Reading, Writing, and Religion

Read this post by MAWP student Matthew Caracciolo on writing and religion. How do the two intersect? Add your perspective to the discussion!

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DePaul’s student body represents a wide variety of religions. It’s surprising to me then that I hear little religious talk going on. Perhaps this is because I am a graduate student who doesn’t spend enough time on campus, but is it also possible that as a student body we’re focused on other priorities?

As writing students in the English Department, we have a unique opportunity to incorporate religion into the work we do here at DePaul. We are free to write about the joys of faith, as well as its frustrations. This opens up a myriad of questions, however, such as when it is appropriate to write about faith?, what are the purposes of incorporating faith into writing?, and so on. It’s my interest to open up a discussion on Ex Libris for students to share their thoughts on writing and religion. I invite students representing ALL faiths and backgrounds to join in the dialogue, but as I am Christian, it is up to you to represent your walk of life. It would be a much more interesting discussion if you do so. I am also mainly a fiction writer, so though I will mainly talk about fiction in my posts and comments, by all means add other genres of writing to the circle.

Now a little about myself. My name is Matthew Caracciolo and I’m a first-year MAWP student and a recent arrival to Chicago. I grew up in and around Columbus, OH, and graduated with a B.A. in English from The Ohio State University in 2010. I am a Christian, as mentioned before, and I find that faith works itself into my stories about half of the time. A story doesn’t need an element of faith in it to make it good. But it’s hard to take myself completely out of the characters I write, and Christianity informs so much of my life that my characters often struggle with the same things I do. I’m taking the Writing and Editing Children’s Literature class this quarter, in which I’ve opted to write a fantasy with many allegorical elements.

There are a couple reasons why I’m doing this. For one, I love C.S. Lewis, and it only felt natural to pay tribute to his work by writing something in the same genre as his Chronicles of Narnia for a children’s literature class. But honestly, the story I had in mind to write for this class was the most developed one I had, and the most exciting to me. I can’t help it if my subconscious is working out an allegory. And the story is full of struggles, both about faith and about life. The main character struggles with death most of all, but also anger, grief, and selfishness. Any of these could step in and out of the bounds of faith, but I can’t help but write about them, leading me to believe that something past my own brain capacity is at work when I’m writing.

To start off the discussion, I wonder what it means when we decide to incorporate faith into our writing. Is it a tool to use to spread awareness of our beliefs? Or is the purpose more cathartic than that, where we must grapple with our beliefs and put it down on paper and watch as our struggles take on new forms on the page? Does struggle X appear as the protagonist in the fiction we write? Maybe you struggle with doubts about love, and then so does your character.

Perhaps there is no agenda. Maybe we can’t help but write about faith because our brains are wired to do so. Fiction thrives on struggle. Without it the fiction would be bad. Faith in itself is a struggle, so it naturally makes for good subject matter (within reason, of course).

I look forward to reading comments on this post to continue the discussion. If you have interest in writing a blog post on religion for Ex Libris, please email our Graduate Assistant, Molly Tranberg, at mtranber@depaul.edu

3 thoughts on “Reading, Writing, and Religion

  1. I always find it intriguing when an author writes about something they are passionate about. It shows in the writing. I think incorporating religion into writing works best in poetry because poetry is all about passion and emotions in the first place. Let me explain.

    I took an intro poetry course in undergrad. A student was really struggling to please the professor with his work. He’d write trite poems about empty benches, leaves floating in the river, you get the picture. They didn’t seem to have much depth.

    Then the student began bringing in poetry that had to do with faith, his struggles and triumphs with faith, etc. and the pieces began to shine. He was really starting to handle the craft of poetry, and he did it by delving into a subject he was already passionate about.

    I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on how incorporating faith into their writing has helped them establish and practice their craft.

    Thanks for the post, Matt!

  2. Hi Matt, I have been meaning to respond to this. I have thought about some of this too (i.e. the religious writer’s intention when incorporating faith into his/her writing).

    In terms of starting a dialogue, my guess is many are intimidated by this subject because our age group avoids offending people (and religion is a touchy subject for some).

    Maybe it would be neat to have a spirituality writing group that meets every so often.

    Have you found any spirituality-themed journals to submit your work to? I have some poems that might find a home in a “religious” journal, but I haven’t actively pursued that.

    1. Bethany,

      I think it would be amazing to have a spirituality writing group that met from time to time, if the interest was there. I’m always a fan of face-to-face interaction over social media. I’m hoping that over time this blog series will draw more attention, and perhaps from there we can strike forward and create a group. As for now, keep posting comments on future blogs (the next one will probably be next quarter), and encourage others to read and do the same.

      I think you’re right about our generation trying extra hard not to offend anyone. I hope in doing so, we don’t forget to celebrate the things that make us different. In our efforts to become an open society, there’s a real risk of blandness when we sit in silence because we’re too afraid to rock the boat. Ironic that ‘open’ may mean ‘silent’ to some.

      As for journals with a spirituality theme, I haven’t personally submitted anything. I’ve only recently started incorporating faith into my more polished writing, so maybe now is the time to start searching for some online journals or publications to submit to. Thanks for bringing that up. I will do some research and hopefully find some promising journals to provide links to on the next blog.

      Matt

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