The Divinity of Kate Middleton

The church may be in decline but we still create saints -says Greg Barker

An estate agent showed a news reporter around the home where Katherine Middleton spent her childhood.

There it was: a generously sized brick home in a middle class British neighborhood. Was this special BBC report worthy of the evening news?

I was about to turn channels, but the scene shifted from the house to Kate herself – and kept me glued to my seat as much was revealed about our human religious impulse.

It appears that the estate agent had bumped into a 13-year-old Kate when he sold the home some years ago.

This fact was too hard for the reporter to resist – “What was Katherine like?” “Was she like other girls – was there anything different about her?” “Did she say or do anything that stood out in your mind?”

The estate agent overflowed with praise for Katherine: her fine manners, her maturity, her intelligence…one would have thought that if the lights had been turned out in the house, Katherine would have been seen glowing.

Here we were already we were re-writing her life history so it would better accompany her fairytale marriage to a prince.

Instead of a girl with “ups” and “downs” normal for her social class and cultural context, instead of a girl who could be moody as well as delightful – and even perhaps pick her nose behind closed doors – we were being introduced to…

…a saint.

Even in this modern day and age we can still invent a divine figure: Kate Middleton. She reflects what we associate with contemporary divinity – wealth, good looks and media attention.

This human tendency to re-write history, to see what we want to see, is what makes the study of Religion so fascinating.

Our task, with our students, is to roll up our sleeves and dig around in history – using all of the tools at our disposal – psychology, archaeology, sociology, anthropology – and examine what people believe and why.

We do this to better understand what people in other eras called “divine”. This quest also helps us to become aware of our own “divinities” – and even be a little more skeptical of our “news”.

Gregory A. Barker