Gary Laderman is Professor of American Religious History and Cultures at Emory University and the author of two books on death. He is also the director and co-editor of the new online religion magazine, ReligionDispatches.org. Although most people continue to think of religion only in terms of believing in God or going to church or synagogue, Laderman paints a much larger and richer canvas:
"In contemporary American society, religious life without God and beyond the reach of religious traditions is anchored in a range of social phenomena that provide people with order, meaning, and purpose critical ingredients that mix together in the pursuit and experience of the sacred."
The author is convinced that the sacred is alive and well in popular culture and the secular acts of social life such as sports, music, science, violence, and sexuality. In the opening chapter on film, Laderman examines the moral and mythic meanings of The Wizard of Oz and the Star Wars saga. After setting the stage with commentary on blues and hip hop, he presents his interpretation of the popularity of Elvis and the Grateful Dead. In sports, he focuses on Michael Jordan, the Super Bowl, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, which are all attended to with awe and devotion by fans. Americans are obsessed with celebrities, which one social critic has called "our royalty." Laderman shares his responses to the funeral of Rudolph Valentino and the canonization of Oprah in the popular imagination. Other sacred matters covered are the purple pill, the gun as a sacred object, pornography, and death and Tupac Shakur.