The Clown and the Cassock: Laughter Performances and Religious Rituals (Panel)


Special Session
Send in the Clowns

Abimbola Adelakun (University of Texas at Austin)
adel@****.com (Log-in to reveal)

Religion and mirth have always worked together in various forms – in religious mythology and sacred text narratives, religious experiences, aesthetic practices, philosophical and theological understandings, ritual performances, the identity politics of the religion, and even as a form of ridicule against the faith itself. In this session, we propose to examine the various dimensions of the imbrication of religion and performances of humor.

For theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, humor has significant political use for the subaltern. Rather than mirth for its own sake, they deploy it as a means of resistance to the dominant culture. Humor thus provides them the means of resistance and a tool to undermine officialdom by turning political insignia into an object of ridicule. Many scholars have since then located humor and performances that induce laughter among subaltern population within this Bakhtinian intellectual traditions. Humor is not humor for its sake; it is political and weaponized to different ends. In this session, we propose to explore the notions of the instrumentalization of humor within religious and sacred practices in contemporary religious traditions beyond subaltern agency to understand other underlying political meaning of humor within religious traditions. What does it mean when the clown takes the stage in the place of the cassock? In the times when the religious and the political converge, and the latter uses the endorsing power of the former to further partisan agenda, what does it mean to send in the clown to the sacred arena? What does the subaltern identity mean in the context of dominant religions, but which are also peopled by the dominated? How does the subaltern understand and negotiate between their longing for a sacred experience, political subjectivity, and the visceral desire to just laugh?