The call for papers has been released for the 2017 NGG lustrum conference, which will take place on 19-20 October 2017 and is hosted at the Unversity of Utrecht.
It is with great pleasure that this year’s jury has decided to grant the NGG Gerardus van der Leeuw Dissertation Award to dr. Markus Altena Davidsen. Dr. Davidsen received his PhD degree cum laude from Leiden University on October 16th 2014. With his thesis, The Spiritual Tolkien Milieu: A Study of Fiction-based Religion, he has made an extraordinarily valuable and innovative contribution to the theoretical debate in the study of religion. His meticulous analysis is focused on a religious tradition that might seem marginal at first sight but turns out to be the proverbial tip of a large iceberg, namely the transformation of popular fiction into new types of religion that are spreading rapidly in popular culture, both online and offline. To account for this phenomenon and its relevance to the study of religion generally, dr. Davidsen has developed an extremely sophisticated and innovative theoretical apparatus grounded in semiotics, with implications that reach far beyond the study of online religion or popular spirituality alone. We expect to hear much of this talented young scholar. The Dissertation Award includes a prize of € 650,- (partially sponsored by the Van Baaren Stichting). In addition, dr. Davidsen is invited to give a keynote lecture at the 2016 spring meeting of the NGG. The jury was comprised of prof. dr. W.J. Hanegraaff (University of Amsterdam; chair), dr. T. Nugteren (Tilburg University), dr. Renée Wagenvoorde (University of Groningen).
Abstract | The Spirtiual Tolkien-Milieu: A Study of Fiction-based Religion
Davidsen's dissertation 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 mono¬graphs on fiction-based religion, a type of religion that uses fiction as authoritative texts. Adopting a semiotic approach to religion, the book 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 religion as a case the dissertation 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.
Markus Altena Davidsen
Markus Altena Davidsen (b. 1981) studied religion at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. He carried out the work for the dissertation as an international PhD student, funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (Humanities) and employed by the University of Aarhus, but located and supervised by prof. dr. Meerten ter Borg and prof. dr. Ab de Jong at Leiden University. Davidsen is currently university lecturer in the sociology of religion at the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Religion.