In Ashley Collman’s article “The Real Church of Jediism” (accessed at http://dailym.ai/1gW1H8C) Collman details the beliefs of and interviews adherents of the newly arisen religion of Jediism. Based upon ideas from the fictional universe of George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise, the notion of Jediism being a legitimate religion would indeed seem strange to many, however Collman’s article makes notes that “While it may sound like a crazy concept, Jediism already shares a lot with mainstream religions.” (par 10) I wholeheartedly agree with Ms.Collman’s conclusion, however I feel it might be even more helpful to support this point, by defining religion, showing how Jediism fits this definition, and establishing what parallels it has to the great religious traditions of the world.
On the question of defining religion, there is indeed no single accepted mainstream definition of the term. However for the sake of this argument I will be using Dr. Ninian Smart’s definition of religion, which I feel sufficiently, defines religion as most people would understand it. A scholar of religion, and founder of one of the first religious studies departments in Britain (Hexham 16) Ninian Smart defined religion as “a set of institutionalized rituals , identified with a tradition and expressing and/or evoking sacral sentiments directed at a divine or trans-divine focus seen in the context of the human phenomenological environment and at least partially described by myths or by myths and doctrines” (Hexham 17) On the first point of religion having “a set of institutionalized rituals” Collman’s article provides us with a video of an adherent been sworn into the Jedi religion, an excellent example of ritual in Jediism. In the video an adherent of the Jedi religion recites the “Jedi creed” and vows to uphold its tenants, a ritual reminiscent of baptismal vows in many Christian denominations.
Moving on from ritual and down the list of Ninian Smart’s requirement for a religion we come to “evoking sacral sentiments directed at a divine of trans-divine focus” Jediism’s concept of the force certainly seems to fall under the category of a “divne or trans-divine focus” with Collman comparing it to the “holy ghost” (Collman par 1) Further down in Collman’s article we find a Jedi adherent explaining the force to being similar to “Magic” and explaining that “-it’s everywhere. You can find it in the Bible. When Moses parted the Red Sea – how did he do that? With energy. With the Force.” (Collman par 4) Given the example of the Biblical tale of Moses parting the Red Sea it would certainly give us the impression that the force is the dynamic aspect of a God working through men, much as the Holy Spirit does in Christian theology. However, in any of the online literature I’ve found on Jediism, the force’s nature seems to be left pretty ambiguous other than that it is “a ubiquitous and metaphysical power that a Jedi (a follower of Jediism) believes to be the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe” (“Temple of the Jedi Order: Doctrine of the Order”, 2014) Here then the idea of force is not inherently theistic and might be more comparable to the Taoist concept of Tao or the Hindu concept of Brahman, than to a personal God of sorts. However, even if not considered “divine” this idea of force as a universal principle still falls under the notion of “trans divine” and thus fits Smart’s definition of religion (which of course includes non-theistic religions like Taoism or Buddhism.)
Finally we come to the aspect of “myths and doctrines” and when it comes to doctrines it appears Jediism certainly has its fair share. Collman’s article notes “For members of Jediism, the point of religion is not to secure some spot in the afterlife, but to do right for humankind on earth which translates to a lot of community service time.” and turning to prominent Jediist website “Temple of the Jedi Order” we find a list of “3 Tenants, 16 Teachings, 21 Maxims, etc.” (“Doctrine of the Order”, 2013) that lay out a code of moral beliefs and practices akin to that of any of the great world religions. What “myths” are central (if any) to Jediism is a bit more of a perplexing question. Turning again to Collman’s article we find an adherent briefly explain that “her religion doesn’t seek to turn fictional characters like Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi into idols.” (par 3) so it is made clear that the mythology of the Star Wars franchise is not overly essential to the Jedi religion. Whether or not adherents find inspiration or spiritual meaning in that particular mythology may very well be a completely different story. According to the “Temple of Jedi Order” a prominent Jediist website, “It is unlikely that the Jedi way conflicts with other beliefs and traditions.”(“Temple of the Jedi Order: The Church of Jediism”, 2014) This inclusive attitude allows one to perhaps import myths from other spiritual traditions, and then interpret them through the lens of Jediism, as was done by the earlier mentioned adherent interviewed by Collman, who mentioned the idea of Moses utilizing the force (par 4.)
In Summary Collman works hard to explain, and it appears even defend the Jediist religion. Though she does not explain why exactly it constitutes a religion, as I have shown above, she gives many excellent points that can be used to prove this, and to compare it with the great world religions of the world. Though it may sound strange, and to some worthy of ridicule, I stand by the conclusions of Collman in that Jediism is a legitimate religion, and in the end is no more worthy of ridicule or praise than any of the world’s other prominent religious traditions. Small as it may be now, perhaps with time Jediism will become large enough to gain some more recognition and respect, as a legitimate religious tradition.