Is Jediism a Religion?
Tom de Castella does not adequately answer the title of his article, “Have Jedi created a new religion?” BBC News, 24 October 2014 (http://tinyurl.com/p8qqb3j). He does provide a useful overview of the movement and insight into what Jediism means to real-world Jedis—a way to identify with a greater cause, to help others, and to enjoy a fuller life. Jediism began in 2001 and has since grown to nearly 200,000 followers through their online website. Star Wars fans that were inspired by Jedi philosophy and spirituality decided to develop a new belief system. The Jedis recognize the films as fiction, but as any other religion, they draw upon myths to demonstrate how to live. The article ends by quoting Bishop Walker on what he thinks makes a religion: it has to be altruistic, have a large following, and survive for a significant period of time, but he says there are no “hard-and-fast” rules. Left unsatisfied with the article, I would like to attempt to answer the question myself.
Unlike many new religious movements or little traditions, Jediism does not seek to explain a primal experience (Hexham 60-61). The myths exist simply as teaching tools and their ideology is utilized as a guide. There is no divine being, but they believe in the Force, which is described by Jedi doctrine as “a ubiquitous and metaphysical power, […] the underlying, fundamental nature of the universe” (Temple of the Jedi Order: The Church of Jediism: http://tinyurl.com/oe9n8pv).
The Jedi doctrine is broken down into three Tenets, a Code, a Creed, 16 Teachings, and 21 Maxims. If I had to classify Jediism, it would certainly be grouped with other Yogic religions. There is a definite influence of Buddhism and Taoism regarding mindfulness and asceticism (Hexham 80-81). To dismiss Jediism as a religion based off the ideology would be inappropriate. A possible criticism is that it is developed from fiction, but from my own point of view that is applicable to other new religious movements as well. Their use and appreciation of myths is consistent with many other accepted religions (Hexham 24-25).
However, I believe an ideology is not a religion unless it is practiced and forms a community. The Jediism community exists only as online forum, a striking difference to traditional and even other new religions that utilize physical meeting places. Regardless, there is a noticeable group of Jedis that practice, acquire knowledge online, and train to progress through the ranks, similar to monks. The Jedis teach meditation and have their own Gurus, Jedi Masters, to pass on knowledge (Hexham 82-83). Lastly, as de Castella pointed out, people join Jediism for the same reasons as other religions: the teachings connect with the individual, provide inspiration, and offer guidance to a fuller life. Thus, although Jediism as an institution is very unique, the purpose it serves for its followers is not different from established religions. Coupling a righteous purpose with a religious ideology leaves me to accept Jediism as a true religious movement.
Hexham, I., & Poewe, K. (1986). Understanding Cults and New Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.