My first proposal was noncommittal, I thought I at least one of my ideas may hold water and that I might reach some catharsis out of thin air. However, being so indecisive set me back. So first of all, I formed a topic out of rudderless musings. Admittedly, it was not the topic that I was most enamored with; however, it is definitely the most (the only) coherent one. I began my tentative research with Google scholar.
The very first result provided some pages from Carl Freedman Critical Theory and Science fiction. I recall perhaps seeing this book in Professor Belli’s collection of literature, so I thought this was a fortuitous start. I of course did not read the whole book, but the text on the whole did not prove as relevant as I would have hoped, except for one passage, “… it need not be denied that science and religion, as interpretive modes by which human beings grapple with the largest questions confronting their species, may well display points of resemblance” (99). Freedman states very matter of fact something I had not considered. As I was researching, I was uncertain of what precisely I wanted to say about the relationship between religion and science fiction. Freedman’s seemingly casual statement was what I needed to get started in the right direction.
As I found more relevant texts, I also picked up on some vernacular of the genre. Many authors also make brief mentions of other authors and their work, which are rich with information as well. As I write this, my thesis is still vague. I want to do more research but I need to be decisive and act with more alacrity. I would like to elaborate on my claim that SF allows for discussion of religion without some of the unintended vitriol. It is often seen as a faux pas or a contentious act to bring up religion in a discussion. Especially in today’s political climate, there is a lot of fear and violence surrounding people’s differing religious views. SF being marginally removed from reality allows for discussion without the venom. Perhaps a great deal can be learned from past SF authors response to the similar, if not identical, issues. Criticizing a simulacrum situation that only exists within the novel allows for a close reading of our own societies religions. Admittedly, I feel like I am still saying something banal, and I also want to make sure I don’t inadvertently proselytize.
Admittedly, I am agnostic and have generally considered the division between science fiction and religion to be axiomatic. It had been in my opinion, that introducing elements of religion into a work removes it from the genre of speculative SF and moves into the realm of fantasy. However, after a brief foray into the texts that have discussed the intricate relationship between the two, the dichotomy I had imagined began to deteriorate. I would like to research and prove that theology is a corner stone of science fiction, that SF has created a safe space for potentially blasphemous questions, and that the genre allows for intelligent discussion of how religion will play a role in our future.
In my cursory investigation, I gained knowledge of one of the earliest, if not the first, tale of science fiction. I found the information in a retrospective of the genre, The History of Science Fiction by Adam Roberts. In it, Roberts brings to the reader’s attention a tale from 1532 by Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto titled Orlando Furioso (Mad Roland). The tale recalls the adventures of a knight being taken to the moon by a Saint to regain a physical manifestation of his wit. Roberts adds that the tale is not strictly speaking science fiction, “Rather, he [Ariosto] takes material Man as far as he is permitted within the theological constraints of the pre-Copernican cosmos. SF doesn’t happen in that place.” (35) Far be it for me to tell Roberts what is and isn’t science fiction, but I don’t believe Ariosto’s tale should entirely discounted. Given the beliefs of the time and the consequences of speaking against the church, I think Ariosto was quite bold for intertwining science fiction elements into his religious epic. Admittedly it is difficult to categorize the epic as paradigmatic science fiction, but on a visceral level, traveling to the moon is a one the most prevalent images of the iconography of science fiction.
Throughout the last century, SF literature has proffered profound dialectical discussions concerning all matters of life, religion not withholding. Moreover, religion and science fiction are more alike than most would presume, as both can be tools for confronting life’s mysteries. In his text, Religion in Science Fiction, Steven Hrotic enumerates various reasons why science fiction is distinctly qualified to examine the role of religion in contemporary life and life in the future. In fact, a great deal of critically acclaimed science fiction in the twentieth century involved religion. Hrotic states “From the mid-1920s, science fiction has evolved specifically to engaging not ‘science’ but scientific ways of viewing the world and the societal impacts of technologies. Naturally, given Western assumptions about the supposed oppositional stances of science and religion, genre authors considered the contrasting end of the hermeneutic spectrum.” (8) Much to my curiosity, Hrotic adds that each generation of authors offered different views of Religion that aren’t immediate obvious. As time progresses, science fiction authors viewed Religion with less disdain and became more amenable to its perspectives and observations.
I have often considered an idealized society to be free of Religion; in hindsight I had been unnecessarily hostile and intolerant of others by holding that point of view. Science fiction authors have had the foresight to recognize Religion is more than an “opiate” as Karl Marx cynically stated. Religion has been in invaluable to laying roots for science fiction and for acting as both an antithesis and a partner to the genre.
Hrotic, Steven. Religion in Science Fiction: The Evolution of an Idea and the Extinction of a Genre. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
Kreuziger, Frederick A. The Religion of Science Fiction. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular, 1986. Print.
Kurtz, Paul, Barry Karr, and Ranjit Sandhu. Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2003. Print.
Nahin, Paul J. Holy Sci-fi!: Where Science Fiction and Religion Intersect. New York: Springer, 2014. Print
Roberts, Adam. The History of Science Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.