Religious diversity in SF and fantasy

Via File 770, a post by Krysta at Pages Unbound: WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY?

Over the years, it seems the book blogosphere has committed itself more explicitly to diversity in books, advocating for more protagonists of color, more LGBTQ representation, and less sexism in media. However, religious diversity is regularly glossed over in discussions of representations or is regularly dismissed by those who find a character of faith to be “too preachy” or don’t want religion “shoved down their throats.” This attitude does a disservice to the many people of faith throughout the world who would also like to see themselves reflected in characters in books. It assumes that the presence of an individual of faith is, by nature, overbearing, unwelcome, and oppressive–that is, apparently an individual is allowed to have a faith as long as no one else has the misfortune of knowing about it.

Yeah, no kidding. Sometimes it astounds even me, and I think I pay more attention to this than some.

Religious diversity does not have to look “preachy.” Religious diversity just means telling more stories about people living out their faiths, the same way most of the people around us are living out their faiths every day. Having a character struggle with saying no because she is waiting for marriage, or being made fun of for wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday, or trying to struggle through school and work or even sports while fasting, does not mean an author is promoting a particular religion or trying to convert anyone. It means an author is representing the life of an individual. The struggles of a character with questions of morality, with being bullied, with trying to find their way in life, does not become less valid because that character thinks of morality in terms of a deity.

I’m not actually a particularly devout person, but the way anything even remotely reminiscent of Christianity is either a) entirely absent or b) entirely negative in most SFF drives me mad. Especially the latter, which is so disrespectful of the experiences and identities of so many people, and frankly all too often showcases the abysmal ignorance of the author when it comes to religious topics.

The whole post, which is more focused on MG and YA than SFF particularly, is worth reading, including the comments.

A couple more titles that could be added here:

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb
The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zack by Brian Kircher
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson — someday soon I MUST re-read that and finish the trilogy.
The Narnia Chronicles, obviously

and, I will add:

Black Dog and the related novels and stories.

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7 thoughts on “Religious diversity in SF and fantasy”

  1. Chancy’s A Net of Dawn & Bones which I’ve mentioned before, starts in Hell, references “He Who Shattered the Gates” and one of the two main characters quotes Scripture (lots), even in Hell. They get out again, fairly early. Myrrh does that a lot – has been hell-raiding for most of 2000 years.

    Bujold’s 5 Gods universe, of course. HILD. Your stuff… but anything else reasonably recent, that doesn’t feature incarnate gods (POWERS by Burton)…. Pickings are thin.

  2. Yep, I’ve got A Net of Dawn and Bones floating kind of midway down the virtual TBR pile. Eventually …

    HILD, of course. I think I was more trying to think of YA, but definitely HILD.

  3. For interesting treatments of religion in fantasy, how about the Kushiel’s Dart books? Fantasy world versions of our own, but quite recognizable. Probably a bit different than what this list was going for, but not too far off.

  4. Sarah, yes — religion is definitely integral to that world, and as you say, it’s recognizable, if quite different from real modern-day (or modern-ish) religions.

  5. I’ve tried. Both Madeleine and the Mists and A Diabolical Bargain have characters aware of their religion and acting on it at suitable moments. It is not the driving force of the plot. Yet there were a few people (in an online writers’ group) that had problems with the very concept.

  6. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a teachable moment where you point out diversity and tolerance don’t apply solely to positions and attitudes you already share.

  7. Word.

    When We Wake by Karen Healey has at least 3 characters of faith (Muslim) that I remember, although the protagonist is not. There’s a great moment when one of them asks the protag if she has an issue with her religion because back when the protag was alive Islamophobia was widespread.

    I also recently re-read parts of McCaffrey’s Acorna and Freedom series, and her disparagement of religion really jumped out at me. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before.

    I loved Carson’s treatment of religion in The Girl of Fire and Thorns series. I also really appreciated that the it’s a religion with a single deity instead of a pantheon, which seems to be more acceptable or at least popular in fantasy. Sometimes the pantheon thing makes deities so human. Which is fine, but then I stop thinking of it as religion– it’s more part of the setting / unusually powerful characters.

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