Take Five--Can religion be a topic we discuss?
Surprisingly the answer is yes (should I run and hide...look for a new job now?). I really don't think so. Through our reading of Life of Pi, our main character searches out three religions: Hinduism (one he grew up with), Catholicism, and the Muslim faith. But, even before he starts his own religious searching, he meets with a biology teacher he loves, only to discover he is an atheist. I was nervous about these topics and wondered how students would handle the discussion.
And, before the novel even begins, the narrator, in the prologue, interviews a man in India that tells the narrator he needs to go meet a man named Piscene because his story will "make you believe in God." What a statement. Two chapters later, we hear Pi discussing his thesis study of the sloth and that they (this lazy, slow-moving, unobservant creature) remind him of God. Had I lost my mind to ask the students' interpretations? Should I only cover safe topics and move on quickly?
I realized to really understand this novel, we need to understand Pi and Martel's use of animals, religion, nature, etc. So, I asked the questions. And, the students responded with conviction to what they saw in the text and how they related it to their own life. They discussed God, atheism, religion, ethics of zoos...all with thoughtful observations, but ones that were not demoralizing to a certain faith. They continue to link the discussion to the text and information they brought to class about the Bible, mythical stories, biology, and other religions. I had hoped that seniors would be able to handle this conversation sincerely, honestly, and carefully. They have and I am seeing their critical thinking churning. What a fascinating journey!