I became aware of TheoFantastique many years ago. Being new to social media myself, I was impressed at how professional and intelligent the site was. Eventually I decided to introduce myself to John Morehead, the creator behind it. (It is possible to be shy on the internet, so this took a few years.) When Holy Horror came out I asked if TheoFantastique would post a review of it and got an even better response with an interview. Now that Nightmares with the Bible is out the tradition has been kept going. If you’d like to see an interview on the book take a look here. One of the topics that comes up in discussion is how popular culture—TheoFantastique is cleverly named in that regard—influences the way we think about religion.
Religious studies was, not so long ago, a growing field. Many of us have been trying to understand why interest began to sag, somewhat abruptly, and came to the point that it now feels like an endangered species. Two of the consequences of this are important: one is that we don’t invest in studying what motivates just about everything in American politics and society, and the second is that the average person gets her or his information about religion from popular culture. Movies, for example, are impactful, brief, and entertaining. Humans are visual learners and although books punch above their weight in the learning division, having someone show you something is faster and requires less commitment than reading. Academics, most of whom love reading, have been very slow to cotton onto this fact. Society learns by looking.
That observation stands behind both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible. Both of these explorations look at how people come to understand two aspects of religion: the Bible and demons. Instead of attempting to tackle all of religious studies (nobody can) or all of cinema (ditto), these books look at the horror genre to see how fans come to understand the Good Book. As the interview explores, other scholars—mostly younger ones—are beginning to realize this is where people live. It’s rare to find someone who commits to reading an academic monograph unless they’re in the academy. Even academics, however, watch movies. When the locus of information shifts to popular culture we need to start taking seriously what popular culture says. More people will watch The Exorcist than will ever read an academic monograph about demons. If we want to understand how people understand religion—what religion is—we need to pay attention. And TheoFantastique is a great place to start.