Spring 2009

Popular Religion

Listed in: Religion, as RELI-13


Susan Niditch (Section 01)


Religions, ancient or modern, are sometimes described as having two modalities or manifestations: the one institutional, of the establishment, the other, popular. The latter is sometimes branded as superstitious, idolatrous, syncretistic, heretical, or cultish. Yet we have come to realize that “popular” religion is frequently the religion of the majority, and that popular and classical threads tend to intertwine in religions as lived by actual adherents. People often express and experience their religiosity in ways related to but not strictly determined by their traditions’ sacred officials, texts, and scholars. In the modern era, mass media have provided additional means of religious expression, communication, and community, raising new questions about popular religion. In this course we will explore examples from ancient and modern times, seeking to redefine our understanding of popular religion by looking at some of the most interesting ways human beings pursue and share religious experience within popular cultural contexts. Topics for study include: ancient Israelite traditions concerning the dead; early Jewish omen texts; televangelist movements; modern apocalyptic groups such as Heaven’s Gate; and recent films, television programs, and role-playing games rich in the occult or the overtly religious. Spring semester. Professor Niditch.