Renegotiating religious imaginations through transformations of "banal religion" in Supernatural

  • Line Nybro Petersen University of Copenhagen
Keywords: Intertextuality, Mediatization of religion, Occulture, Television, Television fiction


Supernatural is saturated with a wide range of religious representations. These elements often serve to instigate the storyline for one or more episodes, but do so in a way that is removed from their original setting in, for example, traditional religious contexts. In Supernatural, religion is subsumed to media logic, and thus transformed religious representations are an example of a continuous process of mediatization of religion. This essay applies a three-sided theoretical approach, considering mediatization, cognitive anthropology, and social theory. The concept of mediatization applied here implies long-term processes in which media play a role in cultural and social change. The theory of cognitive anthropology of religion allows us to understand how the series activates shared implicit knowledge of supernatural agents and events to evoke recognition and emotion; but by transforming these representations, the show challenges our imaginations. These transformations of banal religious representations in Supernatural come about in three ways: (1) as a mainstreaming of occulture, (2) through connecting banal religious elements to existential themes, and (3) through playful intertextuality. The series applies these narrative devices, which heighten plausibility and familiarity, while simultaneously offering viewers a change in perspective, thus creating opportunities for viewers to renegotiate existing religious imaginations.

Author Biography

Line Nybro Petersen, University of Copenhagen
PhD-Scolar Institut for Media, Cognition and Communication, Dep. for film and media studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark