Laughing Matters: "Parody Religions" and the Command to Compare
Issue: Vol 42 No. 3 (2013)
Journal: Bulletin for the Study of Religion
The term “parody religion” is used to describe movements that deliberately mimic the elements of established religions and are intentionally absurd. It is generally assumed that people create and participate in parody religions primarily for their own amusement. However, the participants of parody religions occasionally demand to be taken seriously by invoking the legal rights and privileges that Western democracies afford to traditional religions. This article examines two such cases involving The Neo-American Church and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is argued that the true function of parody religions, as demonstrated by these cases, is not simply to entertain, but to force a public conversation about the definition of religion. When practitioners of parody religions demand the legal rights afforded to traditional religion, they are issuing a public challenge to articulate how exactly religion is defined. Furthermore, ardent practitioners of parody religions frequently have a political agenda and feel that the legal system’s unstated criteria of religion unfairly benefit particular established religious institutions.
Author: Joseph P Laycock
Alm, Nico. 2011. “Heiliger Führerschein (Episode #6 – Das Finale)” Available online at
BBC News. 2011. “Austrian driver allowed ‘pastafarian’ headgear photo.” Available online at
Chidester, David. 2005. Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Henderson, Bobby. 2005. “Open Letter to Kansas School Board,” Available online at
Henderson, Bobby. 2006. The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. New York: Villard Books.
Kleps, Art. 2004. Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism. Austin, Tx.: Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church.
Lander, Devin R. “Start Your Own Religion: New York State’s Acid Churches,” Nova Religio 14:3 (2011): 64-80.
Leary, Timothy v. United States of America. 383 F.2d 851; 1967 U.S. App. LEXIS 4999
Martin, Craig. 2005. Masking Hegemony: A Genealogy of Liberalism, Religion and the Private Sphere. Oakville, Conn.: Equinox Publishing.
Neo-American Church. 1967. The Neo-American Church Catechism and Handbook. Millbrook, N.Y.: Kriya Press of the Sri Ram Ashrama.
North Carolina v. William Robert Bullard, III. 267 N.C. 599; 148 S.E.2d 565; 1966 N.C. LEXIS 1088.
Original Kleptonian Neo-American Church. “OKNeoAC Om Page.” Available online at
Orsi, Robert A. 2005. Between Heaven and Earth: the Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Pitts, Russ. 2008. “In his Name We Pray, Ramen,” The Escapist. Available online at
Smith, Jonathan Z. 1990. Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
--- 1998. “Religion, Religions, Religious” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies ed. Mark C. Taylor, 269-284. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
U.S. Government Printing Office. 1966. Statement of Arthur Kleps, The Narcotic Rehabilitation Act of 1966: Hearings before a Special Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 413-425. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office.
United States of America v. Judith H. Kuch. 288 F. Supp. 439; 1968 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11703; 35 A.L.R.3d 922.