CFP: The God Who Laughs — Examining Intersections of Faith and Humor

The God Who Laughs: Examining Intersections of Faith and Humor

Can God laugh? Lacking empirical evidence, we accept or reject the hypothesis based on what we think about laughter as well as what we think about deity. Plato was not keen on the guardians of his Republic hearing or reading of gods laughing, not because he believed the gods to be above laughter, but because being “overpowered by laughter“ suggested boorishness and even malice. If laughter mainly expresses disparagement or feelings of superiority—as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Cleese, Izzard, and Birbiglia all attest—what kind of god laughs at his or her inferiors, reveling in “sudden glory”? Martin Gore might sincerely expect to find God laughing at him when he dies, but most theories of humor require an element of suddenness or surprise, so this would entail either laughter without surprise or a god who can be surprised. What god would laugh at “the incongruity of sensuous and abstract knowledge” (Schopenhauer), or as the result of an “economy in expenditure upon inhibition, … ideation, … [or] feeling” (Freud)? Try as we might to humanize our deity, many struggle to imagine a god laughing at a knock-knock joke, much less telling one. Jokes require suspending our disbelief. What god suspends his omniscience?

The comic and the sacred often appear in opposition. The sacred is what matters most to us, and the comic, after all, is what happens when we’re “only joking.” (At least in Western tradition. At multiple Shinto shrines, yearly rituals require the laughter of priests and worshipers.) This symposium seeks to explore the supposed barrier between the two, picking at the interwoven threads of the sacred and the taboo, looking for where the motives and aims of humor and worship might align—asking how “joy, humor, and laughter [might be] at the heart of the spiritual life” (James Martin). Laughter, after all, also emerges from revelation. The poet Darlene Young calls it “the huge gasping HA of joy.” What then is the place of laughter within spiritual experience? What is the relationship between laughter and joy? What are the intersections, whether fraught or felicitous, between faith and humor?

We welcome panels and papers from all disciplines, faith traditions, and perspectives. Potential topics include:

  • Laughter and revelation
  • Laughter and joy
  • Laughter in sacred spaces
  • Gendered taboos or attitudes concerning laughter
  • Religious prohibitions of reviling and mockery
  • Humor and laughter as truth-seeking and discovery
  • Humor and spiritual pedagogy
  • Humor within particular faith traditions
  • Humor in sacred music
  • Humor in sacred texts

Symposium dates: 25–27 September 2024

Please send an abstract of 250 words to Rex Nielson ( by April 15.

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