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Fiction, parody, and play in new religions


Admission requirements

Students who have completed either Introduction to New Religions or Inleiding Godsdienstwetenschap are automatically admitted to the course.
Exchange students who have followed a course on Comparative Religion or Sociology of Religion can be admitted on that basis, but should contact the teacher.
All other students should contact the teacher and will be offered some additional literature to study as a requirement for taking the course.


Fiction, parody, and play are not terms that one usually associates with religion. Nevertheless these concepts are crucial for the understanding of broad streams of contemporary, alternative religion. The course falls roughly into two parts. In the first we analyze how fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, functions to disseminate occult and religious ideas (e.g., about telepathy, Atlantis, Elves, fate, otherworlds) and how some new religions in turn draw inspiration from fiction. We look at explicitly fiction-based religions such as Jediism (based on Star Wars), explore the influence of fiction on alternative religions from Theosophy over Scientology to contemporary paganism, and consider the extremely bestselling genre of ‘new age fiction’ (by authors like Paulo Coelho and James Redfield). In this first part of the course questions such as the following are central: (1) what is the difference between fiction and non-fiction?; (2) how is the religious use of fiction and the evaluation of fiction to official doctrine negotiated and justified?; (3) does the use of fiction tell us something in general about the importance of narratives in religion? The key terms parody and play are central in the second part of the course. We look at a number of more or less ironic movements, including Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and consider the playful character of contemporary paganism. Key questions in this part are: (4) what is the difference between religion and play? (we draw on play theory and semiotics to answer this question); and (5) has religion originally developed out of a human capacity of play and do we see this process repeat itself when contemporary religions grow out of play, fiction-reading and fandom? Underlying the entire course are the fundamental questions (6) how are religious traditions constituted and maintained? and (7) what is the dimensions and dynamics of religious believing?

Course objectives

After successfully completing this course the student has:

  • 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 his/her level of theoretical reflection on core categories in comparative religion such as religion and belief.

  • Improved his/her skills at oral presentation and discussion (in English).

  • Improved his/her skills at information search, formulation of research questions, and reflection on the research process, as preparation for writing the BA thesis.


See Time table

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

  • Hours spent attending sessions:12 × 2 = 24 hours

  • Hours spent studying compulsory literature and literature end term paper: c. 432 pages / 4 p/h = 108 hours

  • Preparation of presentation = 8 hours

Assessment method

The final mark will be determined as a weighted average of three marks:
A. Individual presentation. Counts 30 %.
B. Active participation and contribution to class discussions. Counts 10 %.
C. Paper. Max 3000 words. Counts 60 %.


Yes, Blackboard

Reading list

No study book will be used for the course. Master copies of articles and book chapters for the course will be made available. More information about the readings follows on Blackboard in August.


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in Blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte via:
Registration Contractonderwijs via:


The course is taught in English.