I have been meaning to post on an excellent new initiative that kicked off in January: The Religious Studies Project (RSP). It is rapidly becoming the best (and only?) webportal for the academic study of religion in Europe, sponsored by the British Association for the Study of Religion. (The Americans have things like Religion Dispatches, and a good number of related blogs – including by the legendary Peter Berger). I’ll let RSP introduce themselves:
The Religious Studies Project (RSP) is a website and podcasting project launched in January 2012. It features a weekly audio interview (of around 30 minutes) with leading scholars of Religious Studies (RS) and related fields, which is available through the website, iTunes and other portals. In addition to the podcasts, the website also features weekly articles from postgraduate students and other scholars of religion on the themes of the interview that week, in addition to other useful resources and articles relevant to teachers and students of religion in the modern world.
It’s a good resource if you’re in that field, or just interested in what academics are saying about religion these days.
A number of interesting podcasts have been published already, including one by my friend and colleague in Leiden, Markus Altena Davidsen, who talks about his fascinating research on “fiction-based religion”. That’s religious groups that base themselves on works of explicit fiction – Star Wars and Tolkien’s Middle Earth series are the prime examples. Studying such groups also gives opportunity to look at some very interesting questions regarding the concept of “religion” itself, and processes of religious meaning-making.
Quoting from the blurb:
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.
That is certainly a book to look out for. Would even have been interesting to many outside the field of religious studies too, had it not been for the typically off-putting Brill-prices ( €143 / $196).
At any rate, I recommend checking out the podcast if you want to learn more about this relatively new and fascinating aspect of the religious landscape in the West. And I will hereby add The Religious Studies Project to the blog roll.
This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.