It’s January. That’s perhaps not all that surprising. It’s also early January. Which means, for some of us, we have entered that liminal stage between Christmas break and beginning a new semester. This time, for me at least, is usually filled with anxieties. There’s something about having no ‘real’ responsibilities that generates an incessant need to ‘do something.’ This, coupled with the notion that at the start of the year one must equally resolve to achieve some sort of important something within the year to follow, means planning.
For the year to come I have planned a number of what I hope will be intriguing and fun posts: an interpretation of New Atheism viewed through a unique filter; a three-part theoretical look at how disappointment assists in our development of the meaning of religion, as well as alters our means of religious identification; a correlative look at zombies and secularisation; the links between Atheism and types of ‘fiction;’ judicial definitions of Atheism as discourse; a brief look at Ethnographic Criticism and how it re-interprets our notions of authenticity and accuracy in describing ‘others;’ as well as many others.
Yet, as can be expected, there will of course be additions here that pop up unexpectedly. Such a thing occurred this week as I was putting together a post on Ryan Bell’s ‘year without God’ (which will be posted next week). As I began writing that up I thought instead that this week, the first post of the year, would perhaps afford a better opportunity to not only look back on an experience I truly enjoyed from last year, but also provide the chance to get a bit more nuance about what Everything is Fiction is all about. Which, of course, begins with a story.
Just prior to my moving to Edinburgh in September 2011, I flew out for a few days the previous April to meet my supervisor and get an idea about both the University and the city-at-large. After our brief meeting, I was invited to sit in on the final presentations of the bi-annual New College Post-Graduate Conference, which I gladly accepted. When we arrived at Martin Hall, the last speaker had already begun, so we snuck in quietly and sat in the back. This was my first experience listening to Christopher Cotter as he discussed his paper on New Atheism. Later, as a few of us adjourned to The Wash, one of the local drinking establishments we have frequented religiously over the last few years (and for many years prior to my arrival), I made the acquaintance of David Robertson, a friend and colleague of Chris.’ They each have their own blogs, which can be accessed here: Chris and David. As well, these two have successfully and graciously given us The Religious Studies Project, a one-stop shop for all things pertinent to the method and theory in the study of religion. Each week, the RSP posts a podcast recording of an interview conducted with an academic who discusses his or her research in the study of religion. It is, for me at least, an ideal place to access the discourse on the study of religion.
On occasion I have had the great privilege to participate in a number of these recordings, particularly roundtable sessions where a group of us discuss issues in the field of religious studies, usually whilst drinking. One of these recent experiences, though the drinking took place after, rather than during, was held at the University of Chester after Chris and David gave a workshop on the ‘Digital Humanities,’ and David conducted an interview with Dr. Alana Vincent. The roundtable was chaired by Chris, and included Dr Wendy Dossett, Prof. Elaine Graham, Dr Dawn Llewellyn, and Dr Alana Vincent. The theme was on narrative and reflexivity in the study of religion, and Chris and David felt that perhaps I might have something to contribute, given my interests in the use of fiction in the study and teaching of religion, as well as my criticisms on where we might draw the line between authenticity and authority in our use of particular textual sources. For this I was, and am, quite thankful.
I found the discussion not only exciting, engaging, and fun, but cathartic. It was incredibly refreshing to have the opportunity to discuss, out loud, the topics, themes, and points I’d been thinking and writing about ever since I sat down to write my Thesis. Not only that, but the other individuals involved each provided some excellent feedback and points to consider. In fact, this roundtable could not have come at a more fortuitous time. I had just finished the full draft of the thesis, and was taking a few days off before conducting the initial round of edits. So not only was I already obsessively thinking about these topics, I was likewise in the mindset perhaps best suited for feedback.
In our discussion, my catchy catch-phrase ‘Everything is Fiction’ comes up quite frequently, which I was of course quite happy about. As well, I think the way we discuss some of the ways this phrase might be interpreted do a bit more justice than I might do here (which is also a forthcoming post). So, please do listen (or rather, watch) and enjoy.
To conclude this sort of New Years’ tangential look back, I am reminded again about timing. In fact, when I really think about it, the timing of this roundtable was somewhat like my first meeting Chris and David, designed in such a way as if like the plot of some larger story. Which, I suppose, provides even more evidence to the idea that everything is, indeed, fiction.