Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is Flying Spaghetti Monsterism really a religion?


It appears that this question will be addressed at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). (If you don't know about Flying Spaghetti Monster, you can get more information from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). The annual meeting of AAR in San Diego has a panel that will be addressing the role of parody religions and the definition of religion itself (full story here). The title of the panel is Evolutionary Controversy and a Side of Pasta: The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Subversive Function of Religious Parody.
The presenters' titles seem almost a parody themselves of academic jargon. Snyder will speak about "Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster's Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion," while Gavin Van Horn's presentation is titled "Noodling around with Religion: Carnival Play, Monstrous Humor, and the Noodly Master."

Using a framework developed by literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, Van Horn promises in his abstract to explore how, "in a carnivalesque fashion, the Flying Spaghetti Monster elevates the low (the bodily, the material, the inorganic) to bring down the high (the sacred, the religiously dogmatic, the culturally authoritative)."

The authors recognize the topic is a little light by the standards of the American Academy of Religion.

"You have to keep a sense of humor when you're studying religion, especially in graduate school," Van Horn said in a recent telephone interview. "Otherwise you'll sink into depression pretty quickly."

But they also insist it's more than a joke.

Indeed, the tale of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its followers cuts to the heart of the one of the thorniest questions in religious studies: What defines a religion? Does it require a genuine theological belief? Or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signaling their cultural alliances to others?

In short, is an anti-religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism actually a religion?

Joining them on the panel will be David Chidester, a prominent and controversial academic at the University of Cape Town in South Africa who is interested in precisely such questions. He has urged scholars looking for insights into the place of religion in culture and psychology to explore a wider range of human activities. Examples include cheering for sports teams, joining Tupperware groups and the growing phenomenon of Internet-based religions. His 2005 book "Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture," prompted wide debate about how far into popular culture religious studies scholars should venture.
And if nothing else, the panel is doing a fantastic job of bringing American Academy of Religion to popular culture, and vice versa. Read the full story here . (thanks to Jeff for the story)