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Fiction, parody, and play in new religions


Admission requirements

This course is an elective in the BA Religious Studies (second year), and is also of particular interest to anthropology and literature students.

Students who have completed one of the following courses are automatically admitted to the course: New Religions, Inleiding Religiewetenschappen, Religion in the World, or Comparative Religion.

Students, including exchange students, who want to follow the course, should contact the teacher in advance and be expected to be given additional literature before the course starts.

A maximum of 20 students can follow this course.


Fiction, parody, and play are not terms that one usually associates with religion, but as this course demonstrates, these concepts are crucial for understanding important currents within contemporary, alternative religion. The course falls roughly into two parts. ‘Fiction’ is the key term in the first part. We analyse how fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, functions to disseminate occult and religious ideas (e.g., about telepathy, Atlantis, Elves, fate, and otherworlds) and how some new religions in turn draw inspiration from fiction. We explore the influence of fiction on alternative religions from Theosophy to contemporary paganism and look at explicitly fiction-based religions, such as Jediism (based on Star Wars) and Tolkien spirituality. Central questions in this first part of the course include the following: (1) why have some works of fiction (but not others) inspired the rise of new religions?; (2) how do people legitimize the use of fiction as religious texts?; (3) does the use of fiction tell us something in general about the importance of narratives for sustaining religious belief? The key terms ‘play’ and ‘parody’ are central in the second part of the course. We compare the playful character of contemporary paganism with the semi-religious character of Star Trek fandom, and we discuss how some religious movements, including the Otherkin movement whose members believe to be Elves, Dragons, Vampires, and other non-human entities, seem to have developed in part out of role-playing. We also look at a number of more or less parodic movements, including The Church of the SubGenius, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Key questions in this part are: (4) what is the difference between play and ritual, really?; (5) has religion originally developed out of a human capacity of play?; and (6) do we see this process repeat itself when contemporary religions grow out of play, fiction reading, and fandom?

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course students have:

  • Acquired a factual knowledge of a number of new religious movements.

  • Acquired a theoretical knowledge about the categories fiction, parody, and play, particularly in relation to religion.

  • Matured their level of theoretical reflection on core categories within comparative religion, such as religion and belief.

  • Improved their skills at oral presentation and discussion in English.

  • Improved their skills at searching for information, formulating research questions, carrying out independent research, and evaluating their own research process as well as that of their peers.



Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

  • Time spent attending sessions: 12 × 2 = 24 hours.

  • Time spent attending symposium: 4 hours.

  • Time spent preparing discussion questions for class: 12 hours.

  • Time spent preparing feedback for peers: 6 hours.

  • Time spent studying compulsory literature: c. 350 pages / 7 p/h: 50 hours.

  • Time spent writing individual paper, including collecting and reading additional literature: 44 hours.

Assessment method

To be entitled to hand in the final paper, students must:
1. have been present and active in class,
2. have handed discussion questions on time, and
3. have handed in a draft version of the final paper on time.

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighed average of two marks:
1. Contribution in class (oral contributions in class; weekly reading questions; peer feedback) = 30 %
2. Final paper = 70 %

Please take note of the following: The final mark is determined as the weighed average of the contribution in class (30 %) and the final paper (70 %). To pass the course, students must obtain at least a sufficient mark (6,0) as the weighed average of the two marks AND receive a sufficient mark (6,0) on the final paper. If the weighed average is higher than 6,0, but the paper scores 5,0 or lower, the final mark for the course will be a 5,0.

Students who score an insufficient mark on the final paper, may submit a new version of the paper. Students who score an overall insufficient mark for the course and an insufficient mark for their contribution in class may retake the ‘contribution in class’ part of the exam with a substitute written assignment.

Exam review
Students receive individual, written feedback from the course instructor on each of the to sub-tests. In addition, students are invited to make an appointment to discuss the feedback on the final paper and class contribution and their mark for the course.


The course makes use of Blackboard All communication will take place via Blackboard, additional information about the course will be available via Blackboard, and assignments must be handed in via Blackboard.

Reading list

The readings for the course consist of a collection of research articles and book chapters. A detailed reading list will be made available on Blackboard in January 2018. Students will be required to download electronic articles themselves via the university library. Book chapters will be made available via Blackboard or in a reader.


Registration through uSis. Not registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registrationprocedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

A la carte


Dhr Dr. M.A. Davidsen


The course is taught in English.