I recently had the delightful experience of visiting McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, to speak to a class on “Science Fiction and Spiritual Imagination.” The class had been assigned my book Theology and Science Fiction as one of their textbooks. They also read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. The students (as well as faculty teaching the course) sent me questions ahead of time, and they were truly exciting and thrilling, because they showed that my book was not merely being read, but explored, pondered, wrestled with, and engaged at a level that I think every academic author hopes for, but not all of us get to witness happening the way I had the privilege to.
One of the things that I said by way of introduction is that I have found science fiction to be like the famous analogy for the Gospel of John: it is like a magic pool in which small children can splash and get their feet wet, and yet at the same time in which elephants can swim. In other words, it can be enjoyed superficially and yet has great depths for those who choose to dive deeply beneath its surface.
I will say more about a couple of details in upcoming blog posts. For now, though, I’d like to offer a word of thanks to Stephen Garner for his recent post highlighting the importance of this topic – and for highlighting what I’ve written on the topic in the process! Here’s a quote from his post:
Science fiction is…a rich source for theological reflection, not only from writers who weave religious characters and ideas through their work, but also as a space to think theologically about God, humanity and the world around us.
Stephen also drew attention to the Black Panther Theology Syllabus shared on the blog East of Midnight, and shared his own recommended starting points for exploring theology in and through sci-fi. When he then continued with further recommendations, he included The Sparrow and Children of God, as well as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
There’s also an interview with Ahmed Ragab about his class at Harvard Divinity School, which is called “The Empire Strikes Back: Science Fiction, Religion, and Society.” In it he says:
Science fiction is, in the modern and contemporary world, a key rhetoric of science. The production of scientific knowledge has worked hand-in-hand with science fiction.
For instance, in the course “The Empire Strikes Back,” which I co-teach with Prof. Sophia Roosth, we start with Johannes Kepler and how he tried to explain his astronomical theories in what some consider one of the earliest science fiction short stories: Somnium. Science fiction, in that sense, is a rhetoric of the future. And as both science and religion are connected to a particular understanding of the human future, science fiction becomes a key part of these discussions.
It’s a good time to be working on the intersection of science fiction and theology!