While most of you know by now that I’m an English Literature major at Belmont University, you probably don’t know that I’m actually double majoring; English Literature, of course, and Religion & the Arts with a concentration in photography. From the beginning of high school on, I’ve always had an interest in religion and I chose Belmont because of its unique School of Religion. After taking a British Literature class my sophomore year (of course it was British literature), I knew I had to be a literature major so I officially added it right before junior year and I haven’t looked back.
Although literature is and always will be dear to my heart, the study of religion has always been “my thing.” As a person who comes from the Christian tradition, I have always been interested in the ways Christianity defined God and his nature. Most recently I have been taking a class titled “Spirituality in World Religions,” and during the class we visit the sacred spaces of the five main world religions. It is amazing to discover the depth and richness of other religious traditions, and the beauty found in other religions’ worship of God is astonishing. Religion and spirituality are two aspects of life that bring all people together, although they are certainly not always seen this way.
Religion was important to Jane Austen as well. Although she only directly references religion in Mansfield Park, choosing instead to leave her own religious opinions out of her work, she was a member of the Church of England and her own religious tradition was quite important to her. While she was steadfast in her faith, Austen was wary of Evangelicals and believed religion to be a more private affair.
While many could successfully argue that Austen never writes religiously, I tend to disagree. She is known for her realism and social commentary, both of which are important to the understanding of humanity then and now. To write about the society around her was to explore the very nature of life as she knew it, which can speak to many on a spiritual level.
My favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner, wrote, “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
I believe that Jane Austen truly listened to her life and the lives of the people around her. She questioned the social practices of her time and wrote about the things in life that interested, confused, excited, and bothered her. This attitude towards literature might not be explicitly religious, but I am convinced that it is just as important to know and understand the nature of life as it is to “preach” the truth.