In today’s culture it’s hard to ignore the increasingly popular fad focused on zombies. With movies like “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later,” it’s easy to see the love of the undead that seems to be sweeping the nation. However, unbeknownst to most, zombies actually originated in a manner uncharacteristic of their present day persona: religion. In the days of old ,zombies were religious figures and were doing a lot less brain eating. Don Braxton, professor of religion, describes the history and present day fascination with zombies.
Q: From what religion did the concept of zombies first originate from?
A: Zombies originally came about from tribal religions in Africa. The belief was that there were shamans that had the ability, through religious powers, to mentally enslave humans and control their bodies. This idea survived and eventually influenced Spanish Catholicism.
Q: What are some of the differences between the zombies seen in these religions and the modern day iteration?
A: One of the major differences is that the zombies seen in these religions were not reanimated corpses. They were more of a puppet than a monster. Today they are seen more as vessels for infection. They certainly didn’t crave brains.
Q: How did the transition from zombies being mind-controlled humans to undead monsters come about?
A: Well one of the first uses of zombies in semi-modern day times was in a horror film called “White Zombie,” made in the ’30s. The film advocated white supremacy and revolved around a woman being controlled by a voodoo priest. Then there was George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” which really formed the modern day idea of a zombie. The zombies in this movie were corpses that had been brought back to life by radioactive waves from space. Romero started this whole concept of zombies being dead bodies that were alive once again.
Q: Why do you think that zombies are so popular in today’s society?
A: The overt reason from religious studies is that in religion people often take a certain category of objects and violate one concept about, thereby making it supernatural. In the case of zombies the object is a human body and the mind is being violated. This concept has always fascinated humans. You see it in ghosts as well, the mind is still there but the body has been violated. Zombies also allow humans to perform guilt-free murder. They look like people but there are no consequences for killing them.
- Josh Maier ’16, Juniata Online Journalist