Is Elvis a religion? I asked my American Sacred Space class yesterday as we began considering Graceland as a sacred place. Some students acknowledged the religiousy reverence Americans have for celebrities, and no celebrity exceeds the iconic status of Elvis Presley. On the other hand, one student insisted on the distinction between “worship” and “idolization.” Yes, fans idolize Elvis, he admitted, but they don’t worship him.
Of course, the question is more about religion than about Elvis. We’re reading From The Holy Land To Graceland: Sacred People, Places and Things In Our Lives by Gary Vikan, who describes Elvis as a saint, his Graceland home as a locus sanctus, and Elvis fans as pilgrims. We’re also considering other writers on both sides, those who insist on Elvis devotion as a religion and those who remain unconvinced. All of this revolves around the age-old question, what is religion?
Much to some students’ frustration, we will not arrive at a satisfactory answer—no one ever has. But hopefully we will discover more interesting and more relevant questions. How do contemporary devotional practices rely on and perpetuate a consumerist economy? How does the image of Elvis contribute to self-understandings of one’s identity, including gender, race, class, religion, and nationality? And perhaps most interesting of all, has Elvis really left the building, or is he still with us in ways we never imagined?
[Daily post 067 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨