Religion in Speculative Fiction

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.

12 thoughts on “Religion in Speculative Fiction”

    1. Thanks. I was thinking about how to write about this topic without it offending anyone. I’m not the kind of person to alienate others. But I do think it’s an important subject, even if it is controversial. I live in a country (Japan) where religion is just a curiosity for most of the people. My home country, Canada, is largely Christian, but it’s a very secular nation. People just don’t feel strongly about religion in general there, even though it’s a very multicultural country. I guess this is where my point of view comes from. Coexist with many religions while maintaining my own personal beliefs.

      1. Yes very good philosophy. The true problem arises in the belief of a real living God, at which point all other things are put into a much more insignificant context. Specifically, religion becomes secondary to God, and is then becomes man’s way to receive God, rather than the other way around.

        1. My problem with organised religion is that it’s too political, and so much focus on everyone else being wrong. It’s their way or not at all. I wish they’d all play nicely. But that’s not how it’ll be in my books. While religion will play a part, it won’t be a major part.

  1. Religion seems to be a driving force in culture. As an atheist I often find myself wondering about religion in the sci-fi worlds I read about. I believe the inclusion of religion as a motivator would greatly improve the stories as well as the characters. I feel this would give the reader greater insight to the individuals involved in the story. As for fantasy, at least what I have read, religion usually plays some role. This gives both the author and reader alike, a better grasp on the world they are submersing themselves into.

    1. I agree. Religion can be a strong motivator for some characters. It is part of their character and affects how they think. Very important for any kind of book.

  2. If you haven’t already, you should take a look at the Dune novels and see how religion is employed there. The Bene Gesserit create religions as a way of manipulating cultures across the universe should the need arise. Their methods go a long way to shaping the main characters’ futures.

    I reject religion entirely in my own life, but find the concepts interesting in fiction. Even if a character isn’t religious, he can’t escape the parts of his culture that stem from it.

    1. How could I forget Dune? I read it earlier this year. I remember how they use religion to influence the direction that people develop. They’re great manipulators.

  3. Interesting post…I myself have had a couple of comments from people who’ve read my first drafts asking me why I incorporate religious subplots into my stories when I’m Atheist. My response was basically what you’re saying, though not quite as well-worded. 🙂 I might not believe in religion, but I do understand that it plays a major part in society, and that can be used to make a story more real.

    I think I’m going to have to pick up your book…I have a feeling that I would enjoy your writing style. 🙂

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