Religion, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Matrix

An interview with Markus Davidsen, who specialises in religions based on Star Wars, Tolkien, The Matrix, and other works of fiction… You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive weekly podcasts, on iTunes.

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 religion, and the stories they involve?  And what makes certain stories able to transcend their fictional origins and become myths?

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 his Academia page, which includes papers on Jediism and other fiction-based religions. If you found this interview stimulating, you’ll probably get a kick out of Carole Cusack’s interview with us on Invented Religions. And you may enjoy Markus and Carole’s contributions to our edited episode on “The Future of Religious Studies“.


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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

6 responses to “Religion, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Matrix”

  1. E A M Harris says :

    The existence of religions based on fiction bring into question the origin of other religions. Suppose the fact that Tolkein’s work is fiction was lost?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      L Ron Hubbard would be a better example of that, surely? He explicitly created a religion out of whole cloth “because that’s where the money is”.

      • Chris says :

        Yes and no. We do talk about about LRH in the interview (I think) but I think the point is more how these things can evolve beyond their original intent. Def need to get some proper LRH focus soon!

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        Sure, and the LOTR/Jedi stuff is very interesting. I was replying to the comment that this discredits religion – if that’s what we’re looking for, it’s hard to beat a recent, explicit invention which is already on the margins of acceptance as a genuine religion.

      • Chris says :

        Exactly :)

    • Chris says :

      It doesn’t do too much, really. Have a listen to the ‘Invented Religions’ podcast from Carole Cusack. Many believers in many world religions accept the human-authored nature of their texts. Either they are seen as divinely inspired (same can work with Tolkien) or folk can be completely okay in the knowledge that the text itself has nothing ‘divine’ about it, yet it still has an important role to play in their lives. I think what these religions do is give us a fascinating insight into the formation of text-based religions which we really haven’t had much access to in the past :)

      Thanks for getting in touch.

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