians in Europe and the US, the Kopimists in Sweden, and the Satanists in Oklahoma. These groups have very different religious views, but what they have in common is that they were born after the World Wars and have received some attention in the media due to their critique of the social definition of religion. I do not want to entirely omit all the pagan and other movements that have a similar agenda, but what I see as a connection between these three examples are their recent public campaigns seeking legitimation through invoking laws on religious equality.

Whether you are a Pastafarian demanding to wear a colander for your driver’s license or wearing it while taking your oath of office, a Kopimist seeking to register your religious community sacralizing file sharing on the Internet, or a Satanist wishing to publicly announce the love of Baphomet or to have your kids in school taught the Satanist way, the officials and courts of several countries have had to deal with your religious interpretations. Making claims for religious equality while maintaining close connections between the state and the Christian Churches has long been a point of cultural critique, especially in Europe (Eg. Martin: 2010). These movements, mentioned above, have put this message into action. For instance, Pastafarianism was born as a critique of the teaching of intelligent design in schools in Kansas. These movements have pretty much everything imaginable it takes to be a religion: holy books such as The Satanic Bible or the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; rituals and holy days such as the sharing of files for Kopimists, a Kopimist wedding, Satanic baptism, wedding and funeral, Pastafarian Talk Like a Pirate Day and Ramedan; and of course religious symbols.

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Spageti

 

Because religions are defined in books of law and scholars of religion have found many ways to classify religion (eg. Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion) – none of which is explicit enough to include everything ‘commonly considered as religious’ and to exclude everything ‘not commonly considered as religious’ – these definitions can be used by the people to create their own sets of belief systems, to venerate their ideals, and to celebrate worldviews separate from the institutionalised churches that seem to have been the main focus of many theorists of religion. This focus on a specific type of religion was indeed one of the factors which gave rise to the secularisation theories.

Now, one may argue that some of the movements mentioned above have been created to celebrate secularisation and rationalisation of the world and merely to mock religiosity. However, it is not uncommon for such a ‘parody’ or critique to become more than just a joke. The Pastafarians in Poland and Finland have sought to be registered as a religious community. Both attempts, so far, having been declined. However, the Polish Pastafarians have had some more positive rulings from the Polish courts on the way, and both groups keep on fighting for recognition. The Kopimist community is registered as a religious community in Sweden, and the Satanists were organised as The Church of Satan already in the 1960’s. I believe the level of commitment has to be strong to some extent for a community to seek an official status as a religious community and to apply for bureaucratic legitimacy for their movement.

I am hesitant to use terms such as ‘serious’ or ‘meaningful’ in this context because of their vague connotations as definitive adjectives for religious practice. What is ‘serious’ or ‘meaningful’ religiosity? Is belonging without believing ‘meaningful’ and how does it differ from, for example, Pastafarian belonging? Is the Jewish holiday of Purim ‘serious’? Does the carnival atmosphere of it make Judaism less of a religion? I, myself, have been studying Discordianism, which is a very interesting example of how a group with critical or satirical origins can create profoundly life changing ideas, which could be viewed as religious or spiritual for even the creators of the movement (Mäkelä & Petsche: 2013).

No matter how we classify the movements stated above, their claims for religious rights within society (even a community of Finnish Discordians have their registration application on it’s way) show a certain meaning behind the rhetorics of religious equality. As Gray mentions in the podcast, postsecularism is in many ways about dealing with everyone: the religious, the atheists, the agnostics, and all the religious identities in between. It is not about trying to force religious speech into politics or trying to force it out of the public domain, like the secular discourse in many ways tried, it is about dealing with the fact that now we know religion is not disappearing.

References

Peter Berger: ‘Secularization and De-Secularization’ in Religions in the Modern World, ed. Linda Woodhead. 2002. Routledge, London.

Craig Martin: Masking Hegemony. 2010. Equinox, London.

Ninian Smart: The World’s Religions. 1989. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mäkelä & Petsche: ‘Serious Parody: Discordianism as Liquid Religion’ in Culture and Religion Journal Vol.14 Issue 4. 2013. Taylor & Francis Group.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

By Essi Mäkelä

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 31 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Suzanne Owen on Druidry and the Definition of Religion (29 October 2012).

In the podcast Suzanne Owen refers to the Druidry’s manifold self-identification situation. It seems to me this is a wide-spread phenomenon where there are conflicting ideas about how ‘religion’ should be defined in practice of less institutional groups and more or less eclectic individuals as opposed to what it seems to be in the traditional and institutional context. When written tradition is forced on non-written tradition, conflicts of definition are bound to happen. Druidry is mostly used as a term for a tribute to the ”ancient Druidic ways” that are believed to have been the practice in Britain. The quality of the details is then dependent on how an indivual – or a group – uses this idea of Druidry. Similarly, in Discordianism – a parody at it’s birth – there is an idea of it being a religion since it has a Goddess, a book and so on, but in practice the ideas of freedom and humour as salvation are more important to an individual than what is written about Eris, the Greek goddess of discord (Cusack, 2010; Mäkelä, 2012).

Like in religious devoutness, there are different levels of commitment in the way an ideology or a tradition is used – be it as a religious practice, philosophy or folklorism or something completely different. In my own studies with Discordians, I have come to learn that the use of Discordianism varies from political to philosophical to religious or plain humorous depending on the individual, the time and the place. The membership of the Archibishop of Canterbury in a Druidic society does not necessarily affect the status of Druidry as a religion in itself. For the Archibishop it might indeed not be an individual religion – or an institutional one that would question the so called authority of the Anglican church. For him, Druidry might be more of a traditional and even political practice – as discussed in the podcast – but for other members the definition might be something else. For Druidry, it seems, this is not a problem since it uses the so called eclectic approval of many pagan traditions: an individual does not have to commit to only one tradition at the expense of other traditions. The Anglican Church might have a different policy, but since Druidry – as other pagan traditions – can be used very differently depending on the needs of the individuals, this does not have to be a conflict of terms.

I agree with Owen that instead of trying to define these mixed groups as religion or not, it is more interesting to ask why and in what situations does a group or an individual define their tradition as a religion or something else. Also, it is an interesting concept how these societies come to register themselves as religious charity or religious communities and by doing so, end up writing a sort of definition of their religion that was never before actually official. A Finnish group, called Karhun kansa (”Bear Tribe”), is trying to register themselves as a religious community in Finland. As I write this, the application is still being handled. As with the Druid Network in Britain, Karhun kansa has now given a written definition of their Finnish folk faith tradition. Should they be registered, I believe this definition could end up being more definitive about the whole faith than what, perhaps, the founders of the group had in mind.

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with. It might be interesting to study these emerging registered group-identities compared to the non-registered groups that claim to follow the same tradition as the registered one – but with a different agenda. Also the individual idea of ‘religion’ as a definition from outside as opposed to the religious or spiritual needs from within could be a subject for a closer analysis in the future. What are some of the individual definitions of ‘religion’ and how often and how closely do they coincide with the concepts defined within the different national registering systems? This could be a good starting point for possible renewal of these registering systems to better suit the needs of these emerging religious community-trends.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Essi Mäkelä, MA, graduated from the University of Helsinki in the summer of 2012. She did her Thesis on Discordianism within the theoretical framework of “liquid religion”. New religious movements are in her special interests. At the moment, among others, she is working on the Finnish translation of the Discordian book Principia Discordia. She is also the author of the Religious Studies Project Feature, Finding religiosity within a parody.

 

 

 

References:

  • Cusack, Carole 2010: Invented Religions – Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, England)
  • Mäkelä, Essi 2012: Parodian ja uskonnon risteyksessä : Notkea uskonto suomalaisten diskordianistien puheessa (Unpublished MA Thesis for the University of Helsinki)

Finding religiosity within a parody

Finding religiosity within a parody

By: Essi Mäkelä, University of Helsinki

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 3 February 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Carole Cusack on ”Invented Religions” (30 January 2012).

A parody of religion will include elements that are accepted as religious within the society. This makes sure the parody is recognized as being targeted towards religion. Hence, a parody of religion will tell us what is accepted as a legitimate part of religion in the society where a parody or a joke on religion would be at home. Intuitively this includes nonreligious, irreligious or ”indifferent” people who have not found the official religion(s) to attend to their needs in interpreting life and the world. From this perspective it is understandable such parodies of religion would spur to life on a university campus, among students.

As with other religious activities, there are different levels of participation in this parody. At one end, some find beauty in the cermonies of the local church so they get married, baptize their children and bury their relatives using the services the church provides. Some find meaning in these practices and will pray and think about religious texts and meanings while occasionally participating at the church. At the other end lies complete devotion , with religion being a way of life and consuming most of the participants’ time and interest. This is also true for ”alternative” religiosity, such as paganism or ”Witchcraft” (McGuire, 2002: 122) – why not for ”fiction-based” or ”invented religions” (Davidsen, 2011; Cusack, 2010) too? For some, the parodies and sci-fi narratives are simply entertainment and fun. However, others seem to contemplate more deeply, finding a seed of truth in the parody and so come to refer to these narratives more often and more (or less) seriously.

In Principia Discordia, the book of Discordianism, there is a concept of The Law of Fives. Principia claims that there is a memo in ”The Erisian Archives” from Mal-2 (Greg Hill) to Omar Ravenhurst (Kerry Thornley) which says: “I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look.” Come to think of it, this applies to all things in life. If you are concentrating on something, you will tend to notice a connection between almost anything and the subject you are meditating on. If you find a joke or a fiction good enough – ”so good it should be true” as Cusack puts it (podcast 14:00-14:35)– you will probably start seeing it manifest in the world more often than not. Even if it begins as a joke, the more a joke is told and applied to incidents in real life, the closer you may come to accepting the narrative as true.

This process can be analogised to the process of converting to any other religious (or, indeed, explicitly ”nonreligious”) group, where individuals build new narratives for their past life and explain experienced incidents from the point of view of the new religious community of conversion. In the case of Discordianism or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the community might be no more than a collection of texts on the Internet. But the simple act of reading about someone who has – even jokingly – been reflecting on the original joke ”as if it was true”, might start a process of coming to believe in its literal truth.

For my Master’s Thesis, I have interviewed people who put a lot of emphasis on the philosophical worldview of Discordianism. According to questionnaires and face-to-face interviews conducted by myself and a student colleague, Hanna Lehtinen, in the winter of 2010/2011,  these individuals claimed to reflect on Discordianistic philosophical thought, and to utilise it in their everyday lives. When things get too tough, for example, a Discordian might find peace in the thought that this is just one point of view in the ultimate chaos within which everything is true, even false things… you just have to deal with it.

The terminological discussion surrounding these kinds of religions is indeed an interesting one. As Cusack points out (podcast 22:30-24:01), both invented and fiction-based religion have positive and negative connotations as definitions of a certain group of religious behaviours. Alternatively, David Chidester (2005) has used ”authentic fakes” as a description for religious behaviour which draws its inspiration from popular culture and which may be authentic religious behaviour but isn’t ”really” religious in the traditional sense – for example the First Church of Jesus Christ, Elvis. He takes Discordianism as an example of orchestrated fake religion which might bring about some authentic religious experiences. Having said that, ”authentic fakes” fails to describe these religions as well as ”invented” or ”fiction-based” religions, and includes the pejorative word ”fake”  which implies that these are merely parodies of religion.

As Discordianism is somewhat different from the religions that are explicitly built on an existent fictional narrative, in my thesis I don’t yet discuss the definition of the other religions. According to our small-scale study, Discordianism is more or less religious in its ”counter attack” on religious thought. Hence Hanna Lehtinen calls Discordianism a ”counter religion” in an article yet to be published. Starting from these building blocks, and the ongoing discussion surrounding ”invented religions”, I am sure it will be possible to derive new definitions for new religious behaviour, and bring the study of religion into the new millenium.

About the Author

Essi Mäkelä is a Master of Arts student in Comparative Religion at the University of Helsinki. She is writing her thesis on how Discordianism fits into the theoretic framework of “liquid religion” as developed from Zigmunt Baumann’s “liquid modernity” by Teemu Taira, a Finnish scholar of religion.

 

 

References

Chidester, David , 2005. Authentic Fakes. Religion and American Popular Culture (University of California Press, 2005, Los Angeles, USA)

Cusack, Carole, 2010. Invented Religions.  Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, England)

Davidsen, Markus, 2011. “Jediism: a convergence of Star Wars fan culture and salad bar spirituality” (De Filosoof 51, Utrecht, May 2011, p.24)

McGuire, Meredith B. 2002. Religion. The Social Context (Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, USA)