Depicting Religion in Historical Fiction, presented by Stephanie Dray (Lily of the Nile), Kamran Pasha (Mother of the Believers) and Mary Sharratt (Daughters of the Witching Hill), and moderated by Teralyn Rose Pilgrim.
As you may know, I have written about Muslim, Jewish and Christian characters, so I'm particularly sensitive to this topic. I'm a huge admirer of author Sherry Jones, but each time I write part of the Sultana series, I can't help remembering the tribulations Sherry so graciously endured when her Jewel of Medina was published. How does an author tread the fine line between engaging readers and courting controversy by discussing religion in novels?
As the discussants all mentioned, religion matters. Belief has shaped society and given it purpose. Authors at times are afraid to offend or think the characters of various religions will seem almost alien and won't foster connections with readers. Stephanie talked about how ancient world religions are foreign to most, yet she discovered in writing about Cleopatra's daughter that Isis worship is a forerunner to Christianity and many would be surprised at how some of its practices mirror those of the past. Scandalous! Kamran, as a practicing Muslim, is quite conscious and sensitive to the need to write with authenticity about his own religion, as well as the others he depicts. The biggest takeaway he offered was about overcoming one's own prejudices to write about belief faithfully. In his words, "Be cool with what you got" which means that if you are grounded and comfortable in your own convictions as an author, you can write with ease about other religions. There is the image we each hold of a religion and then there is the experience of that belief system, two very diverse concepts. Mary suggested that in writing about religions, authors refrain from criticism of beliefs which diverge from their own; personal conviction should be treated with respect because everyone has different POVs. Sound advice.