Religion and Romance

I’ve been thinking about blogging on this topic for well over a year. No, seriously. I just keep getting overwhelmed by the subject and the multiple audiences and various different things that I think about it, so I don’t know where to start. But now I have a plan! It’s not a brilliant plan, but at least it will mean I say something, even if I don’t say everything and don’t say it perfectly. The plan is to make this a series of posts, coming at the subject from different angles, rather than trying to form one coherent thesis.

Teach Me Tonight blogged about Romance and Religion several years ago. The post mentions a number of ways in which romance novels relate to religion:

1. to advance a religious agenda
2. to give deeper meaning or significance to romance
3. to offer an imagined or recovered religion

Go and read the post. It explains what these mean much better than I could. The novels that come under (1) more or less correspond to the inspirational subgenre of romance. I think (3) is possibly most common in paranormal/fantasy, although they also give interesting examples of ‘self-help theology’ found in contemporaries. (2) is very interesting, since it suggests that religious discourse can be used in almost any romance novel as a way of heightening its meaning without explicitly invoking a religious setting or religious faith for the characters.

Mostly, I’m more interested in non-inspirational romance, since that’s what I prefer to read. I’m also interested in characters who have faith (and their absence). I’m also interested in the way that romance draws on theological themes – and vice versa. So far, I have plans for posts on:

The secularisation of Romanceland (aka Why are there no Muslim sheikhs?)
Reading the Christian gospel as romance, and reading romances as gospel allegories
The limited religious world of ‘inspirational’ romance
The revirgination of Israel and the virgin heroine

If you have ideas for other related blog posts, I’d love to hear them. There was a call for papers on the subject from JPRS a while back, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing the results of that at some point.

The other reason I’ve procrastinated for so long about these posts is because I am painfully aware of my limitations. So this post is mostly by way of a disclaimer.

I do read (and write) romance. But I am pretty picky about what I read. Specifically, I read a fair bit of category romance, some historical romance, and a sprinkling of single-title contemporaries. I don’t read any paranormal, SFF, UF, YA, NA, romantic suspense or any other subgenre you can think of. I can’t speak for the whole genre and I’m not going to try. I’m not planning to do a whole lot of research, because these are blog posts, not an academic paper. I’ll just be talking about what I’ve noticed in my reading. I’m very willing to be corrected and to have the discussion widened by those who know the genre more deeply and broadly than I do.

I am a Christian. My faith informs what I do, what I read and what I write. And because Christians do not all have an identical experience of faith, it may also be relevant that I am British, that I’m an Anglican, that I’m reformed and conservative. I work for a church part-time, and I’ve spent the past 11 years in theological education at various seminaries (yes, I’m a slow learner). I am not an expert in religious studies and although I know something about some other faiths than my own, that knowledge is patchy, limited and theoretical. I can’t speak about all faiths with equal knowledge and insight, and again, I’m very willing to be corrected and to have the discussion widened by people with expertise beyond mine.

In the meantime, here’s AAR’s list of romances featuring characters of faith in case you want to get ahead with the reading. If you have any other suggestions of romances I should be reading while I think about these issues, I’d love to hear them.

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