Pop Culture as Replacement for Religious Ritual?

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 7 January, 2019

In an article published in 1969 John Cawelti suggested that

In earlier more homogeneous cultures religious ritual performed the important function of articulating and reaffirming the primary cultural values. Today, with cultures composed of a multiplicity of differing religious groups, the synthesis of values and their reaffirmation has become an increasingly important function of the mass media and the popular arts. Thus, one important dimension of formula is social or cultural ritual. (388)

I'm not sure if this is true of all forms of popular culture but the idea that genre fiction could be synthesising certain religious values and beliefs chimes with what Jennifer Crusie has to say about the core narrative of romance and detective fiction:

the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.


Cawelti, John G. “The Concept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature,” Journal of Popular Culture 3.3 (1969): 381-390.

Crusie, Jennifer. “I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre,” originally published in Romance Writer’s Report. PAN March 2000.

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