Comedy, Tragedy, and Religion

By John Morreall

Subjects: Literature
Paperback : 9780791442067, 188 pages, May 1999
Hardcover : 9780791442050, 188 pages, May 1999

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Table of contents


1. Some Basic Connections

2. The Nature of Tragedy

3. The Nature of Comedy

4. The Tragic Vision versus the Comic Vision

5. The Tragic and the Comic Visions in Religion

6. Eastern Religions

7. Western Religions

8. New Religions

9. The Value of Humor in Religion


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


CHOICE2000 Outstanding Academic Title

Comedy, tragedy, and religion have been intertwined since ancient Greece, where comedy and tragedy arose as religious rituals. This groundbreaking book analyzes the worldviews of tragedy and comedy, and compares each with the world's major religions. Morreall contrasts the tragic and comic along twenty psychological and social dimensions and uses these to analyze both Eastern and Western traditions.

Although no religion embodies a purely tragic or comic vision of life, some are mostly tragic and others mostly comic. In Eastern religions, Morreall finds no robust tragic vision but does find significant comic features, especially in Taoism and Zen Buddhism. In the Western monotheistic tradition, there are some comic features in the early Bible, but by the late Hebrew Bible, the tragic vision dominates. Two millennia have done little to reverse that tragic vision in Judaism. Christianity, on the other hand, has shown both tragic and comic features—Morreall writes of the Calvinist vision and the Franciscan vision—but in the contemporary era comic features have come to dominate. The author also explores Islam, and finds it has neither a comic nor a tragic vision. And, among new religions, those which emphasize the personal self come close to having an exclusively comic vision of life.

John Morreall is Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of South Florida. Among his many works are Taking Laughter Seriously and The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor, both published by SUNY Press.


"Comedy, Tragedy, and Religion informatively explores the fascinating categories of comedy and tragedy from the perspectives of Eastern and Western religions—the latter, of course, with their own instrinsic fascinations. The lucidity of this book will appeal to the non-academic and the scholar alike.

"Morreall's project is an ambitious one, sweeping from one world religion to another and from one artistic genre to another. His considerable success testifies to his breadth of knowledge and to his focused writing. The book is a lean, cogently argued contribution to an important but over-looked topic: relations between and among comedy and tragedy, and the world religions. " —Earle Coleman, Virginia Commonwealth University