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Religion and Popular Culture

A Hyper-Real Testament


Adam Possamai

Popular culture can no longer be exclusively seen as a source of escapism. It can amuse, entertain, instruct, and relax people, but what if it provides inspiration for religion?
The Church of All Worlds, the Church of Satan and Jediism from the Star Wars series are but three examples of new religious groups that have been greatly inspired by popular culture to (re)create a religious message. These are hyper-real religions, that is a simulacrum of a religion partly created out of popular culture which provides inspiration for believers/consumers. These postmodern expressions of religion are likely to be consumed and individualised, and thus have more relevance to the self than to a community and/or congregation. On the other hand, religious fundamentalist groups tend, at times, to resist this synergy between popular culture and religion, and at other times, re-appropriate popular culture to promote their own religion. Examples of this re-appropriation are Christian super-hero comics and role playing games, Bible-based PC games, and ‘White Metal’ music.
To explore these new phenomena, this book views itself as the ‘hyper-real testament’ of these new religious phenomena by addressing the theories, among many others, of Baudrillard, Jameson and Lipovetsky, and by exploring the use of fictions such as those from Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Trek, Buffy and The Lord of the Rings.


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CHAPTER 4. Hyper-Real Religion 71


CHAPTER 4 Hyper-Real Religion Introduction Fantasy fictions are constructed stories and worlds that mix my- thologies from a vast range of ethnic pantheons with scientific and constructed historical data. Chivalric or medieval romance such as the Arthurian cycle of legends is the template for classic modern fantasy, also called of times "sword and sorcery" fiction. For the purpose of this chapter, 1 make a difference between fantasy and other-sub genres such as horror fiction, science fiction, urban fantasy and magic realism.1 The fantasy world is not a reconstruction of an imagined past, it is total construction by the imagination of the author following a set of princi- ples. lndeed, the genre has now so strongly been codified by established modern authors, such as Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), that all contemporary authors must follow the traditional structure of fantasy worlds and creatures to create renewed stories. All these stories involve magic, creatures, thieves, warriors, druids and wizards. They deal with creatures on various quests meeting the extraordinary in mythic lands. This literature was also a strong mythic support for the birth of roleplaying games such as Dun- geons & Dragons which was popular in the 1980s and is seen today as the classic of them all. This genre has also been successfully adapted to the giant screen (e.g. the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson) and on many computer games (e.g. Ultima and Final Fantasy). In 2002, came a...

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