Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion ed. by Carole M. Cusack and Pavol Kosnáč
While growing, the scholarly study of new religious movements that are based on fictional texts is still relatively new and controversial. Popular culture—film, fiction, graphic novels, and more—has played a significant role in offering social actors throughout the world extended sources from which to draw to create new spiritualities and religiosity. As a result, this has given scholars a fresh and exciting lens through which to theorize and critically engage the study of religion, especially vis-à-vis religion, law, and politics. Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality explores some of these emerging new religious practices and alternative virtual spiritualities in detail and offers the reader a good primer on a variety of "invented" religions. The contributors to this four-part volume are made up of both academics and religious insiders. One gets a better feel for what so-called "fiction-based," "invented," and "hyper-real religions" are and what they look like in practice, as well as their fraught existential struggle for legitimacy.
The Routledge Inform Series on Minority Religions and Spiritual Movements aims to attract general readers as well as scholars and one can see evidence of this within the text. In Part One, the history, [End Page 148] rituals, and historicity of Tolkien's Legendarium, the Elven lineage, and their intersection with the internet are examined, specifically through two spiritual groups based on J. R. R. Tolkien's cosmology—Tie eldalieva and Ilsaunte Valion. Here Markus Davidsen argues that "narrative religion" in conjunction with the "thematization of textual veracity" is what makes Tolkien's literary mythology a usable repertoire for "real world spirituality" (29). Carole M. Cusack, in her intriguing analysis of Otherkin and Therianthropy, adds to this by saying that, "The development of film and television technologies … made available a vast array of cultural information on which modern individuals could draw in order to craft a personal identity" (43). Thus, fiction, film, and literature become the locus for identity, religiosity, and meaning in these new forms of religion and spirituality.
This is also demonstrated through the exegesis of personal narratives (see, for example, Venetia Robertson and Pavol Kosnáč) and the chapters written by religious insiders such as Oliver Benjamin, founder of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, who talks about the "Relaxial Age" and religion as a "heuristic for holiness" (149–56). This too can be seen in digital contexts and forms of countercultural religiosity. Parts Three and Four closely examine the integration of "one's religious or spiritual journey with social action" (277). They shed light on the "institutional turn" within these new religious movements and their struggle for legitimacy elucidated by their "state of intellectual liminality" or "playful investment in religious forms" (196). This notion of play is further considered by David Robertson in "the Conspiracy" of the Church of SubGenius, wherein he explains that conspiracies can be satirical and sincere modes of performance and representation, yet at the same time be profoundly meaningful as a subversion of official narratives. Johanna J. M. Petsche, in her chapter on African-American ufology is also interested in the intersection of narrative, performance, and identity. Petsche further reveals the complex nature of "invented religions," through her application of eschatological narratives from the Nation of Islam and the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors to well-known jazz musician Sun Ra's mythos.
The chapter on Kopimism also investigates digital spiritual subjectivities and the fine line between the satirical and the sincere. Piracy, activism, and anti-statism understood in this framework become explicit political and religious acts. William Bainbridge's concluding chapter takes the reader on a fascinating walk through three virtual worlds with Constance, a simulacrum of his deceased sister—specifically showing the "multiple dimensions of virtual revival of a deceased person by means of role-playing inside gameworlds" (227).
This book's goal is to serve as an introductory text on a variety of new religions and spiritualities, their worldview, and the complexity of their [End Page 149] ongoing fight for legitimacy. The contributors to Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality successfully demonstrate that these "phenomena have real life consequences."