Queer atheists, agnostics, and animists, oh, my!

— Robin Anne Reid, independent scholar

Paper given 4 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Sunday session № 1

This presentation is part of a larger project I began in 2018 that asks the question of how fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium who are atheists, agnostics, animists, or part of New Age movements interpret his work. Using a mixed methodology approach, I administered an online survey (approved by my university Institutional Review Board) asking for basic demographic information and respondents’ answers to open-ended questions. The questions allowed respondents to describe their beliefs or lack of belief; their experiences with and responses to organized religion, if any; their history of reading and of interpreting Tolkien’s work, and their responses to the tendency in popular and academic thought to assume that Tolkien’s Christian beliefs must shape readers’ interpretation of his work.

I circulated information to groups interested in Tolkien on social media and collected 113 completed surveys between December 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019. In my first round of analysis, I identified three groups, based on how they answered the first question: Atheists, who make up 44% of the respondents, Agnostics, 30%, and a third group, who make up 26%. The third group were those who identified connections to a range of specific religious, spiritual, or philosophical movements (acknowledging the fuzzy boundaries between those concepts). This last group includes animists as well as pagans, polytheists, one nominal” Buddhist, one Recovering” Catholic, one Deist, as well as humanists and sceptics.

This presentation will focus on how the 34% of the respondents who identified themselves as asexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, or queer and their responses to the questions about their experiences with religious institutions; their favorite work(s); what makes Tolkien’s work important to them, and how they deal with the assumption that his religious beliefs play a significant role in interpreting his work.

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date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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