Variations of the Sacred in Pop Culture Fandoms: A Survey of Comic-Con Conventioneers

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Michael ELLIOTT, Towson University, USA
This paper builds on Emile Durkheim’s sociology of religion by investigating the world of fan communities, or fandoms, and the degree to which they involve beliefs and practices that are sacred. In the process, it also addresses broader questions about how “secular” activities can share important similarities (or elementary forms) with traditional religion. The sacred, Durkheim explained, is set apart by the community as something powerful, transcendent, and holy, and is clearly distinguished from the mundane world of everyday affairs via ritual activity. This conception obviously includes beliefs and practices about the gods or the supernatural, which is the typical focus of sociologists of religion, but it is not exclusive to them – other beliefs and practices can be sacred. Overall, this insight represents an underexplored legacy that has enjoyed only limited applications to non-religious or secular activities, despite pleas in the sociology of religion to further explore the varieties of sacred experiences.

While there is a long-standing literature about fan behavior that has described it in various ways – as psychologically dysfunctional, the result of cultural or corporate manipulation, a form of cultural agency and rebellion, or a modern quest for personal identity and community – there is little systematic information about different fan beliefs and practices. To this end, I have designed a survey to be administered at comic book conventions in the United States, commonly known as Comic Cons. These particular conventions have expanded dramatically in the last decade and are attended by a variety of fans engaged in a variety of activities, such as costume play (or cos-play), celebrity panels and autographs, merchandise collecting, games, and job interviews. Therefore, these particular conventions are an ideal environment to survey fan beliefs and practices, and to test central Durkheimian claims about religion.