Part II. Forms and genres
23. Contemporary religious writing
The broad spectrum of texts shows that faith and religion continue to attract a great deal of attention in juvenile fiction. In the course of the past century the presentation and image of the ‘other’ — including the ‘religious other’ - have changed significantly. In the first part of the twentieth century, the other was often presented as the enemy in adventures or historical tales. In missionary tales he was the inferior ‘heathen’ who had to be converted to the true faith as soon as possible. In recent decades the other also appears in realistic stories, often as the protagonist or as an equal partner. In addition, quite a number of information books present the ‘other’ religion in an open and attractive manner.
On a theoretical level the discussion persists whether books about a specific religion are best written by followers of that religion (insider texts) or rather by others (outsider texts) who often claim a more objective perspective. Followers are often very sceptical about the presentation of their religion by outsiders. They fear that others may be led by prejudices and stereotypes, and have too little affinity with the dynamics of the faith. Because of this their stories lack authenticity. The outsiders themselves consider this rejection of their right to write freely about any subject as a form of censorship.
The most important question is probably whether religious subjects have any impact on young readers and in this way have a positive influence on the process of socialisation. Do stories dealing with the fundamental questions of life offer a solid basis for an ethics of virtue, or is their entertainment value more important than their formative influence? Can we share the optimism of C. S. Lewis, who believed that ‘hidden’ religious symbols also take root in the memories of the young reader, or do we follow the pessimists, who claim that stories read in youth vanish without trace from our memories?
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