The Far Side of Religion
Religion and Senses of Humour - Stephen E. Gregg
The University of Newcastle
Gary Larson's complete collection of published cartoons was reproduced in a 2003 two volume set modeled after early modern printed illuminated scriptures. It echoed other commemorations of the history of printed materials, such as the 2016 republication of Martin Luther's 1534 illuminated German Bible. While diverse in scope, religious themes persistently featured throughout Larson's cartoons poking fun at the absurdities of theodicy, sectarianism, polemics, and ecclesiastical authority. The proposed essay will provide a comprehensive evaluation of Larson's sense of humour in the mode of the history of the book advocated by Jonathan Z. Smith in his 2009 essay "Religion and the Bible." What emerges is a sophisticated account of Larson's engagement with religious ideas and iconography in a historical context of printed publication practices. The editorial context demonstrates Larson's awareness of the audiences he both entertained and offended. In sum, the collection can be understood as a precursor to the contemporary debate about the persistent and new visibilities of religion as well as the way humour can diffuse controversial topics in our increasingly divided societies.