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The article advances a political interpretation of ritual behavior in religious communes, grounded in costly signaling theory of religion. Both asceticism, often involving self-inflicted pain or severe deprivation, and ecstatic behavior, incurring considerable energetic and emotional expenditure, can perform the role of voluntary costly signals (VCS) – uncoerced displays broadcasting features that predispose the signaler to higher status or position of authority in the community. VCS, as all costly signals, help the group determine the distribution of relevant traits, but, in contrast to most applications of the signaling theory, it is leadership qualifications, and not commitment, that these signals communicate. The discussion of the VCS’ empowering mechanism is illustrated with cross-cultural evidence, focusing on Russian Skoptsy and American Shakers. Voluntary costly signaling had demonstrably contributed to the creation and stability of these groups’ power regimes.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion


This article presents the Swiss-Iraqi director Samir Jamal Aldin and his thriller Baghdad in My Shadow (2019) and puts it into a context of the re-negotiation of identities in a culturally diverse Europe. The director’s intention is presented as a wish to deal with taboo issues related to gay rights, women’s emancipation, and religious fundamentalism within an Iraqi community in contemporary London.

The film is analysed with the help of (1) theories analysing tensions between liberal-secular and religious-fundamentalist standpoints, and (2) theories about film viewers’ engagement, amplifying audiences’ emotions and thoughts about complex societal issues.

The film could be said to advocate a standpoint of dynamic secularism promoting individual rights. The article argues, furthermore, that Samir as a Swiss-Iraqi filmmaker encourages thick viewing through his thriller format and invites the audience to a deeper emotional and intellectual understanding of liberal principles, honour culture, and hybrid identity positions in contemporary Europe.

Open Access
In: Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture
In: Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte