How might Emile Durkheim interpret the implicit religion in Star Trek fandom?

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When the Star Trek series debuted in 1966, its creator, American writer Gene Roddenberry, gained a reputation as a “futurist.” He intended the series to be a format for learning new things about the universe and its societies, and the bi-product of his efforts became a phenomenon. Ironically, since Roddenberry was a well-known atheist at the time, it is hard to imagine that anyone expected his work to begin a new sociological view of religion.

Religion is generally regarded as a method of confronting human concerns about life, death, spirituality, divinity, and anything considered sacred or holy. The Oxford Dictionary defines religion as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Religion is also expressed in terms of the relationship of humankind to the natural world without reference to gods or supernatural and spiritual beings.

With the launching of the Star Trek series on TV, new and interesting questions concerning religion’s place in the Star Trek universe prompted a “fandom” that Roddenberry, with his vision of a godless future, could not have imagined. Star Trek fandom has evolved into the formation of nonconventional communities accepting the elements and beliefs of their futuristic societies (Trekkies) as religious tenets.

Philosopher Émile Durkheim, much like Roddenberry, believed early in his career that human societies could exist on a secular basis alone. He envisioned no need for religion. However, like Roddenberry, he grew to see religion as a basic element of society. Since Durkheim accepts religion as a fundamental social institution, one might conclude that his interpretation of the religious elements in any secular society would be similar to his own. Researchers wishing to explore the extent to which his theories on religion mesh with Star Trek fandom would have to examine religion as the product of human activity, not divine intervention.

Durkheim’s definition of religion is stated as follows:

A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.

The researcher would have to determine whether the above definition is consistent with the moral communities explored in the Star Trek series. According to Durkheim, religion exists when groups of individuals in society come together to perform a ritual. To determine how Durkheim would interpret the implicit religion found in Star Trek fandom, students exploring the issue must decide whether the fandom rituals constitute new religious phenomena.

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