Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Taking Religion Seriously

I've started a re-read of Eifelheim, Michael Flynn's 2006 Hugo-Nominated novel, which I pitched to my book group & discussed on Sunday.  The book flits between 14th century germany and modern grad students (a theoretical physicist and a mathematician essentially trying to do reverse-psychohistory explaining 14th century settlements), and includes alien intruders.  I had forgotten that the main character in 14th century germany is a priest and natural philosopher.  When mysterious lightning crackles through the town, a minorite monk and most of the villagers fear demons and the devil, but it's the priest (Father Dietrich) who remembers the generation of static electricity with fur and amber, and seeks natural explanations.

I commented during my read of Ancillary Justice that I was very happy to see the religious rituals in Radch culture, rituals which did at times play out in how people viewed the world.  Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon features an older ghul-hunter whose magic works as an expression of his faith and knowledge.  Books (speculative fiction and otherwise) that take religion seriously as an important feature of the world not necessarily in opposition to science exist, but they can be hard to find.

So recently, enthused by the natural philosophical ruminations of father Deitrich, I tweeted out:

I know that there's a long history in western thought that aligns science and religion as polar opposites.  I'd be interested in having someone who knows more than I do outline where this came from, what sustains it now, and whether this dichotomy exists in cultures outside of the western european tradition.  There are a few books (Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow comes to mind, and maybe A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, though it's been a while since I read it) that take on the roles of religion and ritual pretty directly.  The (few) arab-inspired books I've read (Throne of the Crescent Moon mentioned above, When Gravity Fails and Desert of Souls) all show practices, garb, and beliefs as elements of the worldbuilding.

This post is, I guess, an invitation to discussion if anyone's interested.  Where does the notion that religion and science must be at each other's throats come from? Are there speculative fiction books that bridge this divide? Harden it? Why are so many books simply silent on either regular weekly rituals or religious beliefs and practices? Is there a place in speculative fiction to bridge the divide between science and religion? And do non-western books and stories do this better?

I'll dive back to the question from time to time, but if anyone else wants to chime in, I'd love to see a conversation about this.

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