nl en

Fiction, parody, and play in new religions


Admission requirements

Students who have completed either Introduction to New Religions or Introduction to Religious Studies are automatically admitted to the course.
Students enrolled in the Minor programme Religion in a changing world are automatically entitled to follow the course.
Exchange students who have completed a course on Comparative Religion or a similar course can be admitted on that basis, but should contact the teacher.
Advanced BA students who have not followed any course on religion may be admitted to the course, but must 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 broad streams of 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 over Scientology to contemporary paganism, look at explicitly fiction-based religions such as Jediism (based on Star Wars), and consider the extremely bestselling genre of ‘New Age fiction’ (by authors like Paulo Coelho and James Redfield). Central questions in this first part of the course include the following: (1) what is the difference between fiction and non-fiction?; (2) how is the religious use of fiction and the development of fiction-based religion negotiated and justified?; (3) does the use of fiction tell us something in general about the importance of narratives for 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 look at a number of more or less parodic movements, including Discordianism, 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 ritual and play? (we draw on play theory and semiotics to answer this question); (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? Underlying the entire course are the fundamental questions (7) how are religious traditions constituted and maintained? and (8) what is the dimensions and dynamics of religious believing?

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 in comparative religion, such as religion and belief.

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

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



Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 5 × 28 = 140 hours

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

  • Time spent preparing oral presentation = 12 hours.

  • Time spent preparing feedback for peers = 6 hours.

  • Time spent studying compulsory literature: c. 402 pages / 7 p/h = 56 hours.

  • Time spent writing individual paper, including collecting and reading additional literature: 42 hours.

Assessment method

The final mark will be determined as a weighted average of three marks:
A. Oral presentation (individual or in pairs, depending on the number of enrolled students). Counts 30 %.
B. Active participation and contribution to class discussions and peer-feedback. Counts 10 %.
C. Individual paper. Max 3000 words. Counts 60 %.

To pass the course, students must score at least a sufficient mark (6,0) on all sub-tests.


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

No text book will be used for the course. Master copies of articles and book chapters for the course will be made available for students to copy individually. More information about the readings follows on Blackboard in January 2015.


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


The course is taught in English. Since peer feedback on a draft version of the individual paper is an integrated part of the course, the end-term exam must be written in English. It cannot be written in Dutch.