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Yoda from Star Wars

Jedi, One the Fourth largest Religion in England, Have all but Disappeared


By a singular historical coincidence, an element of the Star Wars universe leapt into reality and drew thousands of believers to The Force.

The boundaries between fiction and reality are possibly more porous than we’re accustomed to assuming. We think that both are clearly differentiated territories, apart, and each attached to its own logic. Some theorists and contemporary thinkers (Slavoj Zizek and Jean Baudrillard, among them), argue that one of the characteristic elements of our time seems to be that we consider fiction in some cases to have taken the place of reality. And this is graspable only through the mechanisms, forms and expressions – of fantasy.

A somewhat eccentric example of this disturbing conceptual proposal is “Jediism,” a religious sort of movement inspired, as the name suggests, by the fictional Star Wars universe and the “Jedi Order.” Fans of the saga know that the Jedi knights are somewhat similar to those who populate the romances, epics and chivalric tales of medieval and renaissance Europe. Like the European knights, the Jedi are also celibate, skilled at swordplay, honorable and honest, pure of heart and boundless in their courage.

Yoda in religious garbLike with Arthur’s Round Table or the 12 Peers of French nobility, the Jedi inspired a modern mythology. But the cult only came intoyoda-star-wars-an-american-religion prominence in 2001, when it wasn’t known whether it was a joke, a coincidence or some form of protest in censuses conducted in England, Wales, New Zealand and Australia. Suddenly a considerable number of people declared “Jedi” as their religious belief. In England and Wales, the sum total of these responses was enough to consider Jediism as the fourth largest religion. In New Zealand, Jedi believers reached a ratio of 1.5% of the population of the country, and in Australia they were just over 70 thousand people (0.37% of the total population).

Among the faithful, the religion of the Jedi Knights had more followers in these regions than much older (i.e.; real) religions like Buddhism or Judaism. Even as a joke, it’s perhaps not entirely incomprehensible. To configure his fantasy world, and the Jedi in particular, George Lucas incorporated elements of undeniably religious origin. We mentioned already the medieval knights (the likes of Roland and Lancelot), who followed a Christian creed which valued purity and goodness. The Jedi also bear some comparison to Buddhism and its doctrine of detachment. And this is without even mentioning the successes of Lucas’s story based on the myth of the hero as explained by Joseph Campbell; an archetype with a religious aspect that seems inscribed in the genetic code of virtually all the cultures of the world. Looked at this way, it doesn’t seem entirely coincidental that thousands of people felt enough fascination to make the Jedi code of honor into a system of religious belief as valid as any other.

Over the years though, the fervor has waned. Almost as if it were a reflection of the fantastic events in the story itself (an important narrative point involves the near complete suppression of the Jedi Order and a consequent weakening of faith in the Force), the real world Jedi have also been gradually disappearing, as revealed by the most recent census.

Will they come back? It’s impossible to know. Maybe. But their origins in fiction and their timelessness lend the world some of the heroism that appears occasionally in history to push great deeds ahead.

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