Cover image for Comedy, tragedy, and religion
Comedy, tragedy, and religion
Morreall, John, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Albany, NY : State University of New York Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 177 pages ; 23 cm
Some basic connections -- The nature of tragedy -- The nature of comedy -- The tragic vision versus the comic vision -- The tragic and the comic visions in religions -- Eastern religions -- Western religions -- New religions -- The value of humor in religion.

Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
BL85 .M72 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Explicates the worldviews of comedy and tragedy, and analyzes world religions, finding some to be more comic, others more tragic.

Author Notes

John Morreall is Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

How does a comic vision of life fit into a religious worldview? Doesn't a tragic vision of life better suit a religious vision? Morreall (Taking Laughter Seriously) provides an accessible survey of the roles that comic visions and tragic visions play in various religions. The author opens his study by examining what he sees as the connections between tragedy, comedy and religion. He argues that all three focus on the incongruities of life and the "disparity between the way things are and the way things should be." Thus, he notes, irony is a prominent feature in the attitudes of comedy, tragedy and religion toward the world. Morreall discusses the nature of tragedy and the nature of comedy, respectively, in two short chapters. He concludes that tragedy "recommends that we be emotionally engaged with incongruities and that we overcome and solve them." Comedy, on the other hand, "encourages an emotional disengagement from our own problems... and playfulness and laughter are comic paradigms for responding to real-life incongruities." The author asserts that religion uses elements of both comic vision and tragic vision to address the incongruities of life. In a series of five chapters on Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, he demonstrates the various ways in which each religion appropriates both comic and tragic features in its teachings and practices. For example, he argues that Eastern religions lack a tragic vision of life because they do not focus on an individual struggling amid suffering, while Western religions, on the other hand, do. After a thorough study of the uses of comedy and tragedy in religion, Morreall's engaging little primer concludes that humor "not only fosters virtue, but is best seen as itself a virtue... an intellectual and moral excellence of the highest order." (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this groundbreaking study, Morreall (religious studies, Univ. of South Florida) argues that tragedy, comedy, and religion have been closely linked since the heyday of ancient Greece. All three are concerned with the successes and shortcomings of life; our responses to tragedy and comedy help us understand and evaluate human experience. Morreall analyzes 20 psychological and social contrasts between the tragic and comic worldviews. Through five comprehensive questions on the theme of suffering, he examines elements of both tragedy and comedy from the perspective of Eastern and Western religions. The book closes with a survey of new religions and a chapter on the value of humor in religion. An excellent, well-written study on an overlooked topic, this book makes a unique addition to collections holding more general surveys of world religions and will appeal to scholars and general readers alike.ÄMichael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Morreall (Univ. of South Florida) argues that tragedy and comedy present opposing views of the problems of human life, and that religions exemplify protragic or procomic viewpoints, and sometimes both. His first four chapters distinguish the tragic from the comic vision; the remaining five chapters apply these views to traditional Eastern and Western religions, and also to more modern religions. No religion is entirely tragic or comic, as Morreall admits, but he argues that Hinduism and Buddhism are relatively procomic, Judaism and Christianity have both procomic and protragic elements, and Islam fits neither viewpoint very well. In the later chapters, the arguments are far more qualified and tentative, and Morreall does not ultimately justify the application of these categories to the analysis of different religions. Still, undergraduates of any level, provided they have some familiarity with these genres, would benefit from the sharply drawn contrast between the individualistic, rigid, and emotionally engaged tragic hero and the protagonist of comedy, who is more social, flexible, and emotionally detached. Morreall explicitly favors the comic view, and this should prove usefully provocative as well. The book is consistently clear, well written, and tightly organized. P. Aronoff; Cornell University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. 1
1. Some Basic Connectionsp. 3
2. The Nature of Tragedyp. 7
3. The Nature of Comedyp. 13
4. The Tragic Vision versus the Comic Visionp. 21
5. The Tragic and the Comic Visions in Religionsp. 41
6. Eastern Religionsp. 49
7. Western Religionsp. 73
8. New Religionsp. 131
9. The Value of Humor in Religionp. 147
Notesp. 155
Bibliographyp. 165
Indexp. 173