Friday, April 26, 2013

The Undead and Christian Theology

Not too long ago a friend contacted me and suggested that I submit a paper to be read at Azusa Pacific University’s upcoming Conference on Christianity and Literature, titled The Company of Others: Literary Collaboration and the Common Good. My friend knows that I write both non-fiction and fiction, and she was interested in having me produce a paper that deals with dark, supernatural stories and what place those stories have in literature that might be described as Christian.

So, because I don’t know how to say no to opportunities that are completely outside of my levels of competence, I agreed. The steering committee, for some bizarre reason, accepted my abstract. I share it with you now:

“Christians have long accepted the graphic accounts in scripture that describe horrific violence and bloodshed as part of the narrative of God’s work and mission in the world. Those stories carry into the text the tragic and gritty reality of evil, even when such evil is perpetrated by seemingly good people. The horror genre, as with others, contains the possibility of contrasting the good news of Jesus Christ with the dominant claims of evil and injustice. This paper argues that contemporary Christian horror literature personifies evil in characters ranging from the monstrous (e.g. vampires, zombies, werewolves) to the monstrously human (e.g. serial killers and other rogues), while at the same time embedding important theological themes. Without forcing a story into an allegory or an agenda, Christian writers can allow such themes to play out in a macabre tale without giving way to either gratuitous violence or unrealistic sanitization. Literature to be discussed includes Bram Stoker’s Dracula, C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, and Frank Peretti’s The Oath.”

Having written the abstract and realizing that it had been accepted and I was now on the program, I figured I’d better actually write the paper. It’s almost done now, but it has been a challenge to write something that is somewhat outside of my scope of qualification.

But I don’t read my work until the end of the conference, so it will be too late to kick me out if my paper is scandalous and I embarrass myself, which I’ve done before and it’s not really all that bad of an experience once you hit a certain age and merely find yourself and others amusing.

I’m grateful to my friend for extending the opportunity and I’m looking forward to hanging around with some big-brained literature people. I expect to learn a lot at the conference. I noticed that another person on my panel is reading his paper about the theology in zombie movies. He is from the same institution where I am employed. There might be a theme here . . .

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