More than one person pointed it out to me, so I guess I must be getting a (small) reputation. During one of my campus editorial visits I stopped into the center for Religion and American Culture at that venerable institution known as IUPUI—Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. I was immediately impressed and, of course, since I’m no longer in academia I’ve realized that the impact of religion on culture is my real interest in it. What was pointed out to me, however, was an episode of their “Religion and” series. This one was held via Zoom and has been posted here, so if you, like me, work, or are just finding out about it, can still see it. I encourage that behavior. This particular panel was “Religion and Horror.”
As the word “panel” indicates, it was a moderated group discussion. The panelists were Douglas E. Cowan of the University of Waterloo, Erika Engstrom of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media, and W. Scott Poole of the College of Charleston. The moderator was Melissa Borja of the University of Michigan. What a great way to spend an October afternoon! It is also good to know that I’m not the only one who’s noticed that religion and horror are similar and even address similar needs. I’ve read books by Cowan and Poole and have even met the former a couple of times. No longer a university employee, I largely work in insolation, so it’s great to hear conversation about the kinds of things in my head once in a while. A number of refrains became obvious during this all-too-brief discussion.
We’ve been conditioned to think of religion as inherently good. In general, we’ve also been conditioned to think of horror as inherently bad. As with most black-and-white categories, both of these things get some key points wrong. Religions, like everything else, have histories. Those who study those histories learn that much of what’s passed along to believers is intended to make them into repeat, paying customers. Try teaching in a seminary for a few years and then attempt to dispute that. And, the panelists pointed out, horror is also a product, intended to sell. This explains the endless parade of, for example, Halloween movies. Just when you think you’ve purchased the last one you’ll ever need to buy there’s another. There was so much squeezed into that one hour that I was glad I was taking notes. But then, it was a recording—you can see it too, and I urge you to do so.