The uk Census, Jediism and Social Media

In: Journal of Religion in Europe
Beth Singler University of Cambridge,

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Lewis (2003) identifies three strategies of legitimation used by New Religions: rationality-tradition-charisma. Using the case of Jediism and the uk Censuses of 2001 and 2011, this article refutes the argument that the invented-ness, or self-conscious creation, of some New Religious Movements prevents their strategic reference to tradition for legitimation. Instead, this article explores a more contemporary understanding of tradition that takes into account how it can work online. Virtual ethnographic methods are used to examine the e-mail campaigns prior to the Censuses, as well as subsequent discussions about Jediism on Twitter and forum boards. This research shows how social media provides new sources of “tradition” that individuals and groups can reference to “prove” that Jediism is a really real religion. More formal, external, mechanisms of legitimation such as the uk and usa tax laws, charitable status and the uk Racial and Religious Hatred Act are explored as providers of “tradition” and authority – even when it is shown that they are negatively commenting on Jediism’s status as a legitimate religion. The “snowball” -like accumulation of legitimacy through interactions between informal and formal mechanisms shows that tradition is still referred to, even by “Invented Religions”.

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