Jerry Coyne drew attention to a competition with a cash prize, asking people to invent a religion. The Huffington Post has an article about the competition, and the full rules are online. It is actually an interesting competition, precisely because it is a lot harder than some might imagine to come up with something genuinely innovative in the realm of religion, which nonetheless draws enough on the past that it has symbolic depth, and which has widespread appeal and is considered persuasive. Most of the ideas that people get excited about are actually recycled or adapted from other traditions, rather than genuinely new.
Doing so for money is nothing new, although usually those who invent religions for money are expecting to get it from believers and not from a prize-awarding committee.
But there is, at any rate, a better reason than the prospect of profit to invent a religion: for the educational value! My colleagues Chad Bauman and Brent Hege are among the authors of a piece on a”Make Your Own Religion” class project, published in Teaching Theology and Religion. Here is the abstract:
The “Make Your Own Religion” class project was designed to address a perceived need to introduce more theoretical thinking about religion into a typical religion survey course, and to do so in such a way that students would experience the wonder of theoretical discovery, and through or because of that discovery hopefully both better retain knowledge gained from the project and nurture within themselves the practice of thinking more analytically about religion (and other social and cultural things). Despite a number of challenges and unresolved questions associated with the project, it has proven relatively successful at introducing and provoking theoretical thinking about religion in a compressed period of time, without taking an inordinate number of class periods away from the survey itself. A brief description and analysis of the assignment is followed by four short responses.
I wonder whether any students who have invented their own religion for my colleagues’ classes will enter the competition, and if so, whether they will win. Does studying religion at university help you invent one?