Star Trek and Sacred Ground
Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture
Edited by Jennifer Porter and Darcee L McLaren
Albany: SUNY Press, 1999
315 pgs
ISBN 0-7914-4334-5

The permeation of religious themes , motifs, and ideas into popular culture is only beginning to be recognized as a consistent phenomena by those outside of the rather small circle of academic experts. This delayed recognition has been particularly true in the areas of "pop culture": television, movies, comic books, music, and music videos. Speaking of television in general and the Star Trek series in particular, editors Porter and McLaren say, " Television shows both shape and reflect the socio-cultural concerns of the times. Consequently, an examination of Star Trek's treatment of these issues is an examination of the culture reflected, informed, and critiqued therein. This is particularly true of Star Trek's portrayal and treatment of religion, within which these other issues are often contextualized. Although religion is the explicit focus of only a few episodes in each series and one of the motion pictures, concern with religion and religious themes and issues represents a consistent subtext throughout the entire Star Trek franchise (2)."

The essays in this volume are grouped in three organizational frameworks: "Religion in Star Trek," "Religious and Mythic Themes," and "Religion and Ritual in Fandom." The essays are followed by an exhaustive list of TV episodes and movies cited, an informative bibliography, and an index.

The first group of essays, grouped under the rubric "Religion in Star Trek," ranges from an analysis of large scale religious themes that cut across several of the Star Trek incarnations, Anne Mackenzie Pearson's "From Thwarted Gods to Reclaimed Mystery," to an analysis of themes in one particular series, Peter Linford's ""Deeds of Power: Respect for Religion in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," to an individual episode, Robert Asa's "Classic Star Trek and the Death of God: A Case Study of Who Mourns for Adonis?" I was particularly impressed with Robert Asa's interpretation of "Who Mourns for Adonis" from the original series. The author deftly moves between and synthesizes the varied strands of the "Death of God" theological movement of the 1960s, the struggle of American society with notions that large portions of traditional theology were antiquated, Greek notions of classical tragedy, and the basic plot of this particular episode into an integrated whole. The essay is a wonderful piece of interpretation that manages to successfully weave together how contemporary cultural ideas are, even if in a barely disguised manner, presented in popular culture.

The second group of essays is grouped around the rubric of "Religious and Mythic Themes." Several of the authors, through the specific lense of the Judeo-Christian heritage, look at how motifs of redemptive suffering, sacrifice, prophecy, and the spiritual journey play a strong role in several of the episodes or form a backdrop to a whole series. I really enjoyed Jon Wagner's essay, "Intimations of Immortality: Death/Life Mediations in Star Trek." Wagner looked at the large notion of immortality that ranges in the series from expanded life spans, to mechanical immortality, to cloning, the survival of the soul, and resurrection of the dead. This panoramic approach allowed readers to view the multi-faceted ways large scale mythic themes of mortality/immortality were presented in the series and in the movies.

The third section of essays focused on "Religion and Ritual" in Fandom." I found many of these essays to be especially compelling. Michael Jindra, in his article "Star Trek to Me is a Way of Life," examines the underlying philosophical and religious themes of the series and how these themes relate to a philosophy of life that fans will commit themselves to. His discussion of Star Trek as folk religion, as mythological (focus on story telling), the principle of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) and as existing on the boundary between religion and the denial of religion are fascinating. Final mention should be made of Jennifer Porter's "To Boldly Go: Star Trek Convention Attendance as Pilgrimage." Brilliantly, Porter links attendance and participation in Star Trek conventions as being structurally similar to rituals of transition by using Victor Turner's stages of initiation (separation, liminality, reincorporation). The power of these gatherings in the life of fans then becomes through this analysis much more clear.

"Star Trek and Sacred Ground" is a great start toward beginning to analyze the religious themes and motifs embedded in much of the media around us. This kind of analysis is greatly needed.

Review © 2000 Tom Collins and RSiSS

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