The Religious Dimensions of Popular Culture

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Human beings are religious and as a result, have always had religionsfrom the primitive ones to the more complex ones being experienced inthe contemporary world. Durkheim, a famous American author, believesthat studies conducted on primitive religions can uncover some hiddenaspects of religion and that a look into the past can give anindividual an idea of the future and better understanding of thecurrent religions. In his book The Elementary Forms of ReligiousLife, Durkheim proposes that all religions have some rituals used inthe reinforcement of the beliefs and actions of the religion orculture. Modern cultures such as pop culture and Comic Con displaysome of the aspects of religion covered by Durkheim in his book. Thisstudy paper is aimed at exploring the similarities and differencesbetween primitive religions and contemporary religions. The paperalso seeks to analyse modern cultures and the rituals practised inthese cultures. The paper is important as it offers readers newinformation about the evolution of cultures and religions which willassist the reader to gain a clearer understanding of religion and itsimportance to human beings.

 The Role ofRituals in Reifying Conceptions of The Sacred

This section of the study paper will analyse the role of rituals inreinforcing a religion`s concepts and ideology according to Durkheim.The section will also cover different kinds of rituals conducted byprimitive religions which will be used to compare with rituals in thecontemporary world.

Durkheim in his books has the role and origin of religion. Accordingto the famous author, religion is a result of society and not anydivine or supernatural intervention(Durkheim,1916). Religion is dependent society, and the coreaim of religion is to unite people with similar beliefs into onesociety. Durkheim uses the Australian aborigines as his case studystating that he thought the religions present then are the simplest,making it easier for him to study them. From the argument thatreligion is a construct of society, religion remains intangible anddifficult to reinforce. It is the role of rituals and sacredactivities to make the religion physical and real in the lives of themembers. It is the sacred spaces and practises that the members of areligion practice that constantly remind them of the beliefs andaccepted behaviour of a particular religion. Rituals and religiousactions can be classified into two categories, positive reinforcementand negative rituals. Positive rituals are used to reward andreinforce positive activities that are promoted by a particularreligion. Negative rituals, on the other hand, are those used topunish unacceptable behaviour in a particular religion or culture.The role of rituals in any culture is ensuring that the membersexperience the religion and have a physical reminder of what theyhold as sacred. The success of a ritual in achieving its purpose isreliant on the experience of the individual while performing aritual. The more an individual believes that the ritual is beneficialand pleasing to the supernatural, the more impact the ritual willhave on the individual (Durkheim,1916).

 Comic-Con A ContemporaryReligion

The Comic-Con is a multi-genre convention that focuses on charactersand scenes from science fiction movies and comic books. Theconvention was established 47 years ago in 1970 by Shei Dorf and ahost of other comic fans under the name Golden State Comic BookConvention but more commonly referred to as Comic-Con. The conventionreceives a large attendance with 2015 recording over 160,000participants. The Comic-Con convention displays some aspects of amodern culture or religion. This section of the study paper willanalyse the Comic-Con convention participants behaviours andritualistic actions with a special regard to the theory of religionsby the American academic, Durkheim.

Durkheim, in his book, proposed that in any religion there arepractices in each religion that hold sacred meaning to the devoteemembers. The sacred is distinguished in any culture by its rituals,which to the members are in a show of devotion to the supernatural orsacred beings. Comic-Con convention fans display a religiousfollowing for some of the group`s activities and can to some extentbe classified as a religion depending on a fan`s devotion. I proposethat for a passionate and devoted member of the Comic-Con communityis more religious with its practices than a regular fan. UsingDurkheim`s theory, the sacred things in a religion are distinguishedby the rituals that surround them. By analysing the rituals that takeplace at Comic-Con, we can identify the sacred things in the popularculture. One activity that can be classified as a ritual is costumewearing at the comic convention. Cosplay which is short for costumeand play involves the attendants of the convention wearing outfitsthat make them appear like their favourite comic character. This is aphysical event that makes a supernatural or abstract idea make atangible effect on a fan`s life. The event acts as a ritual since itreinforces the ideology of the comic convention culture and also hasa tangible effect. The Comic-Con event is the largest ritual in thecomic convention culture where different fans get a chance tointeract with others who share their ideology and religiouspractices. Popular culture can be classified as a religion dependingon the commitment and level of engagement the members have towardsthe culture. Comic-Con is an example of a popular culture religion.

Personal Interests

In this section of the study paper, I will conduct a Durkheimanalysis in my life and provide a popular culture religion I haveencountered. I will use my friend who is a fanatic for the ManchesterUnited football club. The name of the study subject will be withheldfor ethical reasons and to maintain the privacy of the participant.The subject engages in popular culture rituals in a devoted manner. Asignificant ritual is attending or watching all the Manchester Unitedfootball games. The act of attending a football match or watching itlive on the television or the internet can be classified as a ritual.The devoted fan performs a physical activity that reinforces theideology of the Manchester United popular culture and also connectsmillions of fans to performing a similar task across the globe. Thedevotion of a fan determines the impact the culture has on theperson. My friend, the subject, is highly devoted and never misses amatch. My personal experience reinforces the ideology that religionscan be identified by their sacred rituals, and that primitive culturehas many things in common with contemporary cultures.


This study paper concludes that multiple contemporary religions existin the form of popular cultures such as Comic-Con conventions. Theimpact of a religion on an individual is dependent on the devotion ofthe individual. This paper is in agreement with Durkheim thatreligions are identified by their rituals.


Durkheim, E., &amp Swain, W. (1916). Theelementary forms of religious life. AjnThe American Journal of Nursing,16(12),1248.