The secularization thesis held sway in sociology for a long time. Sociologists assumed that secularization was inevitable and religious faith would decline, retreating first to the private sphere and then dwindling away to nothing. Some sociologists suggested, however, that perhaps religion wouldn’t totally disappear but would assume non-traditional forms. In the 1960s, sociologist Robert Bellah suggested Civil Religion one possible form in the United State. Others suggested that religion could take other forms, serving as “functional equivalents” to religion, so long as they fulfilled the social functions that religion traditionally filled. Sports, and the fanaticism they engender, is often suggested as an example.

Jennifer Porter, a Canadian professor, offers a college course analyzing Disney as a functional equivalent to religion. BoingBoing has a post about it here: Disney as a religion, the college course. They link to a post from “The Disney Blog” that provides additional information from Porter about the phenomenon. Regarding Disney as religion they write:

My current view is that Disneyism, as a religion, is a reality. But it’s at an infantile stage (even though some would argue that it started with Walt’s approval of the Mickey Mouse Club back in 1928 as a way to recruit young practitioners (aka, audience members for his cartoons). There are cathedrals (the theme parks), acolytes (myself, other Disney authors and subject matter authorities), and even worship meetings (NFFC groups, MouseFest, and online discussion boards).

I am intrigued by the idea of functional equivalents. And the concept of “fan” does derive from “fanatic” which has religious connotations. And having made a pilgrimage to Disney World last year…

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