When creating a new world, not only do you have to develop the lands, the characters, the history, and the culture, but you also have to think about religion. Religion is a major force in cultural development and history. Just look at the history of Earth. Most wars were fought because of religious reasons. Religions were used by leaders to control the people. Likewise, religions were banned so leaders wouldn’t have their hold over the people influenced by an unwanted religious group.
In science fiction, religion tends to have less of an impact on the story, though there are exceptions. In Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, many religions, altered from their present condition, are present and powerful. In particular, the Endymion novel uses a kind of perverted neo-Catholicism to control the people. Orson Scott Card’s Ender series also uses religion, particularly in Speaker for the Dead, where the Catholic church is present on the planet he goes to. Ender himself is Atheist, though he works with the local church to try resolve their problem. Card is a devout Mormon, and has rather strong and controversial religious and political views, yet he creates a world where he employs other religions, or even a lack of religion. However, with the current trend towards secularism and the growing number of nonreligious people in the world, I would tend to think the future is less religious.
In fantasy, religion is extremely important. It’s often the source of the struggle, as magical powers are derived from supernatural sources. There’s a powerful cult-like religion based around the evil in fantasy, while the good side may use several gods or maybe even a more natural source, such as how Wicca and native North American people draw their beliefs from nature. In any case, religions in fantasy are central to the cultures, magic, plot, and even characters. Different races and mystical creatures all have their own spiritual beliefs.
In my upcoming books based on Ariadne, religion does play a part. I won’t go into details, but one of the religions is not based on any Earth religion. The other is entirely based on Earth, though it’s different than what we’ve got on our world. The former will play a major role in a couple of the planned books. While I don’t follow any religion as an Atheist, I still find religion plays an important role in speculative fiction, as well as in our own world. Without it, everything would be different.
How do you feel about religion’s role in science fiction and fantasy? Please leave a comment.