Posts

Divine Inspiration Revisited

 

When encountered for the first time, the idea of a fiction-based religion might seem quite ’far out’ and counter-intuitive. How is it possible to mix together religion (that, supposedly, deals with faith and so with a truth of some sort) and works of popular culture, which are clearly created by human imagination, and so are by definition not true?

And yet, this mixing does not seem to be a problem to the adherents of Jediism, Matrixism, and so forth. There are several groups that draw their inspiration from works of fiction, and yet declare religiosity. Apparently, fiction can offer inspiration to spiritual activities just as well as material traditionally regarded as spiritual and religious. What we seem to have at hand is a phenomenon that leaks out of our previous categories of religion, and in doing so poses a challenge to our understanding of religion and especially its connection to wider social and cultural phenomena.

The interview with Markus Davidsen explains comprehensively the basic ideas of a fiction-based religion. Davidsen defines a fiction-based religion as ”real religion in the real world, – which takes much of its inspiration from a fictional text”. Davidsen argues that these movements are more than fandom. For example, even though the adherents to Jediism do recognize the fact that Star Wars is fictional story, they still maintain that it refers to something that is real on some level. They might also argue, according to Davidsen, that all other religions are based on human invention as well, and so make the distinction between ‘real religion’ and their fiction-based religion less clear.

The aspect that interests me the most is the apparent diffusion of different ‘spheres’ of culture and society. In a fiction-based religion, an overlap of two categories is clearly present: religion and popular culture. But there are also other overlaps. For example, the argument that all religions are based on fiction seems like a very ’secular’ statement. So it seems that adherents to these new religious or spiritual endeavors have adopted certain ideas from a society in which traditional religions with their exclusive truth claims have largely lost their plausibility. As this introductory video to Pastafarianism puts it: ”(W)ith so many to choose from, how do we know which, if any, holds the truth?” But even adopting this view does not mean that religiosity would vanish altogether. Apparently, equally false can be inverted to equally true. Furthermore, it legitimizes the use of rather unconventional sources of spiritual inspiration. If all religions are ultimately based on human invention, what divides old prophecies and mythologies from the new ones?

Like many other forms of diffuse religiosity and spirituality of present day, fiction-based religions operate in an environment of open-ended systems, in which individuals are free to combine a view that suits their spiritual needs. Teemu Taira has called this type of religiosity ”liquid”, a term derived from Zygmunt Bauman’s work on liquid modernity. His work emphasizes the fact that we cannot handle religion as a distinct phenomenon separated from the broader societal and cultural context (Taira, 2006, 7-8). Coming closer to fiction-based religions, Carole M. Cusack has worked on what she calls ”invented religions”, which are new religions that openly declare their origin in human creativity. This term encompasses fiction-based religions as well as others, such as Discordianism and Church of the SubGenius, which are usually deemed as parody religions. Cusack also emphasizes the socio-cultural context of these religions, and her monograph Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith shows how these forms of religiosity are a quite logical consequence of modern consumerism, individualism and appreciation for novelty. (Cusack, 2010 8-25.)

Taira describes liquid religiosity as being focused on the self. The experience of the individual is the most important religious authority. This is only logical in a liquid modern world, where great narratives have lost their plausibility, traditional identities are being deconstructed and external truths might prove fragile and change the next day (Taira 2006, 68-71,75). Consequently, what is ‘true’ for an individual is what matters to him or her individually. This is a very pragmatic sense of reality. If it works, it is true – at least true enough. This kind of view is naturally well suited for a highly pluralist situation, where increasing numbers of religious groups and identities exist next to each other. Taira also suggests that in liquid religiosity, there might be a shift in emphasis from intellectual content to the affective side of religiosity: meaningful feelings and experiences of empowerments it brings. (Taira 2006, 47-51.)

Fiction-based religions are a nice example of how different spheres of society and culture are actually tightly interntwined, and that they constantly affect and interfere with each others. Religion among other ‘spheres’ does not develop in a vaccuum. Also, as Davidsen concludes at the end of the interview, religion is ”something that happens in social interaction and negotiation”. Something is not religious per se, but it is made religious by people who claim it as such.

Religion does not disappear, even though some of its traditional forms might lose their value in the eyes of some people. But religion does change. Fiction-based religions are a good example of this change.

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.

 

References:

CUSACK, Carole M, 2010: Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

TAIRA, Teemu, 2006: Notkea uskonto.  Published in the Eetos julkaisuja series. Turku: Eetos

Fiction-Based Religions

The majority of those who identified as a Jedi on the 2001 UK census were mounting a more-or-less satirical or playful act of non-compliance; nevertheless, a certain proportion of those were telling the truth. How does a religion constructed from the fictional Star Wars universe problematise how we conceptualise other religions, and the stories they involve?  And what makes certain stories able to transcend their fictional origins and become myths?

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Markus Altena Davidsen is a PhD candidate at the universities of Aarhus, Denmark and Leiden, Netherlands, and assistant lecturer in the sociology of religion in Leiden. Since 2009, he has been working on a PhD project entitled “Fiction-based Religions: The Use of Fiction in Contemporary Religious Bricolage”. In this project, Davidsen attempts to do three things. Firstly, he maps the various ways on which religious groups since the 1960s have been integrating elements from Tolkien’s literary mythology with beliefs and practices from more established religious traditions. This material is used to develop a typology of forms of religious bricolage (harmonising, domesticating, archetypal etc.) which are also at work in alternative spirituality in general. Secondly, he looks at how Tolkien religionists legitimise their religious practice (to themselves and others) given that it is based on a work of fiction. These accounts are compared with what cognitive theory has to say about narratives and plausibility construction. Thirdly, Davidsen treats how the internet has facilitated the emergence of a self-conscious spiritual Tolkien milieu. Some preliminary conclusions from the project are presented in the forthcoming article “The Spiritual Milieu Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Literary Mythology”, in Adam Possamai (ed.), Handbook of Hyper-real Religions, in the series Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion 5, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 185-204.

You can keep up with Markus’s work on Invented Religions. And you may enjoy Markus and Carole’s contributions to our edited episode on “The Future of Religious Studies“.

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)

Podcasts

Divine Inspiration Revisited

 

When encountered for the first time, the idea of a fiction-based religion might seem quite ’far out’ and counter-intuitive. How is it possible to mix together religion (that, supposedly, deals with faith and so with a truth of some sort) and works of popular culture, which are clearly created by human imagination, and so are by definition not true?

And yet, this mixing does not seem to be a problem to the adherents of Jediism, Matrixism, and so forth. There are several groups that draw their inspiration from works of fiction, and yet declare religiosity. Apparently, fiction can offer inspiration to spiritual activities just as well as material traditionally regarded as spiritual and religious. What we seem to have at hand is a phenomenon that leaks out of our previous categories of religion, and in doing so poses a challenge to our understanding of religion and especially its connection to wider social and cultural phenomena.

The interview with Markus Davidsen explains comprehensively the basic ideas of a fiction-based religion. Davidsen defines a fiction-based religion as ”real religion in the real world, – which takes much of its inspiration from a fictional text”. Davidsen argues that these movements are more than fandom. For example, even though the adherents to Jediism do recognize the fact that Star Wars is fictional story, they still maintain that it refers to something that is real on some level. They might also argue, according to Davidsen, that all other religions are based on human invention as well, and so make the distinction between ‘real religion’ and their fiction-based religion less clear.

The aspect that interests me the most is the apparent diffusion of different ‘spheres’ of culture and society. In a fiction-based religion, an overlap of two categories is clearly present: religion and popular culture. But there are also other overlaps. For example, the argument that all religions are based on fiction seems like a very ’secular’ statement. So it seems that adherents to these new religious or spiritual endeavors have adopted certain ideas from a society in which traditional religions with their exclusive truth claims have largely lost their plausibility. As this introductory video to Pastafarianism puts it: ”(W)ith so many to choose from, how do we know which, if any, holds the truth?” But even adopting this view does not mean that religiosity would vanish altogether. Apparently, equally false can be inverted to equally true. Furthermore, it legitimizes the use of rather unconventional sources of spiritual inspiration. If all religions are ultimately based on human invention, what divides old prophecies and mythologies from the new ones?

Like many other forms of diffuse religiosity and spirituality of present day, fiction-based religions operate in an environment of open-ended systems, in which individuals are free to combine a view that suits their spiritual needs. Teemu Taira has called this type of religiosity ”liquid”, a term derived from Zygmunt Bauman’s work on liquid modernity. His work emphasizes the fact that we cannot handle religion as a distinct phenomenon separated from the broader societal and cultural context (Taira, 2006, 7-8). Coming closer to fiction-based religions, Carole M. Cusack has worked on what she calls ”invented religions”, which are new religions that openly declare their origin in human creativity. This term encompasses fiction-based religions as well as others, such as Discordianism and Church of the SubGenius, which are usually deemed as parody religions. Cusack also emphasizes the socio-cultural context of these religions, and her monograph Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith shows how these forms of religiosity are a quite logical consequence of modern consumerism, individualism and appreciation for novelty. (Cusack, 2010 8-25.)

Taira describes liquid religiosity as being focused on the self. The experience of the individual is the most important religious authority. This is only logical in a liquid modern world, where great narratives have lost their plausibility, traditional identities are being deconstructed and external truths might prove fragile and change the next day (Taira 2006, 68-71,75). Consequently, what is ‘true’ for an individual is what matters to him or her individually. This is a very pragmatic sense of reality. If it works, it is true – at least true enough. This kind of view is naturally well suited for a highly pluralist situation, where increasing numbers of religious groups and identities exist next to each other. Taira also suggests that in liquid religiosity, there might be a shift in emphasis from intellectual content to the affective side of religiosity: meaningful feelings and experiences of empowerments it brings. (Taira 2006, 47-51.)

Fiction-based religions are a nice example of how different spheres of society and culture are actually tightly interntwined, and that they constantly affect and interfere with each others. Religion among other ‘spheres’ does not develop in a vaccuum. Also, as Davidsen concludes at the end of the interview, religion is ”something that happens in social interaction and negotiation”. Something is not religious per se, but it is made religious by people who claim it as such.

Religion does not disappear, even though some of its traditional forms might lose their value in the eyes of some people. But religion does change. Fiction-based religions are a good example of this change.

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.

 

References:

CUSACK, Carole M, 2010: Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

TAIRA, Teemu, 2006: Notkea uskonto.  Published in the Eetos julkaisuja series. Turku: Eetos

Fiction-Based Religions

The majority of those who identified as a Jedi on the 2001 UK census were mounting a more-or-less satirical or playful act of non-compliance; nevertheless, a certain proportion of those were telling the truth. How does a religion constructed from the fictional Star Wars universe problematise how we conceptualise other religions, and the stories they involve?  And what makes certain stories able to transcend their fictional origins and become myths?

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Markus Altena Davidsen is a PhD candidate at the universities of Aarhus, Denmark and Leiden, Netherlands, and assistant lecturer in the sociology of religion in Leiden. Since 2009, he has been working on a PhD project entitled “Fiction-based Religions: The Use of Fiction in Contemporary Religious Bricolage”. In this project, Davidsen attempts to do three things. Firstly, he maps the various ways on which religious groups since the 1960s have been integrating elements from Tolkien’s literary mythology with beliefs and practices from more established religious traditions. This material is used to develop a typology of forms of religious bricolage (harmonising, domesticating, archetypal etc.) which are also at work in alternative spirituality in general. Secondly, he looks at how Tolkien religionists legitimise their religious practice (to themselves and others) given that it is based on a work of fiction. These accounts are compared with what cognitive theory has to say about narratives and plausibility construction. Thirdly, Davidsen treats how the internet has facilitated the emergence of a self-conscious spiritual Tolkien milieu. Some preliminary conclusions from the project are presented in the forthcoming article “The Spiritual Milieu Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Literary Mythology”, in Adam Possamai (ed.), Handbook of Hyper-real Religions, in the series Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion 5, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 185-204.

You can keep up with Markus’s work on Invented Religions. And you may enjoy Markus and Carole’s contributions to our edited episode on “The Future of Religious Studies“.

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)