Agatha Tesmer: Jedissm, Durkheim, and the Social Work of “Religion”

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The BBC article “Jedi is not a religion, Charity Commission Rules” discusses the new religious movement, Jediism, and its rejection of charitable status. Inspired by Lucas’ Star Wars films, Jediism observes the Force as the “underlying, fundamental nature of the universe” and preaches “the coming together in a community to promote goodwill, understanding, compassion and serenity” (Temple of the Jedi Order). This religious movement quickly gained momentum in the early 2000’s and now has over 400,000 followers who faithfully live by the Jedi Code. However, in December 2016, the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission denied the Temple of the Jedi Order charitable status arguing that it “lacked the necessary spiritual or non-secular element” and that it must have a “positive beneficial impact on society” to be classified as a religion.

The accusations of the Charity Commission bring to question the ever-evolving definition of religion and human difference. Through this act, the Charity Commission blatantly delegitimizes Jediism and dehumanizes thousands of its followers on the basis of its own pre-conceived notions of religion. Durkheimian perspective would state otherwise arguing that the communal value of Jediism does, in fact, grant the religious status and entail equal religious treatment. Jediism’s legitimate acknowledgment of an underlying, unifying invisible Force that innervates all things and beings—a principle central to most all religions—exemplifies the eternal unification between the sacred and profane as defined by Durkheim. In addition, the Force, a sacred power unifying all Jedi, ultimately functions as an immaterial representation of the Temple of the Jedi Order and reflects the value of its members, an evident example of Durkheim’s totemic principle. It is therefore imperative to remind ourselves that this religious movement, like many others, embraces belief, ritual, moral code and the principles defined by the anthropological fathers of our time. In what ways is Jediism less legitimate than other new religious movements such as Mormonism, Rastafarianism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses? Is this act of refusing charitable status an infringement upon religious practice? These are the questions we must ask ourselves as we continue to exist in a world of perpetual religious intolerance.


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