Religion, Popular Culture, and Everything In Between

So, I admit I haven’t written any kind of blog post for quite a while, but I feel I have a good enough excuse. If you haven’t noticed, I have added a page to my dear website for a new podcast I’ve started – the Religion and Popular Culture Podcast.

With four episodes uploaded, and a fifth in the midst of editing, I feel (and hope you do as well) that it’s going well. I’ve enjoyed chatting with everyone I have so far, and look forward to those I have yet to. I’ve learned a lot in the process of working on this podcast – a lot about the field of popular culture and religious studies.

For those who haven’t listened, my tagline is: we talk about religion, popular culture, and everything in between. This was an idea that I thought more funny at first, but the idea began to grow traction the minute I first turned on the recording. Some of the people I first chatted to did not immediately consider themselves as part of popular culture studies. Christmas, like Lucinda Murphy’s research interests, may not immediately make one think of pop culture. And yet it very much is. But perhaps we think of it existing somewhere in between.

And while some approaches echo Rob Barward-Symmons (whose podcast episode is recorded and waiting release in April) – whose work with young Christians and social media revealed a connection directly between something we can point at and say “religion” to something we can say is “pop culture”. But maybe things exist in between.

My own personal research has always enjoyed pushing the term religion as far as it’ll go – and then seeing where popular culture crosses with it. The result is a bending of religion and pop culture that lands us somewhere in between. It raises, perhaps, a question: when does culture become pop culture? When does pop culture become just culture? But maybe the greater question: does it matter?

Perhaps I’m affected too much by definitional issues. I believe similarly to Edward Bailey that definitions are too detrimental to the reality of our world. Instead, description is best – if we have to have something. But more importantly, we should look at the type of language, or emotional engagement, of those whose attention we’re giving.

I stress this due to some of the issues in previous engagements with religion and popular culture. Early studies of fandom saw fans as some strange “Other” – the weird people who take general interest too far. They’re fanatics in their interest, loving too strongly and sometimes seen as deluded in their engagement. I sometimes feel that the approach of religion and pop culture, where we attempt to see if this fan interest is religion, is just a repetition of this Othering. These fans are seen as strange because they engage with pop culture in a religious way. And yes, things that Carole Cusack and Adam Possamai study – hyper-real religions – do exist. But these are often the heavy extreme, people who know for sure. All the other fans do not fit in this – and one does not have to put Jediism on a census record in order for Star Wars to mean something to them. The people who fall under this other category, the affected but not hyper-real, often do not see themselves as being religious toward the fandom.

But maybe there’s a middle ground. As a fan myself, sometimes saying “interested” is too weak of a term to demonstrate my love for what’s happening, but “religion” is too strong. So the borrowing of religious terminology, but not religion entirely, is sometimes useful. Travelling to New Zealand to see the Lord of the Rings set is more than just a trip. It’s pilgrimage. The Legend of Zelda is more than just a game, its an important myth.

So yes, I talk about religion, and popular culture, but mostly I talk about something in between.


On a side note, I promise I’m working on some ideas regarding other games and such which will make an appearance on here soon.