Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Tolkien Spirituality: Constructing Belief and Tradition in Fiction-based Religion

How is tradition constructed and belief made plausible in fiction-based religion?

2009 - 2017
Markus Davidsen
Danish Council for Independent Research (Humanities), international PhD student grant, 2009-2012

This project analyses ‘Tolkien spirituality’ – alternative spirituality based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy books. A general theory of fiction-based religion is outlined based on this case.

This project offers a comprehensive analysis of the organisation and development of the spiritual Tolkien milieu, a largely online-situated network of individuals and groups that draw on J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary mythology for spiritual inspiration. It is the first academic treatment of Tolkien spirituality and one of the first to tackle fiction-based religion, a type of religion that uses fiction as authori­ta­tive texts. Adopting a semiotic approach to religion, the project raises questions about the persuasive power of narrative, about religious blending, and about rationalisation of beliefs. How can some readers come to believe that supernatural agents from fictional narratives are real? How do fiction-based religions emerge when their authoritative texts lack important religious building-blocks, such as descriptions of rituals? And how do adherents of fiction-based religions legitimise their beliefs, given the fact that their religion is based on fiction? In short, with Tolkien spirituality as a case the project aims to uncover the semio­tic structures and processes involved in the construction and maintenance of fiction-based religion, and the social structures that sup­port the plausibility of such religion.

Project output (selection):

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2012), “The Spiritual Milieu Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Literary Mythology”, in Adam Possamai (ed.), Handbook of Hyper-real Religions, Leiden: Brill, 185-204.

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2013), “Fiction-based Religion: Conceptualising a New Category against History-based Religion and Fandom”, Religion and Culture: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14(4), 378-395.

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2014), The Spiritual Tolkien Milieu: A Study of Fiction-based Religion, doctoral dissertation, Leiden University.

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2015), “In de ban van Tolkien: Geloof en geloven in Tolkien-spiritualiteit”, Religie & Samenleving 10(3), 213-234.

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2017), “The Elven Path and the Silver Ship of the Valar: Two Spiritual Groups Based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium”, including two appendices, “Tië eldaliéva”, by Rev. Michaele Alyras de Cygne and Calantirniel, and “Ilsaluntë Valion”, by Gwineth, in Carole M. Cusack & Pavol Kosnáč (eds.), Fiction, Invention and Hyper-reality: From Popular Culture to Religion, London & New York: Routledge, 15-39.

  • Davidsen, M.A. (2018; under contract), Tolkien Spirituality: Constructing Belief and Tradition in Fiction-based Religion, in the series Religion and Society, Berlin: De Gruyter.

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