This Twilight news is buzzing around the world: A Danish researcher finds some teens in that non-religious corner of the world are experiencing the intense vampires-and-romance series much like other people experience religion. Here’s a Mother Nature News verison of the story, which says in part: “American fans, or Twihards, as they’ve been dubbed, respond to the movie in similar ways.” But, “The semireligious aspect of fandom might be slightly different in America, where religious faith is more common.”
Dr. Wayne Baker, the sociologist who writes the OurValues column, just published a five-part series about Americans’ distinctively strong faith. In response to the Danish report, Baker says such findings could echo his own research into the vast differences in cultural experiences of religion. While American culture is overflowing with faith, Denmark is largely secularized.
Baker cites these comparisons between levels of faith in the two nations:
Ranked on “Certain belief in God”: Out of 30 countries, the U.S. ranks 5, Denmark is 26.
On “Don’t believe in God”: Out of 30 countries, the U.S. ranks 27, Denmark is 8.
At ReadTheSpirit, we turned to author and Twilight expert Jane Wells for more …
Twilight as a Touchstone of Faith:
‘Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires’
By JANE WELLS
Danish researcher Line Nybro Peterson drew this conclusion in “Wicked Angels, Adorable Vampires!” That is the title of her doctoral thesis in the film and media studies department at Københavns Universitet (the University of Copenhagen in English). Peterson found that teens in the largely secular nation on Denmark use media, usually of American origin, to explore universal questions of good, evil, life, death and love.
“My thesis demonstrates that a film series like Twilight offers young people a playground for exploring life’s big questions, moral judgment and to imagine the possibility of the supernatural in a pleasurable and informal fashion. The fictional worlds challenge their presuppositions about themselves and their surroundings,” Peterson told the University of Copenhagen News this month.
Peterson’s thesis consists of a qualitative study of the consumption of TV shows with supernatural and religious content among seventy-two 14- to 18-year-old Danish teenagers, a smaller study among a group of nine teenage Twilight fans as well as a more general analysis of American TV shows’ representations of religious themes and issues.
Well … hunh!
Who knew this suburban Detroit hausfrau had her thumb so firmly on the zeitgeist? And why hasn’t Glitter in the Sun: A Bible Study Searching for Truth in the Twilight Saga sold a million copies yet?
Peterson and I aren’t the only ones to see spirituality of a positive sort in current gothic literature, movies and television shows.
Author Victoria Nelson in her new Harvard Press book, Gothicka: Vampire Heroes, Human Gods, and the New Supernatural, asserts a new religion is being formed through this new breed of optimistic horror story. She cites a range of books and novels in which what was formally the worst fate possible—becoming a vampire, zombie or werewolf—is the best possible end and the victim becomes “perfected.” The obvious example is the Twilight Saga in which human Bella Swan becomes perfect and indestructible as a vampire. (Another recent novel is Dust, by Joan Frances Turner, in which the zombies, thanks to a mysterious virus, cease to rot away, and instead heal into a body that seems to be able to live forever.)
According to a May 23 Wall Street Journal review of Nelson’s book, she suggests “that the Gothic has, in the 21st century, taken a ‘surprising new turn toward the light,’ not only ‘showing signs of outgrowing the dark supernaturalism it inherited from its 18th-century ancestor,’ but doing so in a way that promises to shift it from being the locus of a displaced spiritual sense to the possible harbinger of an actual new faith system. ‘Is a major new religion born of these fictions looming on the horizon?’ Ms. Nelson asks boldly.”
My answer to that question is: No, I don’t think so. I do, however, believe this trend hearkens back to the Enlightenment, when Gothic literature first rose on the scene, as our souls began to hunger for the mystical being driven out of our lives by logic and science. By now, the spiritual deficits in our culture have reached critical mass and teenagers especially are looking for anything that has eternal meaning.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.