Star Trek: Deep Space Nine boldly went where no Star Trek series had gone before with its exploration of the religious persecution and spiritual lives of the Bajoran people. Coming off the heels of the hugely successful Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine set out to be a very different sort of Star Trek show from the very beginning. Set on a space station rather than a starship, there were no episodic adventures on strange new worlds; instead, DS9 was originally laser-focused on the fallout from the Cardassian occupation of the planet Bajor.
The Bajorans were introduced in the TNG episode “Ensign Ro” as an obvious stand-in for oppressed minorities, specifically European Jews during World War II. The Bajorans were brutalized by the occupying Cardassians, a fascist species who considered the Bajorans unimportant, expendable lifeforms. Bajorans like DS9‘s First Officer Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) were forced to walk a fine line between being freedom fighters and terrorists during the occupation, a morally gray area that would haunt them for years. Throughout the occupation, the Bajorans leaned on their rich spiritual lives to keep hope alive, something that doesn’t often happen in Star Trek.
Why DS9’s Exploration Of Religion Was Revolutionary For Star Trek
Star Trek has a somewhat fraught history with religion. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a noted atheist, and in his version of an idyllic future humanity had essentially outgrown their belief in the supernatural. Other Star Trek species still practiced religions – notably the Klingons – and there was a certain level of tepid respect offered by humans toward more spiritually-minded species, but it was always clear that most Starfleet personnel and Earth natives viewed religious faith as an obsolete concept.
That all changed with DS9. Not only did Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) have a fundamental respect for the Bajorans’ religious beliefs, he even eventually accepted his role as a part of that religion as the Emissary of the Prophets. Other Starfleet personnel, and even Sisko’s own son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), would question Sisko’s devotion to the Bajoran people and their spirituality, claiming the so-called Prophets were simply advanced aliens who lived in the wormhole adjacent to the station. Sisko’s own views would evolve over the course of DS9‘s seven seasons, from an angry skeptic to a religious leader.
Sisko Respected Religious People In Ways Picard Didn’t
In one of the many ways the two men were different, Sisko had a much more open approach to religion than Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Picard was noted for his empathy and intellectualism, but he clearly thought of religious faith as a backward practice that had a largely adverse effect on civilizations. Picard notably decried a plan to manipulate the proto-Vulcan residents of Mintaka III into believing there was a literal god above them in the TNG episode “Who Watches The Watchers,” refusing to thrust them back into the “dark ages,” as he put it.
Picard’s point of view was probably truer to Roddenberry’s vision of the future, but Sisko’s journey to spiritual enlightenment is just as valid of a Star Trek story. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine may not have explored new parts of the galaxy, but it did explore the human heart in ways the franchise had never really attempted before. It remains something of an anomaly in Star Trek, but it’s an important one.
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