In an effort to make the most out of the move to online education, I’ve begun reaching out to scholars and/or religious practitioners to see if they’d be willing to be interviewed about their research and/or beliefs. Since my ‘Religion in the United States’ students are learning about the Scientologist this week and Satanist next week—both being groups that challenge conventional definitions of religion—I thought I’d reach out to Dr. Joseph P. Laycock of Texas State University. Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies who focuses on new religious movements and American religious history. His newest book, Speak of the Devil: How The Satanic Temple is Changing the Way We Talk About Religion, is excellent. I wanted my students to be able to hear directly from a scholar and I was thrilled that Laycock agreed to participate.
My students will watch this interview as part of their homework next week. But I want to share it now for those who might be interested. As a preview, here are the seven questions I asked him:
- Please tell everyone why I’m talking with you about this topic. What do you research and how did Satanism become one of your interests?
- One of the first things I tell my students about Satanism—and it’s something that find somewhat surprising—is that most Satanist don’t actually believe that Satan is a real, metaphysical being. Instead, he’s more of a symbol. Can you explain what Satan symbolizes for most Satanists?
- I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, so I’ve known the name ‘Anton LaVey‘ and I’ve known of the Church of Satan (CoS) for years. Can you explain why LaVey and his CoS is important to understanding Satanism in the United States?
- In your excellent book, Speak of the Devil: How the Satanic Temple i Changing the Way We Talk about Religion, you focus on a new group of Satanists: The Satanic Temple (TST). Can you explain what TST is and what’s their mission and purpose is?
- Last year when I taught my class on American religion, I showed my students the graphic that can be found on TST’s website that juxtaposes their identity with that of the CoS. What would you say is the most important difference or differences between these two groups?
- In Chapter 6, ‘Satanic Bake Sales’, you wrote about a fascinating concept. You walk about how Satanists wrestle with the best way to appropriate ‘the inverted order’ or ‘the discourse of evil’. What does this mean and why are these concepts important for understanding TST (or even Satanism in general)?
- Some people dismiss TST, and even COS, as ‘fake’ religion or a mockery of religion. My students have read J.Z Smith’s article ‘Religion, Religions, Religious’, so they get the gist of why the word ‘religion’ can be tricky but can you explain why it’s problematic to dismiss TST or COS as a ‘fake’ or ‘mock’ religion?
You can watch the (unedited…because I haven’t developed that skill set yet) interview here: