By Kate Daley-Bailey
My Religion and Media class is currently weeding its way through the thicket of religion definitions which have overgrown the field of religious studies in the last three hundred years. Some of the definitions we are investigating are not blatantly presented by their creators as definitions per se (these ‘definitions’ may be more accurately labeled as descriptions of what that thinker considers ‘religious’). So far, my students have perused some of the classic definitions/descriptions (Marx, Freud, Geertz, Otto, Durkheim, Tillich, Eliade, etc.).
They quickly surmised that these definitions/descriptions reflect their creators’ worldviews as much, or even more so, than they map for us any definitive parameters of ‘religion’. Then we tried something a little less orthodox. I wanted them to try their hand at determining how definitions/descriptions of ‘religion’ affect the ‘content’ or ‘material’ presented as ‘religious’. If definitions/descriptions are meant to determine our frame of reference… what happens when scholars use wildly varying definitions?
One of very astute students emailed me this video clip. I showed to the class. As we explored not only the message of the video clip but also the ‘definition/description’ of religion presented in the clip, many of us were left wondering just how much definitions/descriptions (our tools) shape how we interpret and categorize ‘content’.
Below are the questions I asked the class to ponder after watching the clip:
How has the video’s creator defined religion (what beliefs, activities, and priorities are deemed religious)? Is there a normative view of religion being presented here… regarding what should be the ‘subject’ of worship or veneration? Can you deduce from the video which religious tradition the creators of this clip are advocating? What are some of the context clues alluded to in the clip that bring you to your conclusion? Is there a dualism generated here between ‘good’ religion and ‘bad’ religion? What is the point the video maker is trying to make regarding football? Does this lens/frame/ perspective view football culture as merely a fun social outlet or is it suggesting that football culture might actually represent something more sinister? Does the video suggest that there is something inherently problematic about football or rather does the video suggest that it is not football (the game itself) that is the problem but rather someone’s obsession with it? Is it okay to be a fanatic about the ‘right’ things (i.e. worshipping the one God of monotheistic religions)? What sources of authority determine what said ‘right’ things are? How would people from various religious backgrounds (in which idol worship is not prohibited or even commented upon, for example) view football culture?