Religious Disenchantment Narratives and the Arts Dissertation

May 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm 7 comments

My name is Philip Francis, a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity School, writing a dissertation on religious disenchantment narratives and the arts. I am posting here to see if there are any readers who would be willing to contribute to my project a short memoir of their experience of leaving the Christian fold, making particular note of the role of the arts, creativity, literature, beauty or aesthetic experience (broadly conceived) in this process.

This memoir could be sent to me directly at pfrancis@hds.harvard.edu or posted here. Questions about the project may also be directed to my email address.

The following are some basic guidelines and starter questions, but approach the writing anyway you like.

The memoir may be as short or long as you like and assume any form. It may be signed or anonymous.

Others have found it useful to structure their memoir as follows:

1. The Unsettling: reflect on your experience of the forces and factors that unsettled you from the system of beliefs and practices that you once held in a dogmatically unassailable manner. Were the arts in any way a part of this initial unsettling? Feel free to cite specific examples from the arts and literature, or your own creative projects.

2. The Liminality: reflect on your experience of the initial transition away from your previous system of beliefs and practices, the in-between space. Was there a time in which you had begun to disavow your previous religious beliefs and practices but had not yet established a new set of beliefs and practices? What was it like to dwell in that liminal, in-between space? Did the arts play a role in this phase?

3. The loss of faith: reflect on the experience of losing religious faith all together, or losing faith in a particular set of beliefs and practices, or a certain vision of God. And/or reflect on the various kinds of losses incurred in this process of disenchantment with Christianity (or some aspect of it). In all these experiences, was loss negotiated in any way by recourse to the arts, creativity and aesthetic experience?

4.The aftermath: reflect on your experience of the aftermath of disenchantment with Christianity (or with some other form of religious belief and practice). Have you found new forms of faith and practice? Have you found it unnecessary to construct new, fixed, systems of belief? Did your relationship to religious doubt, uncertainty and mystery change over the course of this experience?

What is the role of the arts in the aftermath of these experiences? Have the arts assumed any of the roles once played by your previous forms of religious faith?

In all aspects of this memoir I am most interested in hearing about your lived experience, not merely your rational, theological or philosophical justifications for leaving Christianity (or other), although I recognize that it is not always easy to separate the two.

Thanks very much for your contribution to this project.

All the best,

- Philip (pfrancis@hds.harvard.edu)

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The de-Convert  |  May 17, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Philip,

    You can browse through the de-conversion stories posted on this blog via this link

    Paul

  • 2. Lucian  |  May 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    My, my, so many reflections… what’s this? An atheist rosary of some sorts?

  • 3. orDover  |  May 17, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    I’d like to know more about this project. Specifically, what Philip is wishing to prove or demonstrate, and his stake in the work. Is he a Christian?

  • 4. Sabio  |  May 17, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I second orDover — how about some disclosure on the part of the researcher !

  • 5. Philip Francis  |  May 17, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for the responses. I am happy to answer any questions about the project.

    I am of no religious conviction and, at this point, am not trying to ‘prove’ anything.

    I am hoping to understand the lived experience of de-conversion and the instrumental role that the arts sometimes play in this process. Rather than begin with abstract theses or philosophical axes to grind, I am trying to being with an open mind, to gather memoirs from those who have experienced these things first hand and to learn from their experience.

    If this is something you would be willing to help with, please feel free to respond with a post or send me a direct email: pfrancis@hds.harvard.edu. Thanks. PF

  • 6. Laura Sutton  |  May 18, 2009 at 1:40 am

    This study is really interesting. I feel like i’m reading a real-life Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s books.

  • 7. Blue  |  May 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    This project intrigued me enough to think back to when I left the “fold” and some of the motivations for doing so. I’d like to first give some background of my Christian past and then move on to what happened later. Without further ado.

    I grew up in a mixed home. My father is agnostic and pretty much just a non believer in anything. My mother is extremely Christian focused and has ran the gamut in evangelical belief groups. I grew up first off in the Assembly of God denomination in a very small church. It eventually broke off from AoG and joined the Vineyard movement, becoming very charismatic. When that church faded my mother and I split our time between a nondenominational church in the same extreme charismatic flavor, and a mega church style Assembly of God when I started voicing an opinion about avoiding the charismatic stuff. i spent all my school at the same private nondenominational school (Presbyterian based to an extent) K-12. Bible of course was a required class.

    My senior year of high school I was exposed to the idea of predestination and some of the calvinist doctrine of TULIP. This started to disturb me because if God predestined who would be saved, and who would be damned, then He wasn’t a Holy Loving God, no abba father, but a stern and not to nice creator. That didn’t fit in with the music I loved to sing in church. I have always had a love of science and began reading up on stars and the distances involved. This led to me questioning creationism that was taught to me, a young earth style. I eventually started questioning everything I knew about Christianity and eventually realized that praying, the one solace I had left, was just me speaking to myself in the comfort of my own head. People, friends and family and even strangers, were who would help me, comfort me, challenge me, and even bring me to justice.

    So I became an agnostic. I was still terrified at the back of my skull of being wrong. What if there was a hell? What if I was wrong? I began studying other religions and discovered how very similar they are in ways. Christianity was not as unique as I thought it was. And that hurt, you know? It hurt to have that world view revealed to be false. I was lost, still having a yearning for a spiritual life, for a connection to the divine. Some days I still would like there to be something…magical out there for me to connect to. I even started practicing eclectic Wicca for a few years, though I found the idea of magick laughable and useless, I loved the spirituality and connection with nature, and even more so, connection with gods and goddesses that are connected to us, not remote like the Christian God so often is portrayed in the teachings of that faith.

    From an arts perspective, I read a lot of hard sci-fi and philosophy. These started showing me the way to think critically and look at the world in a reasonable way. The Matrix, and I know this is such a kitsch moment, along with Vanilla Sky showed me something I want to the depth of my being. I want to open my eyes to the real world. Ever read “The Wizard of Oz”, and the part about the Emerald City? The Wizard makes everyone wear glasses of emerald to see the city as he wants it to be. I don’t ever want to have my vision, my reason obscured again, be it man or god.

    Eventually after a few great philosophy courses, an awakening and walking away from a serious drug habit, a stint in AA, I finally looked at the evidence, read sites like here at de-conversion, asked some serious questions of Christian apologists, some neo-pagan friends, an Imam and realized I’m atheist. Not an atheist, just atheist. Atheist isn’t my worldview, if anything I’d call myself an absurdist existentialist. I don’t doubt, but I’m willing to question atheism. If I find a god out there, I’d love to give them a good long look.

    However one thing that I do regret with my atheism. I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for years. Its an off and on project, who knows if it’ll ever be done, keeps me happy though. But darn it, its really made rewrite a lot, trying to put in gods and the mystical that stands up to the way I look at life now.

    Best,

    Blue
    Reply

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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