Reductio ad Absurdum: Purposeful Offence in Comedy and Religion

Religion and Senses of Humour - Stephen E. Gregg

Stephen E. Gregg [+-]
University of Wolverhampton
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Stephen E. Gregg is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Wolverhampton, and Hon. Secretary of the British Association for the Study of Religions. He studied at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and has previously taught at the University of Wales, and Liverpool Hope University. His work focuses upon minority communities and muted voices in contemporary religion, and method and theory in the Study of Religion. Recent and in-press books include Jesus Beyond Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2010 with Gregory A. Barker) Engaging with Living Religion (Routledge, 2015 with Lynne Scholefield), A Universal Advaita: Swami Vivekananda and Non-Hindu Traditions (Routledge, forthcoming) and The Bloomsbury Handbook on Studying Christians (Bloomsbury, forthcoming with George D. Chryssides).


Religion, performative comedy and offence have a long relationship in British culture, from Alf Garnett, Life of Brian and Dave Allen through to Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais and Tim Minchin. In this chapter, I will primarily examine the art of stand-up comedy, within a wider context of performed comedy, to trace two changes that occur from the 1960s to the present day; a shift from mocking to ridiculing, and the changing landscape of dynamism between ‘insider’ to ‘outsider’ voices. I will highlight changes in social attitudes to religion and comedy, in addition to exploring the development of comedy as a vehicle to both attack and defend religion after the rise of the New Atheism in the mid-2000s. This will include commentary upon the shift from attacking religious practices to attacking religious beliefs, and the shift from gentle mockery to outright ridicule. In so doing, I will look at the philosophical act of reductio ad absurdum as a tool in the offender’s arsenal, examining transgressions of senses of decorum, entitlement and taste on the one hand, and formations of senses of identity, community and superiority on the other. I will conclude with a reflection on religious responses to offence, and ask how this can be analysed within a Lived Religion approach.

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Gregg, Stephen. Reductio ad Absurdum: Purposeful Offence in Comedy and Religion. Religion and Senses of Humour. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2024. ISBN 9781000000000. Date accessed: 05 Jun 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43238. Nov 2024

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