Sep 5, 2016
Where's the faith in YA? - Safah @ Ink Stained Lungs || Diverse Reads 2016
Today we have a thought provoking discussion on the inclusion of faith in YA by the wonderful Safah, over at Ink Stained Lungs!
Diversity has been a hot topic in the literature world, especially in the last few years, and it seems to me that YA has been the bravest in exploring different viewpoints outside of the so called ‘norm’. But while some kinds of diversity are seeing a rise in representation, others are often avoided – one of which is religion. About a month ago a teen blogger wrote for The Guardian about the political correctness of young adult books, noting that ‘it seems as though there are certain tacitly agreed-upon topics on which the boundaries of representation can be pushed…but others which authors are much more reluctant to address,’ and faith seems to be one of them.
It isn’t difficult to understand why – for a lot of religious people, faith forms the biggest part of their identity, it’s viewed as sacred, which makes it all the more sensitive of a topic to write about. But it’s the twenty first century – fear of getting it wrong isn’t a good enough excuse to photo-shop religion out of the picture, especially given that such movements are actually rising in many parts of the world. However, when we go about discussing how to bring religion to the fictional stage, there are some points we need to bear in mind:
1. Research is key – While authors who have been brought up in a particular religion might be more knowledgeable when it comes to writing about that particular faith, the topic should be open to authors from all walks of life. However, in these cases it is so important to speak to the communities you want to write about, and do as much in depth research as you can. Sometimes, poor representation is worse than no representation at all.
2. There is no such thing as a default – Both readers and writers alike need to understand that religions are never homogenous. Within one faith there are dozens of different sects and schools of thought, to such an extent that two different sects within one religion can seem worlds apart in theology. It is important for writers to avoid generalizations, but also for readers to understand that one book’s take on a faith will not necessarily be the same as another, and that doesn’t make either incorrect – just different, and religions are full of wonderful diversity in their own right. It should be embraced.
3. It takes time – Something like this can’t happen overnight. And it can’t happen with just a few stories every year. Time and strength in numbers is necessary for YA to succeed in being as diverse in its representation of religion as it is in… its various versions of the same love triangle. (Cheap shot I know, but I had to) My point is, this is something we need to keep going with, stick to – as we should with other forms of diversity too.
The world’s changing, growing, and it’s a beautiful thing - religion doesn’t have to be at odds with it. But if there’s ever going to be world-changing dialogue between people of different faiths or no faith at all, we need to stop being afraid of our differences, and instead, talk about them, write about them, place them between the pages of our stories, and bring them out of the dark.