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Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls Paperback – January 15, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For Bado-Fralick and Sachs Norris (religious studies professors at Iowa State University and Merrimack College, respectively), religious games and dolls are charged with the magic of childhood combined with the mystery of religion. The authors brilliantly use their subject to reveal a complex interplay between worship and the workings of popular culture. A detour into ancient divination practices using dice, magical dolls, and sports as ritual shows these items to be anything but superficial, and raises a central question: why do religious playthings often evoke feelings of unease? Like the religious toys it analyses, this book is at once fun and serious business. Dolls like Buddy Christ and Nunzilla or unwinnable Buddhist board games may produce a few perplexed laughs, but a game like Missionary Conquest, won by setting up the most global missions, has an undeniably colonialist edge. The authors also use toys and dolls to explore consumerism, feminism, politics, and the nature of ritual and play. In this readable and fresh look at religious culture, the authors are critical and respectful. They'd rather cast dice than throw stones. (Feb.)
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An intriguing look at the world of religious toys and games. Ably demonstrating the ubiquity of these objects and the manner in which they have been integrated into a wide variety of religious cultures, this book is an excellent example of how material culture is full of religious belief and practice. --Douglas E. Cowan, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Waterloo, and author of Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen

Toying With God is filled with academic research but written in a down-to-earth humorous style, meant to engage all readers--religious or not--at the contemporary intersection of spiritual and popular cultures. --Erica Noonan, The Boston Globe (December 24, 2009)

For Bado-Fralick and Sachs Norris... religious games and dolls are charged with "the magic of childhood combined with the mystery of religion." The authors brilliantly use their subject to reveal a complex interplay between worship and the workings of popular culture.... In this readable and fresh look at religious culture, the authors are critical and respectful. --Publisher's Weekly (1/11/10)

Noting how Religion has become a commodity in Western society, Norris and Bado-Fralick here analyze the world of religious games and toys and the efforts by religions to market their own values within a competitive consumer culture. There is really nothing like this very thoroughly researched work. --John Lyden, Professor of Religion, Dana College, and author of Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press (January 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602581819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602581814
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,246,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Timothy P. Jones on March 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
In a couple hundred pages of text and pictures, Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris manage to meander across a broad range of religious traditions and to dabble in psychological streams that flow from sources as diverse as Carl Jung and Jean Piaget--all while maintaining their focus on religious expressions and functions of games and dolls. The result is a well-written volume that, if nothing else, provides a thorough compendium of information on the various functions of religious toys. Some discussions in the book border on the trivial. Yet, with few exceptions, even the trivia (such as the extended discussion of "Fulla," a Muslim variation of the Barbie doll) tend to provide fascinating glimpses into what happens when the toy aisle turns religious. Nikki Bado-Fralick directs the religious studies program at Iowa State University, while Rebecca Sachs Norris teaches religious and theological studies at Merrimack College. Both professors utilize religious playthings in their teaching, and they draw many of their examples from their students' in-class experiences with these games and toys.

One theme provides a recurring touchstone throughout the text: Both religion and play entail embodied expressions of perceptions or realities that stand outside rational categorization (183-84); as a result, the human experiences of play and of the sacred overlap with one another. The border between ritual and play is "permeable, porous, and mutually interpenetrating" (167). By mingling the corporeal realm with that which cannot be confined to words or matter, both religion and play serve to break down "dualistic ways of perceiving the world" (184).
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Format: Paperback
Every world religion is impacted by popular culture and the economic advantages as well as theological instructional values of games, dolls, and toys based on them. Now this previously overlooked subject is the focus on "Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls", the collaborative work of Nikki Bado-Fralick (Associate Professor and Director of the Religious Studies Program, Iowa State University) and Rebecca Sachs Norris (Associate Professor and Chair of Religious and Theological Studies, Merrimack College). A work of original and seminal scholarship, "Toying With God" is a 210-page, informed and informative compendium providing a historical and analytical survey of the role games, toys, and dolls play within the context of a religious culture, including the underlying commercial implications for those that produce them. Enhanced with a profusion of notes, an extensive bibliography, and a comprehensive index, "Toying With God" is a unique and recommended addition for academic and community library Religious Studies and Popular Culture reference collections and personal reading lists.
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In Toying With God; the World of Religious Games and Dolls, Professors Bado-Fralick and Sachs Norris explore the problematic, constantly fluctuating boundary between organized religion and religiously themed dolls and board games. In undertaking this project, both authors drew on their impressive knowledge of the research in the areas of game theory and popular religion combined with their own experiences and observations of the way the young people in their own classes and programs interacted with these products. The result is a fascinating book that presents a unique view of an important and growing segment of the toy and game market while posing a series of provocative questions about the relationship between play and religion.
As the authors indicate, the history of religiously themed games and dolls goes back almost to the origins of religion itself. Games were carved into the walls and roofs of Egyptian temples as far back as the fourteenth century BCE and ancient game boards have been found in both Jordon and Egypt dating back to 3500-4000 BCE. Moreover, ancient divinatory practices going back to at least 3000 BCE, that were designed to determine whom the gods favored, are directly related to today's dice games in which Lady Luck instead of the deity is called upon for assistance.
Today's 7 billion dollar plus market for religious toys and games presents the consumer with products ranging from board games representing all of the major religions, to a variety of religious dolls. Christianity is well represented by such games as City of Bondage and Journeys of Paul, Judaism by Kosherland and Islam by Mecca to Medina and Race to the Kabah.
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