‘What is religion?’
This is the question I ask in a variety of ways for the first couple weeks of my class ‘Introduction to World Religion’ (to be named ‘Religion in Global Context’ in 2020-21). One of the ways I’ve had my students wrestle with this question is through a debate. I would split the class in half. One side had to represent the legitimacy of Jediism* and the other Pastafarianism. (Aside: Eventually, I dropped Jediism because it won most of the time…like 90% of the time. I replaced it with ‘Dudeism’—a Taoism-like religion based on the cult film The Big Lebowski. The outcome is more even now. Which makes me wonder why Jediism was so easy to embrace as a religion compared to Pastafarianism and Dudeism.) The point of this exercise is to get them thinking about how we use the word ‘religion’, what it defines, and how subjective our uses can be.
I mention this because Andrew Mark Henry, the scholarly and creative mind behind the YouTube page ‘Religion for Breakfast’, has created a timely video on this topic. I’ll definitely be showing this to my students in the future. If you haven’t checked out Religion for Breakfast, please do. The videos are good and getting better. The content is well-researched. (Henry put notes in the video description and often has in-video citations.)
I think it’s worthwhile to ask questions about newer or lesser-known religions in order to challenge the ‘world religion’ paradigm that equates authentic religion (consciously or subconsciously) with the older, more adhered to, structured religions. It’s one thing to suggest that Coca-Cola is a religion but something else to ask if Jediism or Pastafarianism are (or is it?).
Anyway, if you’d like to see the most recent version of my debate guidelines (I plan on enhancing the criteria and structure before I teach again next fall), here it is:
*WordPress kept trying to change ‘Jediism’ to ‘Judaism’. Even the algorithm has a bias.