So far this semester, we have studied several different sociological theories of religion. These theories are built on both the known history of religions in the world and the cultures in which they originated, as well as, appropriately enough, theoretical suggestions of how those religions, and indeed any religion at all, will survive in the future. The theory I find the most true is Stark and Bainbridge’s in The Future of Religion, although I like some elements from others, like Berger’s concepts of reification and secularization.
George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy, apart from being incredibly ntertaining and extremely well-made, gives us a complete portrait of a society (The Empire) and a religion (Jediism, for lack of a better term). Although the movies are mostly devoted to the growth of the characters, throughout the trilogy we see the society change in a drastic manner. This paper will examine the history of Jediism, the current (as of the end of the last movie) status of the religion, and offer some suggestions as to what we can expect from Jediism in the future.
The Religion To examine the future of religion as it relates to society, one must first have an idea of the tenets and beliefs on which the religion is based. Jediism is based solely on belief in the “force”, a “Universal energy field that surrounds us and permeates us”. (O. Kenobi, SW) Stark and Bainbridge make the point that any religion based on magic or magic-like rituals is fated to die out unless the magic can work constantly and consistently.
This, they argue, is why many religions change from promising magic, which is quite verifiable (Did he, in fact, levitate? to promising compensators, a sort of unverifiable magic. A good example of this is the Christian Heaven. Stark and Bainbridge take it as a given, however, that magic, or abilities that parallel magic, do not, in fact, xist. This makes an attempt to theorize about the future of Jediism more difficult, since the religion is based, in part, on the belief that oneness with the “force” has the ability to confer extraordinary powers to individuals– a belief than is vindicated numerous times throughout the series.
The internal organization of the religion is, apparently, entirely nonexistant. There is no leader, nor is there any defined structure. Much like classical Taoism, various masters exist, and students and supplicants must seek out a master on their own in order to learn. There is no hierarchy to advance in, ther than the ability to eventually hone one’s faith to a degree that one can take on one’s own students. The test of this is whether the student becomes attached to the “dark side” of the “force”, as did Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first pupil, Anakin Skywalker, later known as Darth Vader.
The beliefs of Jediism, again, can be compared to classical Taoism. The “true” Jedi believes in calm, and strives to maintain calm at all times. He can experience emotions, but he does not let his emotions control him. He is at one with his environment at all times. He is fully aware of the existance of all hose around him, and holds free will as one of his highest ideals. He is not violent, but, if necessary, can fight extremely well and end conflicts rather quickly. His ultimate goal is universal peace.
Jediism is unique, however, in that along with it developed a mirror religion, one that I will call, for lack of a better term, Dark Jediism. The tenets of Dark Jediism are all based on personal desires. To the Dark Jedi, other people are nothing but pawns with which to attain more personal power or resources. Peace is the defense of weaklings who don’t know how to fulfill their desires. The ultimate goal of the Dark Jedi is to have complete and total control over the universe.
This state, with the two sides of the “force” existant and constantly at war, might be compared to a somewhat reified form of Zoroastrianism, in which the two universal natures (Good and Evil) not only existed, but were constantly being supported and battled over by their adherents. II. The Society According to the many of the theories which we have read this semester, a religion’s success is directly related to whether or not it is at odds with the society in which it exists. If this is the case, Jediism is heading toward a major revival.
In order to fully comprehend the future of Jediism, we must look at the society in which it exists– the Galactic Empire. Before the Emperor took power, the galactic government was one of peaceful coexistence. All planets gave each of the other planets the right to live as they pleased. The galaxy was governed by a representative from each planet that met together and formed a legislative and executive body. This was the Old Republic, and it was very sympathetic to Jediism. Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us that during the Old Republic, there were many Jedi Masters, and they travelled the galaxy righting wrongs and preading Jediism.
It began to decay, however, when one of the senators, Palpatine, covertly converted to Dark Jediism and began using his powers and his influence to slowly take over more and more of the system, until he had amassed enough power to dissolve the Republic and declare himself Emperor, in a situation similiar to that of Julius Caesar. As Emperor, Palpatine began a totalitarian regime, enslaving non-humans, and persecuting and then assassinating all of the Jedi Masters he could find.
He did this with the help of Darth Vader, one of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s pupils who turned to the Dark Side of the force. Palpatine also trained several of his subordinates in Dark Jediism, in order to enforce his political agenda in the same way that the Jedi Masters had enforced that of the Old Republic. The society as it stands at the start of the movies is a classic totalitarian regime with a large black market, an underground rebellion movement, powerful crime lords, and spies for all sides everywhere.
The Present As it stands at the end of the movies, the Emperor has been killed, Darth Vader has rejoined the Jedi Masters, Leia is organizing the New Republic, and Luke goes out into the galaxy to spread Jediism. What can we expect from the future? First of all, Jediism is a religion that does not do a lot of legislating of moralities. Apart from basic liberties (Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, etc. ) Jediism mostly stays out of people’s private lives. As the New Republic grows, though, Jediism will start assuming a more secular role, perhaps eventually slipping into an almost judicial branch of the galactic government.
When this happens, other small sects will start to spring up. (In the Star Wars novels, one or two sects of Jediism are “discovered”. ) Perhaps a cult of Dark Jediism will begin in the same manner as Jediism did during the time of the Empire. The one opposing force to the secularization of Jediism will be, I predict, the Jedi Masters themselves. The drive to secularize will come mostly from the government, which will be in awe of the magic-like abilities of the Jedi Masters.
The Masters, however, will realize that any form of secularization precludes understanding of the force, and will resist this. In the end, some of the younger Jedi will go into direct serrvice for the government. When this happens, they will begin to lean toward the dark side of the force, since any overnment is necessarily a compromise between limiting the personal freedoms that Jediism demands and removing personal freedoms in order to create order and to continue to reify the current regime.
This being the case, the Masters will most probably go into temporary exile, allowing the young Jedi to rise in the government and social order, taking more and more power for themselves. In this light, the beginning of the movies seems perfectly fitting. This exact same process that I just described would have occured about 20 years ago, leaving the government ripe for takeover by Emperor Palpatine. In the end, I predict that Jediism will follow Stark and Bainbridge’s model, first rising, then secularizing, then falling, then being rediscovered, then rising again.
Dark Jediism, the counterpart, will also continue in the same cycle, though on a lesser scale, since it does not recruit anywhere near as effectively or as zealously as regular Jediism does. Though the Star Wars series is a filmmaking accomplishment of extraordinary magnitude, it also deserves much credit, I think, as a sociologically correct study of the interaction of a society and a religion on a galactic level.