Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love and Religion (John Lennon Edition)

Last week the Popular Romance Project posted a little piece by me about love and religion--or, to be more specific, about love as religion, the religion of romantic love.

We have a Call for Papers on this topic over at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, and I hope that you (whoever you are) will spread the word or submit something.  As you'll see from the CFP, "texts from all traditions, media, and periods are welcome," and we have a particular interest in pieces about
  • Sacred love stories retold in popular culture
  • Hymns, love songs, and the porous boundary between them
  • Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion, and debates over this
  • Crossover texts and figures:  Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
  • Representations of interfaith romance
  • Love and religion in popular culture from before the 20th century, and from indigenous and other non-hegemonic religious traditions (Candomblé, Wicca, etc.)
That covers a lot of ground, and if you have a topic in mind, feel free to shoot me a message and ask.

Sometimes the intersection of love and religion involves seeing the beloved as a divine (or quasi-divine) figure--love as worship, or love as idolatry, I suppose--and sometimes it involves seeing something "of God" in the person you love, as Laura mentioned in a comment to one of my earlier posts.

Another way to think about romantic love and religion, though, is less theological than functionalist.  That is, love or marriage could function in someone's life the way religion does:  as a source of meaning and purpose and value; as a structure in which other parts of a life must take their place; as a priority that determines other actions and beliefs, etc.  I think this is part of what Robert Polhemus is getting at in his idea of "erotic faith":  an idea that comes from his book of that title, and one that's been put to good use in the context of popular romance fiction by Catherine Roach, in her essay "Getting a Good Man to Love."

There's no need to invoke divinity at all in this functionalist context, I suspect.  Love (or marriage, or the relationship) could be what you "believe in," even if you're an unshakable atheist in any other context, just as you might "believe in" your country or The Revolution or some other cause.

In the classroom, the functionalist idea of religion is often hard for my students to take in, probably because their sense of what religion is (or isn't) has been so profoundly shaped by conservative evangelical discourse here in the US.  There's a haunting British text, though, that seems to clarify the concept for them in a quick and memorable way:  John Lennon's song "God," from his first solo album, John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band (1970).

The crucial turn in the song comes in the penultimate verse, when Lennon pivots from what sounds like a purely existentialist or individualist credo ("I just believe in me") to something else, which I take as a revision, a clarification, of what he just said--and not, as the folks at Wikipedia have it, a second, separate article of faith.  Take a listen, and you'll see what I mean.  I don't want to give too many spoilers.

It's quite a song.  Maybe we'll publish an essay on it, in that "Love and Religion" issue?  (Hint, hint.)

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