Supernatural tales such as the 'Twilight' series may give some non-religious teens a platform to grapple with the big questions of life, according to a new study.
In Denmark, where religion is not a large part of daily life, teens seem to use media -- often, American media -- to explore questions of good and evil, life after death and destiny, Line Nybro Petersen of the University of Copenhagen's film and media studies department has found.
The communal experiences of hardcore fans of the series can even echo religious communities, Petersen said.
"Being a 'Twilight' fan allows the teenagers to engage in very intense emotional experiences. You can almost get the sense that these are transcendental emotions, the feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself in a semi-religious way," Petersen told LiveScience.
According to Peterson, vampires may seem an odd icon in which to find spiritual experiences, but "Twilight", "True Blood" and other supernatural series are part of a well-worn process of film and media turning old ideas into new stories, a process which media researchers call "mediatisation".
For example, religious symbols such as the cross and holy water show up frequently in the TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but they're largely stripped of their Christian. Instead, they're simply weapons against vampires with little mention of theology, Peterson said.
Vampires undergo a similar transformation in "Twilight". Instead of evaporating when they step into the sun, for example, they sparkle -- a more effective convention for a romantic hero compared with turning into a pile of dust.
For her study, Petersen surveyed and interviewed Danish teens with an interest in supernatural TV shows or movies, from "Twilight" to "Ghost Whisperer". She found that while many of these teens rejected organised religion, they still grappled with the big questions of life.
Young Twilight fans, or "fanpires" as these teens call themselves, told Peterson that they don't have any clear idea to what happens after deaths, thus they read different things and watch different movies.
These findings were reported in the journal Mediatization and Religion: Nordic Perspectives in 2012.