Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Choose your religion.

Wow. Todd Newton relates an amazingly ignorant comment he observed at COSine 2011, during a panel on Theology Building (in fiction), when an audience member commented:

"Maybe Islam and Buddhism just aren't that interesting."

The question was related to why elements of Christianity appear so regularly in "our" fiction (meaning us here in the U.S.), and what examples are there of other religions making an appearance in SF and fantasy fiction. Apparently the question was met with confused silence, until the above. For the full story, see his post here.

Well, first, I would say that it seems to me that even Christianity may be eclipsed by the Greek/Roman Pantheon. Which I'm surprised no one pointed out.

Unless my fantasy reading is more severely limited than I had thought, usually a polytheistic belief system lurks in the background. But, yes, I have read my share that used Christianity as a building block.

As to why either dominate:

I think it's a simple answer having to do with the audience and the author. The general "we" here is an American/English one (us of the West), of which the majority religion is Christianity in one of its forms and Greek/Roman mythology is prevalent in our literature, media, etc.

It's only natural to write what we know and for audiences to gravitate to the same.

I think it's nothing more simple than that. Unless the author conceives of a cool religion as a major element of the story, then why spend too much time building something that isn't relevant? They should be writing instead about their characters and their struggles.


  1. I think they are two of the most interesting religions in the world. I can't speak much on Buddhism, but Islam was an entire unit when I taught social studies. Their faith drives the entire culture, and I find that fascinating.

    As you said, it's only natural to write what we know and for audiences to gravitate to the same. Covering either of these religions would require extensive research and observation to grasp correctly, so if religion were not a huge focus of the book, you might stick with something people are more familiar with. I will say in a society moving to embrace diversity, this would be a great consideration for someone interested in multicultural literature. Anyone with that drive should consider picking this up.

  2. Agreed. If you're not familiar with the concepts, you'll get big chunks of it wrong. And that's no fun, hearing about all the stuff you screwed up from someone familiar with the concepts. :-P

    Having said that, several Hindu words and concepts have crept into English over the years: avatar and karma are the first two that spring to mind. The West may have colonized Eastern lands, but the East has colonize the Western mind.

  3. Good points, both of you. As everything becomes more globalized and connected I'm sure we will see a greater influx of diversity in our media (especially in books--which can probably afford to be more cutting edge than most forms). Whether that proves to be a profitable venture or not, will have everything to do with timing (oh...and quality--of course).


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.