Finding faith? Fandom and religion

Posted by ap507 at Jul 20, 2015 12:05 PM |
Fandom and Religion Conference at the University of Leicester Will Explore Modern Society’s Quest for Meaning

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 20 July 2015

  • Fandom may be viewed as a form of religion or a substitute for religion
  • Popular culture provides Western citizens with ways of searching for meaning: being a fan may provide an entire framework for living
  • Fandom functions as religion, but does it mean fans really are religious?
  • International inter-disciplinary conference Fandom and Religion on 28–30 July 2015 at the University of Leicester’s Conference Centre, College Court.

The extent to which mass following of popular culture – popular music stars, TV shows or football fandom – can act as a form of faith for followers is to be explored at an international conference at the University of Leicester.

“Fandom is a major activity today: people’s passions become major commitments, and fans start seeming like religious devotees,” says Dr Clive Marsh, Director of Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester, who is one of the organisers. “I am particularly interested in researching the intensity with which people exercise their fandom, and how this signals the meaning and purpose that people find in, and through, their fan activity. Functionally at least, this can prove to be very similar indeed to religious practice.”

Popular culture (sport, music, TV, films, video games) is an arena in which people make meaning in Western society, whether they are religious or not. Fans are people who are devoted to, and passionate about, a particular interest, team, activity, star, band, artist, or other object or subject of ‘devotion’.

Whether fandom can be considered a religion today and what the interactions are between religion and popular culture are the main topics to be explored in the international inter-disciplinary conference Fandom and Religion on 28–30 July 2015 at the University of Leicester.

Among the topics at the conference are:

  • Fandom as a Psychological Phenomenon
  • Pop Devotion, and the Transfiguration of Dead Celebrities
  • Fandom, Sport and Hope

Dr Marsh said: “Like religion, fandom is time-consuming, life-shaping, energising and often provides a social network.  Like religion, it provides a structure that helps people meet ‘needs’ such as finding friends, being affirmed and having a sense of self-worth, wanting to find a system of values, beliefs or symbols within which to live.

“However, fandom may not be religion if religion is defined as necessarily entailing contact with God or a higher power. We will explore whether fandom might be serving as an alternative to religion.

“The conference will offer opportunity for some stretching conversation between academics, and between academics and practitioners. Researchers in all academic disciplines are welcome. The conference is designed to enable tricky, challenging, invigorating, stimulating intellectual encounter to occur, and fresh insights to be formed, in a way which benefits both theorists and practitioners. Hopefully it will provide some clarity – for those present – in response to the basic question of whether fandom is functioning religiously or not.”

Exploring the interaction between fandom and religion is of crucial importance today, says Dr Marsh. On one hand, it is easy to say that Western society is becoming less traditionally religious and more secular. On the other, ‘spirituality’ is deemed acceptable, as it sounds as if it is to do with the inner life, personal choice, freedom, and self-expression.

However, Dr Marsh, whose research at the University of Leicester focuses on popular culture and spirituality/religion is convinced that Western individualism has gone a bit too far: while encouraging people not to accept authority without question, it has made them distrusting of tradition in any form.

“Everyone does have to have their ‘own’ spirituality (in the sense that each makes choices about what to believe, how to behave, and what might constitute their ‘inner life’). But everyone’s spirituality can’t be so different from everyone else’s that each has their own ‘religion’.”

Speakers at the conference Fandom and Religion will include Matt Hills (Aberystwyth, author of Fan Cultures), John Maltby (Leicester), Chris Partridge (Lancaster, author of The Lyre of Orpheus), Tracy Trothen (Queen’s, Ontario), John Lyden and Eric Mazur (co-editors of The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture). More than 30 people will be offering short papers and there will be over 50 present at the event.

The conference has been organised through the Theology, Religion and Popular Culture Network, with the support of:

UskoMus Research Network (University of Turku and at Åbo Akademi University), CODEC (University of Durham), Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (University of St Andrews) , Network for Religion in Public Life (University of Exeter) , The Christian Congregational Music Studies Network.

For more information on the conference, please visit the website of the University of Leicester



For interviews contact Dr Clive Marsh, University of Leicester on:


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