Elvis in realm of religious studies

Seldom is it given to a religious affairs correspondent to chronicle the birth of a gospel, but Ted Harrison, once the BBC's religious affairs correspondent, has written a remarkable account of the cult of Elvis Presley and the theological schisms among his devotees. Did he die? Will he ever return?

In the best BBC tradition, Mr Harrison writes in an equably ironic tone of the beliefs of the superstitious: 'The risen Elvis has been seen throughout the United States, in stores, petrol stations, even hitching lifts. He has been seen at Graceland, and photographs have been published to prove it.'

The supermarket tabloid Weekly World News published a picture recently of Elvis leaving a hospital in Memphis after a fall. An Elvisologist, asked to comment, said that this was the most frightening of all the pictures taken of 'the King' since his 'death' because it reminded the faithful that even Elvis was mortal and must die someday.

Mr Harrison records the experience of numerous fans to whom Elvis has appeared since his 'death' in 1977.

'Januce Kucera, a female Elvis impersonator, had just been speaking on the telephone to Elvis's uncle Vester when she noticed a man looking through the kitchen window. 'It was Elvis's image] It was his forehead, cheekbones and nose on the window screen. The next day I went outside and all the limbs on the evergreen tree behind the window were scorched and singed.' The image remained on the screen for four years.' Mr Harrison points out how Elvis impersonators approach their performances with a religious seriousness. 'It is as hard for Mike to contemplate a world without Elvis as it would be for Christian priests to contemplate a universe without a creator,' he writes of one impersonator, a former soldier 'whose life is now dedicated to spreading the good news of Elvis'.

He concludes: 'If the Elvis cult is shaping into a religion, it too will need an underpinning theology.

'Even today there are are hints to be had from the way that Elvis fans talk that Elvis is to return to earth. If the blueprint for the end is contained in the book of revelation in the Bible, some fans see Elvis as having a part to play.'

Elvis People, by Ted Harrison, Collins Fount pounds 4.99.