Boldly go where no God has gone before
Star Trek: The Religion
Smoke tendrils waft in and out in a sinuous dance across the dark mask-like features. The guttural chant to his warrior god strokes a mystical chord of ancient memory in the watchers.
It may only be an episode of Star Trek, but the Klingon Worf's search for meaning and spirituality in
his life speaks to the people at home watching.
Dr. Jennifer Porter, Religious Studies, has explored Star Trek as a religion and collaborated with other
researchers, including Dr. Darcee McLaren, to write a book about the portrayal of religion in the show.
The title of the book is Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion and American
Dr. Porter said she wrote the book because Star Trek can be both reflective of and also informative of
“You look in the mirror and you see yourself but at the same if you turn the mirror around perhaps it
becomes a window to a new place. Religion is one of the many issues Star Trek deals with, but it is an issue that has gained prominence in Star Trek as the franchise has spanned 30 years.”
During these years, nine Star Trek motion pictures and four television series have been produced. One
of these series — Star Trek: Voyager — is still in production.
Dr. Porter said although many of the episodes have dealt with religion, these episodes are often not fan
“In the classic Star Trek series Captain Kirk and the crew are in an episode called The Apple about a
peaceful people who are controlled by a serpent god that is actually a computer. Kirk destroys Vaal,
the computer god, freeing the people, so they can explore their individuality and their sexuality.”
She said this episode was an interesting story in which the serpent was already in the Garden of Eden.
Dr. Porter points out that when creator Gene Roddenberry controlled the show in its early years, if
gods were shown to exist, they always turned out to be aliens or computers, not real gods.
“In the classic Star Trek episode Who Mourns for Adonis, they find the Greek god Apollo is really
an alien or more evolved form of life, an implicit message that god doesn't exist, which appears in both
the classic and the Next Generation version of Star Trek with the immortal, capricious character Q.”
Dr. Porter said Star Trek Deep Space Nine producer Rick Berman sent a different message. He
introduced a spirituality based on the alien Bajoran culture, but with a human emissary, Captain Sisko.
In the final episode of the series, Sisko appears to have sacrificed his life to save the universe, just as
Christ did to save humanity.
In the series Star Trek: Voyager, spirituality is also portrayed positively. The native American
character Chakotay practises his family's ancestral religion first as a tribute to his father's memory.
“But,” said Dr. Porter, “he comes to have a greater appreciation for his spiritual traditions throughout
the course of the show. We see him practise medicine wheel rituals, go on vision quests, and perform
astral travel in a disembodied form.”
There is no chaplain on board any of the starships. Dr. Porter said that the company that originally
sponsored the classic Star Trek series requested a chaplain be added, but Gene Roddenberry refused.
There has been a great misconception about Star Trek fans ever since William Shatner
(Captain Kirk) told them “to get a life” on Saturday Night Live. At conventions many fans will
begin a conversation by saying they do have a life, a job and family, and then go on to describe them.
As for Star Trek as a religion, a certain percentage of fans have adopted two of Star Trek's ideologies,
the most prominent being the Prime Directive. This means simply that if someone else's culture is
healthy and works for them then you should not interfere with it.
The second is a doctrine called IDIC or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination, introduced in classic
Star Trek, which calls for the understanding that not everyone sees the world the same way, so you
should be tolerant of other people's ways and values.
Dr. Porter said those who adopt these Star Trek philosophies and follow them as a way of life do not
form a religion in the structured sense, but the effect on them approaches the 'religious.'
Some may resist the call to “explore new worlds and boldly go where no one has gone before” but the
truth is that “resistance is futile.” Star Trek fans come in all ages and sizes and appreciate the show on
many different levels.
“As a mirror I think Star Trek says something about society's changing attitudes towards religion over
the last 30 years, and as a window perhaps it points to where we are going. In the 1960s there was a move towards a secular society. Today if we look through that window of Star Trek we see that this is not the case, that people are genuinely spiritual. We ask existential questions, wonder where we're going and what it all means.”
Dr. Dave Brodbeck, Psychology, was awarded a four-year NSERC research grant of $48,000 for his work on implicit memory in non-humans.
Dr. Susan Tirone, Physical Education, has been active in research related to leisure activities in low-income housing areas of St. John's, and this work has expanded into collaboration in a $6.2-million MCRI grant from SSHRC and NSERC to study the impact of the collapse of the fishery on youth in Newfoundland coastal communities.
Dr. Colin Higgs initiated a research project, in co-operation with Cross Country Ski Canada, to assist the Canadian paralympic sit-ski team in preparation for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Paralympics.
Dr. T. A. Loeffler, Physical Education, began a research project using photo-elicitation to determine the meaning of outdoor experiences for women.
Dr. Tahir Husain, Civil Engineering, was awarded a $300,000 research contract from Aramco, the world's largest oil company, based in Saudi Arabia, to perform a three-year study on oil field cleanup.
Several engineering students took a step into the risky but rewarding world of high-tech startups when they launched Intrignia Solutions in February 2000. Developing an engineering research project on multi-robotic systems into a commercial opportunity, PhD engineering student Jamie King, M.Eng. students Lloyd Smith and Mike Wrinch, and MBA student Brad Suter are betting that the application of this technology has considerable market potential for improving safety and efficiency in harsh environments.
In March 2000 Seabright Corporation organized and led a biotechnology industry mission to the BIO Conference and Show in Boston, which attracted 10,000 participants. During the summer, Seabright started a new spin-off company, NovaLipids Inc., to pursue the commercialization of a novel vaccine delivery system for animals. And in August the corporation and the Faculty of Medicine finalized a research agreement with Xenon Genetics Inc. of British Columbia to underwrite a $200,000 research investigation into hereditary sensory neuropathy, a rare condition involving lack of sensitivity to pain.
Genesis client Griffiths Guitars International secured a $1.2-million private sector investment to underwrite the cost of establishing a $4-million plant to produce a new patented guitar built on an injection molded frame.
Drs. Phil Branigan and Marguerite MacKenzie, Linguistics, received a $71,628 SSHRCC standard research grant for a cross-linguistic study of focus/topic structure and binding relations in dialects of the Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi language group. Dr. MacKenzie also received a $3,500 Smallwood Foundation grant for editing Labrador Innu texts.
Dr. Peter Trnka, Philosophy, was granted $6,000 from SSHRC for a project on the ethics of wearable computers.
The Dictionary of Newfoundland English was made available electronically on the Heritage Web Page.
Memorial will receive $14.4 million over four years to fund a nation-wide effort to boost aquaculture development throughout Newfoundland and Canada. The project, known as AquaNet, is the latest addition to a group of Networks of Centres of Excellence, federally-funded networks of universities, private business and government agencies that are designed to promote key areas of scientific research. Memorial will serve as the lead research body and administration centre for AquaNet, which involves 72 researchers, 23 companies and six government agencies.
Six students from Newfoundland were awarded SSHRC fellowships in 1999: A. Grant Baird, Jennifer Dyer, Lewis MacLeod, Kelly-Anne Maddox, A. Mary Murphy and Sarah Rose. Three of those students will pursue their doctorates at Memorial: Mr. MacLeod and Ms. Murphy in English literature and Ms. Rose in linguistics.