Invented Religions

Imagination, Fiction and Faith

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  • Carole M. Cusack, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Series: Ashgate New Religions
  • Utilizing contemporary scholarship on secularization, individualism, and consumer capitalism, this book explores religious movements founded in the West which are intentionally fictional: Discordianism, the Church of All Worlds, the Church of the SubGenius, and Jediism. Their continued appeal and success, principally in America but gaining wider audience through the 1980s and 1990s, is chiefly as a result of underground publishing and the internet.

    This book deals with immensely popular subject matter: Jediism developed from George Lucas' Star Wars films; the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, founded by 26-year-old student Bobby Henderson in 2005 as a protest against the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools; Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius which retain strong followings and participation rates among college students. The Church of All Worlds' focus on Gaia theology and environmental issues makes it a popular focus of attention. The continued success of these groups of Invented Religions provide a unique opportunity to explore the nature of late/post-modern religious forms, including the use of fiction as part of a bricolage for spirituality, identity-formation, and personal orientation.
  • Contents: Introduction: imagination, fiction and faith; The contemporary context of invented religions; Discordianism: Chaos is a goddess; The Church of All Worlds: science fiction, environmentalism and a holistic pagan vision; The Church of the SubGenius: science fiction mythos, culture jamming, and the sacredness of slack; Third-millennium invented religions: Jediism, Matrixism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; Conclusion: imagination and faith revisited; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Author: Carole M. Cusack is an Associate Professor of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. She is a medievalist and her doctorate was published as Conversion Among the Germanic Peoples (Cassell, 1998). Her research and teaching interests are divided between the Middle Ages and contemporary Western alternative religions.
  • Reviews: 'Carole Cusack’s Invented Religions is a thoroughly enjoyable and informative romp through six new religions about which most people - including scholars in the field - will know little. Solidly sociologically grounded, the author succeeds not only in uncovering a dynamic that distinguishes much contemporary Paganism from its more established competitors but also possibly the deliberate narrative spirit behind all religion itself. Seeking to broaden an understanding of religion that is commensurate to the twenty-first century, Cusack expands the prevailing Western model based on Christianity to one that concerns eclecticism, individualism, consumerism, secularization, environmentalism, sexual liberation, feminism and meaning per se and includes the possibility of parody, irreverence, anarchic humour and blatant fiction.'
    Michael York, Bath Spa University, UK

    'Invented Religions is a refreshingly original and delightful book that throws new light on invented traditions, religious legitimacy, religious creativity, and the ludic dimensions of religion.'
    James Lewis, University of Tromso, Norway

    'From followers of filmmaker George Lucas’ Jedis to worshippers of Eris, the goddess of Discord, Cusack takes seriously the richly imagined worlds of contemporary invented religions. She convincingly argues that religions of humor and parody created from science fiction narratives are worthy of our attention as quintessential religious movements of late capitalism.'
    Sarah M. Pike, author of New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

    'Cusack has provided us with a valuable resource to draw upon in further analysis of these new religions.' Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review

    'This engaging study brings to light the ways that facets of popular culture can metamorphose into belief systems with their own rituals and structures. It is suitable for a broad readership interested in popular culture and religion, new religious movements, and alternative religions. Summing Up: Recommended.' Choice

    'Invented Religions is a valuable, stimulating, and delightful exploration of creative religious fabulations that have been too little discussed.' Journal of Religion

    '… Invented Religions is both an important contribution to the empirical study of the fuzzy border between religion and popular culture and an invitation for scholars to further theorise that border.' Literature & Aesthetics

    'Invented Religions is nothing if not stimulating, even provocative, in its implications for established religion; what might be most interesting to scholars of religion who read this book is the suggestion that, although many of these invented religions were tongue-in-cheek creations, their founders found that 'it is possible to invent/join a movement knowing that it is not 'true' [only later to] discover, through experience, that it is true for you'.' Journal of Contemporary Religion

    'Cusack's book is to be placed as a key piece of work in the academic task of advancing knowledge in this field. Her extensive and well-grounded research on these case studies is of high interest for anyone interested in the study of religion and/or popular culture.' Australian Religion Studies Review

    'Cusack's Invented Religions is a self-confessed early study that covers many of the subjects and themes that will come under greater examination once we abandon the need for the weight of years, and is an excellent contribution to the discussion.' Fieldwork in Religion

    'Carole M. Cusack’s Invented Religions calls important attention to an area of modern religious innovation that scholars of religion have largely neglected, and even treated dismissively and diminutively, perhaps because it has proven difficult to categorize within well-established typologies… I think Cusack has contributed an important voice to the discussion, and I hope that scholars heed her call to broaden our understanding of what constitutes religion and is deemed worthy of scholarly attention.' International Journal for the Study of New Religions

    'This book should be of interest to narrative scholars, scholars who study NRMs, and anyone interested in the panoply of spiritual options available to religious consumers. It could be useful in courses on contemporary spirituality and the creation of oppositional subcultures.' Journal of the American Academy of Religion

    '...this book promises to be a major influence on the direction of the next generation of religious studies scholarship.'
    Religion, 2014