|Fandom-as-religion literature examines similarities between fandom and religion and, in particular, dimensions of the fan experience such as beliefs, emotion, and ritual. This area emerged in the last thirty years and includes perhaps twenty to thirty scholars who direct their attention to this phenomenon. A fundamental line of inquiry guiding this area of study is that scholars question why fandom looks so much like religion and why many fans use religious language and metaphors to describe the fan experience. This dissertation examines why fandom is often compared to religion, what scholars may learn from this comparison, and what similarities and differences of experience between fandom and religion say about fans experience as “religious” actors. “Religious” appears in quotation marks to signal that the fan experience complicates our understanding of the binary between the sacred and the profane by occupying an “in-between” space, in which fans find “direction, order, meaning and purpose.”
Given the fandom-as-religion argument is often made in the absence of sufficient field data, I address this limitation by participant observation in New York and Nashville among fans of John Lennon and Johnny Cash, respectively, along with follow-up interviews. I argue that the premise of fandom-as-religion should be reconceptualized as “fandom-as-lived-religion,” a reflection of the reality that fans of Lennon and Cash develop at least part of their fan identity through three “points of articulation”: (a) the extension of the self, an externalized reality that remains part of the fan’s self; (b) the growth of the fan-celebrity relationship in the fan’s religious imagination, an act of the extension, and (c) the celebrity’s death, often a turning point in the fan’s relationship with the celebrity. These points are the focus of the three published articles that serve as the focal point of this dissertation, which asks the question whether the imagined relationship the fan has with the celebrity does religious work, by providing a multi-faceted point of identification.
The concepts of the “religious,” the extension of the self, the religious imagination, and religious work come together to tell the story of how fans of Lennon and Cash create the fabric of fan identity that is of “religious” consequence. In the Introduction and Conclusion, I consider how the driving questions of lived experience of celebrity fans say something about the phenomena of religious “nones.” Concluding thoughts concern how celebrity fandom may help address modern religious experience and issues in religious studies as a field.