No Religions are New: “Everything is a Remix”

In my anthropology of religion course, one of the main themes is that all religions have histories and nothing is ever really new. There is in other words a phylogeny of religions and all share a common ancestor. To elucidate this idea, we read Robert Bellah’s “Religious Evolution” (1964) and “What is Axial about the Axial Age” (2005), in which Bellah notes “a central principle that has governed all my work on religious evolution: Nothing is ever lost.”

I was reminded of this principle while watching a brilliant series of video shorts titled “Everything is a Remix.” The series creator or remixer is Kirby Ferguson, who rightly contends there is nothing new under the sun, only an endless stream of copying, transforming and combining. Simply delightful (if a bit depressing for those who aspire to originality):

These kinds of projects deserve our support.

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5 thoughts on “No Religions are New: “Everything is a Remix”

  1. J. A. Le Fevre

    You’re both losing sight of the forest for the trees.

    A Porsche is not a Yugo despite any ‘common heritage’, nor is a man a mouse. Anne Rice is no Shakespeare. There is infinite room for innovation and originality regardless of what is borrowed.

  2. admin Post author

    You apparently did not watch the videos and if you did you apparently didn’t understand them. It’s like reading abstracts or things you find on the web and then claiming authority or knowledge. The whole point is to explain how innovation works and to demystify it.

    This basic issue aside, the Porsche and Yugo share a common ancestor (the Ur-car) as do Shakespeare and Anne Rice (the Ur-writer). The point is that the history of supernaturalism/religion is continuous and all religions are related to one another by descent.

  3. Tom Rees

    All stories can be basically categorized into a few basic outlines. People argue about how many types there are, but all agree that there aren ‘t many (probably less than a dozen). Everything is variations on a theme.

  4. J. A. LeFevre

    I agree the phenomenon is interesting, it was your conclusion that confused me. Had I read Bellah’s ‘Religious Evolution’, I would have noticed that he too flatly rejects your ‘nothing new’ conclusion, beginning with his definition of evolution where he identifies the product of evolution as a new form in which ‘the properties and possibilities … differ’. I offered two authors to highlight that though their prose is all a remix of English words strung together and resurrected themes far older than our current language, originality is still possible.

  5. admin Post author

    You were just reading my words too literally. New forms are always constrained by the old. Or as Bellah puts it in his most recent article, “Nothing is ever lost.”

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