Jedi really do exist
She was already a fan of the ‘Star Wars’ films – otherwise, she would not have started this. But now, religious sciences student Tekla Slangen can join the ultimate geeks in their discussions. When you write your master’s thesis on religion in ‘Star Wars’, that’s no wonder. On Thursday, prior to the showing of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, she and her instructor Mathilde van Dijk will give a lecture about ‘real’ Jedi or Jediists – adherents of a religion that has been officially recognised.
And no, those Jediists – of which there are most likely several thousand all over the world – do not actually believe that Yoda existed, Slangen is quick to say. Nor do they believe that we truly have midi-chlorians in our bodies that allow us to use The Force to lift up a space ship. Jedi, or students, who, just like in the films, are called padawans, live their lives according to a ‘universal Jedi code’ which strives for inner peace and the control of emotions. ‘But they are inspired by the philosophy of the film. It’s a mix of eastern religions such as Taoism and Buddhism which focus on meditation on the one hand and Christianity on the other, with the fight between good and evil.’
It is exactly the kind of religion to result from the modern age of the Internet and online communication, says Slangen. You will never find an actual Jedi temple or training centre. But they certainly exist online. All you have to do to find them is to google online groups that study The Force together. ‘Jediism does not base its focus on myth and fiction but on the real life issues and philosophies that are at the source of myth’, says the site for The Temple of the Jedi Order. ‘Jediism is based on the cultivation of our personal relationship with The Force’, writes the Order of the Jedi.
‘The ‘Star Wars’ films are not the most important thing to Jediists’, Slangen emphasises. ‘Rather, they believe that George Lucas was inspired by a spirituality that has been around for much longer. And that is ultimately true. He combined several elements from eastern religions to create his Way of The Force and the idea of a fluid energy field around us.’
The adherents study texts and gather knowledge, just as many Buddhists do. They train in martial arts, meditate, and hold discussions online. ‘And many Jediists combine their different convictions. There’s no reason you can’t be both a Christian and a Jediist’, Slangen says. ‘It’s a hands-on religion that offers support for how to handle daily problems.’
Slangen believes it is a sign of the modern times, as does her instructor, Mathilde van Dijk. Neither of them believes in the so-called ‘secularisation thesis’ anymore, which says that the churches are emptying out and religion is becoming increasingly unimportant. It’s quite the opposite, according to Van Dijk: the enormous popularity of fantasy and science fiction – a genre in which religious and spiritual elements play an important role – actually shows the need for religion. It’s just in a different form than before. ‘I believe there is a connection’, she says. ‘People say: religion is not really my thing, but spirituality is. And then they go looking for their own truth.’
They get the inspiration for this from many places, but fantasy and science fiction are an easy source. ‘Star Wars’, then, is not the first film to spawn a religion. ‘The book ‘The Mists of Avalon’ from 1983 was popular among certain groups of feminists for a long time. The book is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the viewpoint of the women who are fighting to preserve the old religion that revolves around a female goddess. This led to a different image of god – a female god’, says Van Dijk.
But there are also adherents of Matrixism (‘There is no spoon’), Tolkien adepts, and people who are inspired by the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Jediism fits in that line of hyper-real religions. Van Dijk: ‘People use The Force as inspiration to figure out how they want to live.’
Would you like to attend the lecture? Buy a ticket for the showing of Star Wars: the Force Awakens on Thursday at 7:55 p.m. The lecture is included in the price of the ticket and starts at 7 p.m.