Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Writer & Religion

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Writer & Religion

Article excerpt

The whole of modern literature is corrupted by what I call Secularism . . . it is simply unaware of, simply cannot understand the meaning of, the primacy of the supernatural over the natural life. - T.S. Eliot, "Religion and Literature," in Selected Prose, 1935 The Lord created Heaven and Earth and, as an immediate afterthought, writers. - Fred de Cordova, "Johnny Came Lately," 1988

THE RELATIONSHIP between literature and religion is as enduring and complicated as the relationship between church and state. As the two quotations above suggest, scribes ponder religious ideas of every stripe, from poets to gag writers.

On another level, some of the finest literature can be found in the sacred texts that serve as a foundation for many religious ideas. Sources as diverse as the Old Testament and the Bhagavad-Gita manage to present cogent philosophical arguments and offer spiritual guidance while adhering to impressive literary standards.

The much-discussed relationship between spiritual beliefs and the "canon" continues to inspire questions from both critics and readers: Was Eliot right? Has literature been corrupted by secularism? How do contemporary writers address matters of faith while practicing their craft in an age of fatwas and self-styled religious wars?

These questions and others will be discussed Sunday through Wednesday at the International Writers Center at Washington University. The center will present "The Writer and Religion," a conference that aims to explore the various ways in which religion and literature interact.

Lorin Cuoco, associate director of the center, said exploration of the topic will take three forms:

Religion as a subject in literature.

Religion as an influence on a writer's work.

Religion as an instrument of community or censorship.

"The main thrust," Cuoco added, "is that religion is inescapable. Even if you wanted to be a strict atheist that would be impossible; even the Constitution mentions God."

"The Writer and Religion" is the second such conference sponsored by the International Writers Center. "The Writer in Politics" took place in October 1992 and featured Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and American poet Carolyn Forche, among others. Cuoco said conferences on religion and politics were just two of many envisioned by center director William Gass when the center was established in 1990. "We actually have ideas that go on for the millennium," she said.

Gass and Cuoco have assembled an eclectic mix of writers for this year's conference. According to Cuoco, some of the writers are simply interested in the subject, while others create works with more obvious connections to the topic. The featured writers are as follows:

Eavan Boland, one of Ireland's foremost living poets, comes from what Cuoco describes as a "fiercely Catholic" background. She has published seven books of poetry. Boland's latest collection, "In a Time of Violence," climbed as high as No. 3 on the Irish Times best-seller list, a rarity for a book of poems.

J.M. Coetzee is a South African novelist with several works to his credit. Coetzee's "The Life and Times of Michael K" received the 1983 Booker Prize. …

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