How Is Religion Presented In His Dark Materials And Life Of Pi?

3280 words - 14 pages

How is religion presented in His Dark Materials (a trilogy) by Phillip Pullman and Life of Pi by Yann Martel?

The battle between humanity’s desire for truth and the simple power of faith has been persistent throughout history. Writers and poets alike have explored contradictions regarding the two forces, and questions regarding how they exist in parallel with each other are all the more relevant in modern day society, especially since the scientific breakthroughs of the 16th century. This conflict of ideas is an integral theme that remains at the centre of the events and decisions of protagonist Lyra in Phillip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, and the inquisitive Pi of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. As well as directly questioning the necessity of faith and belief, both works address the religion as a social construct, debating the morality behind why it exists, what it has been used for in society and how it should be viewed as a correspondence with progressive cultures of today. Martel focuses on the idea of personal faith, creating an isolated microcosmic idea of an individual’s quest for spiritual enlightenment, mirroring the turbulent religious identity in India during the 1970’s. Pullman follows a different approach. Using ambiguous settings combined with fantastical descriptions, he portrays a much more conceptual view on faith, transcending context and directly attacking the idea of organised religion.
In Life of Pi, Martel examines religion as both the act of believing in something, and the structured practice of such belief. He approaches the relationship between science and religion from the first chapter, promoting science’s equality as a belief besides the three religions he focuses on; Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. To do this, he incorporates a curiosity of both into Pi’s characterisation, and allows his narration to consider the two subjects. In chapter 1, Pi states that ‘Oxford is fifth on the list of cities’ he wants to visit before he dies, ‘after Mecca Varanasi [and] Jerusalem’. All these cities – apart from ‘Oxford’ – hold spiritual relevance to Pi as someone who’s interested in many religions: ‘Mecca’ is known as the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad, ‘Varanasi’ is regarded by Hindus as being a holy city and ‘Jerusalem’ is also considered a sacred place by Christianity, Judaism and Islam. ‘Oxford’, however, is deemed significant for an alternate reason – it is internationally viewed as being a heart for knowledge and research. This juxtaposition of ‘Oxford’ beside renowned religious cities is a way of Martel promoting, through Pi, the idea that the practice of science holds a similar level of importance as religion. Through Pi’s refusal to adopt a single religion, Martel could be referencing the multi-religious nature of India, which itself embraces a multitude of faiths. He then goes one step further, implying the necessity of embracing science as an equally regarded counter-belief in order to progress as a society....

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