Don’t panic: Religion, science fiction and everything

The Star Wars series and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy both have cosmology at their hearts. Although wildly different from each other in per

These and other science fiction films like Avatar, Inception and the Harry Potter series create alternate realities with their own belief systems. In the case of the Star Wars series, The Force – which contains elements of several real-world religions – has become a metaphor in popular culture for the life energy of the universe. Fans sometimes take these “invented” religions for their own, and occasionally it’s difficult to discern the line where fandom and genuine faith intersect. According to census figures published in late 2012, “Jedi Knight” is now Britain’s most popular alternative faith and seventh most popular faith overall.

For the general audiences who read the books or watch the films, these fictional worlds are a modern extension of a long human tradition: storytelling as a way to express larger truths. All cultures have their narrative myths, and religion is often an essential element (think Greek mythology).

Princeton’s WordNet defines cosmology as “the metaphysical study of the origin and nature of the universe.” In this context, sci-fi films and popular speculative fiction are more than just escapism; they can contain messages that confirm deeply held convictions, or they can open new windows to understanding for their readers and viewers.

Why it matters

Religious themes often have been woven into popular fiction and found their way into film. The intertwining of art and faith creates a way for secular storytellers to touch the human need for narrative myth.

Questions for reporters

How do the moviegoers perceive spiritual themes? How do audience members relate these issues to their own lives? Do sci-fi fans tend to have a specific religion – or is sci-fi their religion? Or entertainment? Do local clergy have a perspective on the religious elements in movies? What do futuristic films have to say about our future?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy opened April 29, 2005 (Read the May 2, 2005, USA Today story, “Surprising ‘Galaxy’ hitchhikes to No. 1“). The Guide takes on cosmology head-on, with humor: A computer called Deep Thought sets out to discover the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything.”

The cover of the hilariously erroneous cosmic guidebook used by the story’s characters is emblazoned “Don’t Panic.” If the number 42 means nothing to you, spend some time in The Guide to the Guide.

The Guide trilogy was actually made up of four – eventually, five – books by Douglas Adams. Read a synopsis of each installment at Read a 1987 CBC radio interview in which Adams, who died in 2001, summarizes the plot points of the Guide.

The Guide began as a BBC radio series in 1978, became a novel and also spawned several other BBC projects (read a review at the Museum of Broadcast Communications). It continues to be a favorite of science fiction fans.

Read a transcript of an April 28, 2005, CNN program, “The Meaning of Life.”


Star Wars

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Siththe final film in the six-part series, opened May 19, 2005. The original Star Wars film (now Episode IV: A New Hope) caused an international sensation when it debuted in 1977, and the concept of The Force set off waves of pop theology.


  • Reg Grant

    Reg Grant is a professor of pastoral ministries and director of the Media Arts and Worship Program at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has an interest in media as a writer, producer and actor and frequently comments on spirituality. He can speak about the connection between comic book heroes and religion, the Star Wars film series’ Buddhist-style philosophy in the context of traditional Christian doctrine, and more.

    He says the strong religious underpinnings in the Star Wars franchise have been a part of why it has resonated so well with audiences over the years. He can also discuss the movie’s Buddhist-style philosophy in the context of traditional Christian doctrine.

Other resources

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