“There were an Atheist, a Jew, and a Muslim…”: (Non)Religion in Contemporary Comedy

Religion and Senses of Humour - Stephen E. Gregg

Ilaria Biano [+-]
Independent Scholar
Ilaria Biano is a postdoctoral independent researcher in the fields of religious studies and intellectual history. Her main research topics are secularization theory and the postsecular, political secularism and the representation of religious experience and historical events in contemporary fiction. She hold a PhD in “Political Studies. History and theory” from University of Turin, Italy (2015) with a dissertation on the contemporary debates about the postsecular and political secularism and was fellow from 2015 to 2019 of high profile research institutions such as Fondazione Einaudi and Italian Institute for Historical Studies. Her monograph on Max Weber’s Sociology of Religions was published in 2021.


Contemporary ‘television’ seriality has encountered many changes, but in the last decade what has been labelled as prestige or the third golden age of television structurally changed this kind of (pop) cultural products, from storytelling to means of production, distribution, reception. Among others, one aspect of particular interest is the growing relevance of (non) religious themes in such narratives, especially in innovative and unconventional forms. Genre narratives, on the other hand, have often remained tied to more traditional understandings and forms of representation of religions. The paper will propose an analysis of some examples of contemporary seriality in the comedy genre that present narratives built around explicit (non) religious themes. Two principal trends seem to emerge. A group of series that present narratives centred on surreal experiences or representations revolving around some kind of relationship with God or some form of divinity or narratives explicitly about (a) God. Shows like God friended me, The good place, Miracle workers, Black Jesus are examples of this group. However, a second trend seems of particular interest in the context of this call. Shows like Ramy, Broad city, After life represent the everyday life of (non) religious persons narrated through the language of humour and comedy specifically about (non) religion. What is relevant about these series, in this sense, is, on the one hand, the focus on material (non) religious experience of the main characters and the performative aspects of their (non) religious identity and, on the other hand, the kind of comedy the they enact revolving around the crossroad between everyday life and everyday religion. Building on a critical approach to the representation of (non)religion in media and popular culture and specifically on material and lived religion, the paper will focus mainly on this second group of shows highlighting some interesting trends emerging at the intersection between comedy and (non)religiosity in contemporary seriality.

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Biano, Ilaria. “There were an Atheist, a Jew, and a Muslim…”: (Non)Religion in Contemporary Comedy. Religion and Senses of Humour. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2023. ISBN 9781000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=43239. Date accessed: 07 Dec 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43239. Nov 2023

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