Teens Can Write, Too!

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Religious Diversity in YA Lit

Dear TCWT readers,

Today, in conjunction with some recent Ch1Con chats and our January TCWT blog chain, I want to talk to y’all about a very important topic to me: religion in YA! I think we all agree that religion (or recognizing a lack of religious belief) matters a lot to most people at some point in their lives. Religion, like race and gender and friends and family, is an aspect of our real human lives that can and should contribute to the creation of whole and realistic characters.

So why, then, is religion so undermentioned in YA literature? And why, when it is shown, is it portrayed as a hindrance to the character, something keeping them locked in stifling tradition and unable to live a full and well rounded life? Yes, for some people, religion is stifling and it does hold them back, but for some, it’s the complete opposite. Both of these experiences (and so many more) should be valued and realistically portrayed in literature. That’s what stories are for, after all — sharing all experiences fairly so everyone gets a chance to understand.

I know that I can be guilty, in my stories, of not portraying other experiences of religion fairly. I sometimes let my own positive opinion of religion get in the way of realistically showing my characters — but that’s okay. It’s just another aspect of editing I have to get into as I work towards building a better story.

So today I wanted to remind you of that, that we can (and do) have preconceived notions of what religion is, but we have to remember that our characters may have a very different experience with it then we do. Religion, after all, is deeply personal. It would be a truly impossible task, in my opinion, to portray me realistically as a character without including my religion; though not the only part of my personality, being a Muslim is easily the most important.

Which leads to an important question to ask as you incorporate religion into your characters identity: what religion are they, how strongly, and why? How much does it affect your world? In general, there are two ways to incorporate diversity in your book: the first is diversity that’s just a part of the character without being the main focus, and the second is diversity that becomes a main aspect of the story. Whichever way you choose, it’s important to diversify your fiction — in religion as well as other aspects.

Even though this is more easily applied to realistic fiction, fantasy writers like myself are not off the hook! If anything, we’re even more culpable because we can create our own religions, free of the restrictions of our own, which are made specifically for our worlds and which compliment the struggles and triumphs of our characters. With this, we must consider questions like: how is religion handled in this world? Is your character expected to be religious or is it no big deal?

In basis, religion is another important tool in the author’s tool belt to help shape your character. Of course, you don’t always have to use this tool. Don’t feel pressured to include religion in your story! Just remember that to show a very sincere and grounded story, you have to include all the aspects of a persons identity. I, personally, find seeing religion through the lens of a character a truly insightful and beautiful experience: whether they love or hate their religion, struggle in faith or have firm resolve.

Always remember, your character is yours but their journey with religion doesn’t have to reflect yours. They’ve got an experience all their own.

This is Aisha, signing off for now! Comment below and tell me what you think about religion in YA.

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About hijabionhilltop

Aisha Monet is a writer who spends the majority of her time having deep conversations about rainbows, discussing all the ways the gender binary has failed us, and walking around Capitol Hill in sweatshirts that are way too big for her. You can find her at your local bus station filling in her eyebrows and writing poetry about stars.

12 comments on “Religious Diversity in YA Lit

  1. Alyssa
    January 31, 2015

    I normally shy away from religions because a, I’m still uncertain about how I feel about it, and b, I worry it’s dangerous territory to offend someone. But I remember reading this interview with Joss Whedon about Steve’s line, “There’s only one God, ma’am,”, and that even though he’s not Christian, Steve is. That’s one thing to work on in my personal WNDB goals.

    • aishamonet
      February 7, 2015

      My grandmother always says, “You are going to offend someone no matter what you do, so you mine as well do what you like.”, and I’d have to agree with her. Whether we add or chose to not to add religion into our works someone is always going to find something wrong with what we do, but it’s important to show realistic characters and that’s the authors job, trying to please all people is not.
      And that is a really good example! It’s a statement that you would expect from someone like Captain A and that’s really what my whole post was about.
      Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Heather
    February 1, 2015

    I think, like Alyssa said, this is something I sometimes struggle with because I don’t want to offend someone, and I also feel like sometimes this would be a turnoff for readers. I mean, in a fantasy series like The Grisha Trilogy, even though the religion resembles some of the religions we have here in the real world, it’s technically fake and less likely to offend someone. Also, I feel like a lot of teens are stifled by religion and if they see that religion is something I love, they’re going to immediately assume that I’m a prude or that I’m insane. Or, if I include one religion over another, that I’m being exclusive—as important as it is to be diverse I do not think I could write a book with every religion in the world in it. It’s just one of those touchy subjects I love to learn about but am afraid to write about because despite what people say, you can be very wrong, and you can ruin it very fast. *sigh*

    Still, thanks for putting a positive note on religion, because yes, we should talk about a lot of different ones, and we should not simply throw away religion, and that’s something I’d like to work towards, with a little more practice. 🙂

    • aishamonet
      February 7, 2015

      You have no idea how much your comment speaks to my very soul! I was terrified of putting religion into my work but ultimately..it is MY work and I’m the one who has to be happy with it at the end of the day.
      Lol I think it would be a huge mistake to try and put a piece from every religion into a novel! And also I might add, not very realistic. We don’t normally meet one person from every religion in our day to day lives.
      I recently read The Girl of Fire and Thorns and religion was portrayed very realistically, I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to see an example of how you could portray religion in your novels.

  3. Julia Byers
    February 1, 2015

    Surprise, surprise, I wholly agree with you. Great post, Aisha!

    • aishamonet
      February 7, 2015

      Thank you, Julia. *blushes*

  4. I’m atheist, so religion is a topic I don’t know much about. That’s mostly why I don’t write it in my novels. It also isn’t really a big aspect for my novel. For example, my first completed novel was about bloggers and meeting each other at a convention and then a bit of a love story. There wasn’t really any room for religion.
    I would, however, like to do some extensive research on a religion other than Christianity [because there is a whole genre for this religion] and write a book where the MC is quite religious. I think it would be a really good challenge for me.

    • aishamonet
      February 7, 2015

      I also don’t know much about atheism! But I do love researching so hopefully when I have atheists in my future novels they will be accurate representations of the atheist community.
      Oh of course religion isn’t something that needs to be in every novel! Just a little reminder that sometimes it might be nice to through some diversity in there.
      if you would ever like to talk/learn more about Islam, hit me up anytime!!

  5. Pingback: Writing Advice, Agent Interviews, Teen Authors, And More | Teens Can Write, Too!

  6. themagicviolinist
    February 4, 2015

    I love these diversity discussions! 🙂 Religion is a tricky one for me, because I’m not religious, therefore it’s not something I always think to include. All of my characters are either strict atheists/agnostics or their religion/lack thereof is not mentioned. I have no problem with religious characters in the books I read, whether it be a religion they’re happy with or one that they struggle with, but I do hate when it’s shoved in my face. I don’t want the author to be preachy. I don’t want to be converted. I want to be open and introduced to new religions and cultures, but I don’t want the author to force me to necessarily like it or believe it.

    I do think it’d be fun to research and explore a new religion, though. 🙂 Christians get a lot of attention in fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with Hindu or Muslim character.

    • aishamonet
      February 7, 2015

      I absolutely hate when religion is shoved in your face because I didn’t read this book to be converted, right? I read it cause it seemed cool. Its actually a big turn off for me in a book. So I completely agree with you on this!
      I just love reading books with religion, I don’t know it’s just,, It just makes me super happy.

  7. erinkenobi2893
    February 8, 2015

    My little post on diversification and religious affiliation/activeness as a character tool has borne fruit! *sniff* *sniff* I’m so happy! :’-)

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