Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why are religious thrillers so popular?

Umberto Eco - Foucault's PendulumImage by Ross_Angus via Flickr
It all started, or so we think, with Dan Brown. He wrote a religious thriller that kept the reading world in thrall for more than just a couple of months. Whether he started something or not is a moot point. Before The Da Vinci Code, there were The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco. And a long time before that, books such as The Devil's Advocate by Andrew Neiderman. Even G K Chesterton wrote one: The Man who was Thursday.

These books are appealing to a certain kind of audience, and some of them are controversial enough to stay in the bestseller list for such a long time, that the whole world gets curious. What is it about religious thrillers that makes them so engaging?

First of all, they explore one of the fundamental human urges: the impulse to worship. They also tackle the dichotomy between knowledge and belief. And they add to the perpetual question humans have been asking about existence since the time they started to figure stuff out. Is there a higher power or force? Is it likely an almighty, all-seeing all-knowing God exists? And if there is a God, is it likely to be the intervening kind?

Together with those questions are linked others to do with worship, religion and faith. Stacked upon which, of course, come the history of the various religions, their intersections and debacles, and their testimonies in the way of sacred writings. The wars, crusades, iconoclasts, inquisitions, schisms and other historical events add to the perplexing puzzles that make anything religious extremely interesting, very intriguing, highly debatable and not only a little controversial.

So it is no wonder that writers have taken on - at various times during the history of literature and the telling of stories in writing - some of these religious aspects and used them as background to novels. It is no wonder because humans always marvel, debate and think about these aspects - they will never go away. They continue to perplex and excite people, so writing a thriller with such ingredients is bound to attract readers who have wondered and debated.

To those who are knowledgeable about religious topics, and also to those who know less about religious aspects but love a good thrilling read, this kind of book is a fascinating way to combine entertainment with polemic. It is an engaging way to investigate and explore the deeper questions in a lighter way.

I would love to hear what you think about the popularity of religious thrillers. Leave your opinion now.
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  1. Well said, Rosanne. Every genre of literature has its followers and some emerge to become more popular at certain times. Looking forward to ATL.

  2. Am I the only person who doesn't like religious thrillers? There aren't many of us who haven't read Dan Brown. I did try, but it wasn't to my taste. I far prefer your blogs!

  3. Margaret SutherlandMarch 18, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    Thoughtful comments on a currently popular genre. As you say, humans have always looked for something 'higher'; but as for the thriller aspect, we move into the goodies/baddies genre,pretty remote from my own life but maybe you will change my mind with your new book?

  4. Well, Noels, Anna and Margaret: as we have seen, there are variations even within genres, but a book with such a topic certainly gets people talking. I had fun researching and writing ATL - I hope my readers have as much fun reading it.

  5. For thousands of years, mankind has had a love-hate relationship with its several thousand gods (most now long forgotten deities that held the world in their divine grip). To weave this relationship into a thriller has massive appeal.

    I do like to see some honestly, though, and three-dimensional characters and a mystery built on falsibiable fact rather than Brown's cardboard cutout casts, far-fetched notions that have long since been proven utterly false, and claims to special knowledge held by organisations he falsely claims to exist.

    This is what sets Rosanne's upcoming 'According to Luke' far, far ahead in the field of religious fiction with its believable and thoroughly modern characters, reasoned doubt of deeply held faiths, challenge without bitterness, sound research to provide facts from which to hang its story lines ... and a darned thrilling tale and complex romance to boot.

    An outstanding piece of work. Neil

  6. Thank you - the research took literally years, the writing took months, and the fixing-up took ages,as it should, so I am delighted you found it special, Neil.

  7. I haven't read any of those you mentioned except for the Da Vinci Code which I thought was the most boring book out.I found it badly written with as Neil said cardboard cut out characters.I would not bother reading another of his. I have read a couple of others but couldn't tell you the name of them, so they obviously didn't inspire me greatly enough to stick in the mind.But I'm looking forward to reading yours Rosanne.

  8. The reason that religious thrillers work so well is that they allow a mystery of the past to infuse the present with an urgent and controversial issue. Whilst this is played out through the novel's actions, the present situation can only be resolved when the historical mystery is revealed. That interplay between past and present is very fertile. It actually does not have to involve religion, but religion works very well as a vehicle for that kind of multi-dimensional plot dynamic.

  9. Dale, I'm absolutely sure you'll enjoy it.

    Hugo, that is an acute and analytical observation. Yes - interplay between past and present is something I often use in my fiction.

  10. ian Mathie ( author of the African Memoir series)August 6, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    I've read most of the books you cited and I've also read According to Luke. I have to say that this last one goes to the top of my list becasue it not only offers insights into the religion at the core of the story, it is willing to address fundamentsl questions of interest and to do so in a well thought out way. Crafted arouind a brilliant story, this book has the capacity to send tremors through the Catholic Church, all the more so because the attention to detail in the research was so sharp. It may not yet have achieved the world acclaim it should have, but translate it into italian, Spanish and Portuguese and make it available to Catholics worldwide and it soon will.
    Religion is about the mystery and about faith but people today are more enquiring than they were two thousand years ago. Wanting to explore alternative interpretations of their faith is no longer heresy, it is seeking deeper meaning. Religious thrillers, well written, give people the opportunity to do this. Some, like ATL, have the capacity to shake traditional thinking.