International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol 3, No 1 (2012)

Poking fun at the Pope: Anti-Catholic Dialogue, Performance and the ‘Symbolic Construction’ of Identity in the International Raelian Movement

Stephen E. Gregg

Abstract


The International Raelian Movement is the world’s largest UFO-centred religion, claiming over 60,000 followers worldwide. Founded in 1974 by Claude Vorilhon, now known as the prophet Rael, the movement centres its cosmology on a reinterpretation of the Genesis creation myth. The figure of Jesus is also central to Raelian understanding of Prophethood and the ‘scientific’ non-supernatural world view of the movement. Proudly atheistic and supportive of diverse adult sexualities, the movement has in recent years increased protests against the Catholic Church in the form of website literature, online videos, and physical marches. Using Cohen’s understanding of relational aspects of community identity and the notion of ‘Reversal’ in identity construction (Cohen, 2007), the Raelian Movement’s anti-Catholic discourse and dialogue is interpreted as a ‘symbolic construction’ of identity which requires a ‘religious other’ – namely the Catholic Church. Further, Raelian claims to ‘correct’ Catholic teaching on the person of Jesus, cosmology, theism and sexual ethics are explored, as examples of the relational construction of Raelian worldviews. Lastly, Raelian protests against the Catholic Church are understood using Bell’s category of ‘Political Ritual’ (Bell, 1997), wherein it is argued that Raelian protests are a form of a ritual performance of protest to construct, reinforce and project symbolic constructions of Raelian identity.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsnr.v3i1.71

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