August 09, 2010

Jedi Knights as a Religious Phenomenon

As a non-religious person, I'm not sure how I feel about the fictional protagonists of my all-time favorite movies being turned into a quasi-religious sect. But that's exactly what's happened with the Jedi Knights of Star Wars. From the worldwide movement in 2001 to list Jedi as one's religious preference to the current debate over the axing of Canada's long-form census, the Jedi have long permeated the boundary between reality and fantasy. With their locations visible in Google Maps, we now have evidence that have they also permeated the boundary between materiality and virtuality [1].
This map comes from a paper we're currently working on about the cyberscapes of religion in Google Maps. Using the absolute number of references to "Jedi" in the Google Maps database as our measurement, we thought that mapping these references in the UK would present an excellent opportunity to blur the boundaries between the sacred and the farcical.

Although the concentration of most geotagged content can be explained by population density, references to Jedi conform to a more unique spatial distribution. The greatest number of references to Jedi exist in and around the cities of Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham - all fairly large in their own right - rather than in the capital and largest city of London. It's also interesting to note that most of England has some level of references to Jedi, perhaps indicating a general level of interest across the country.

And yet, based on the actual counts from the 2001 census, the three cities with the most virtual references do not represent either the greatest absolute number of Jedi (that would be Leeds with 7,543) or the greatest number of Jedi as a percentage of the total population (Brighton and Hove with 2.6%). While both Nottingham (#12) and Manchester (#19) rank highly with Jedi as a percentage of the total population, Birmingham is ranked just #227 with just 0.6% of the population declaring themselves Jedi.

So what makes them so prevalent by our measure? Are these the locations of new, secret Jedi academies? Is there an important force nexus present somewhere in one of these cities? Any clues or suggestions welcome...

[1] We currently have no evidence that this virtual representation of Jedi within Google Maps has anything to do with the mystical powers of the Force.

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