Taking as its starting-point the ambiguous heritage left by the British Empire to its former colonies, dominions and possessions,
And the Birds Began to Sing marks a new departure in the interdisciplinary study of religion and literature. Gathered under the rubric Christianity and Colonialism, essays on Brian Moore. Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood and Marian Engel, Thomas King, Les A. Murray, David Malouf, Mudrooroo and Philip McLaren, R.A.K. Mason, Maurice Gee, Keri Hulme, Epeli Hau'ofa, J.M. Coetzee, Christopher Okigbo, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola and Ngugi wa Thiong'o explore literary portrayals of the effects of British Christianity upon settler and native cultures in Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and the Africas. These essays share a sense of the dominant presence of Christianity as an inherited system of religious thought and practice to be adapted to changing post-colonial conditions or to be resisted as the lingering ideology of colonial times. In the second section of the collection, Empire and World Religions, essays on Paule Marshall and George Lamming, Jean Rhys, Olive Senior and Caribbean poetry, V.S. Naipaul, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and Bharati Mukherjee interrogate literature exploring relations between the scions of British imperialism and religious traditions other than Christianity. Expressly concerned with literary embodiments of belief-systems in post-colonial cultures (particularly West African religions in the Caribbean and Hinduism on the Indian subcontinent), these essays also share a sense of Christianity as the pervasive presence of an ideological rhetoric among the economic, social and political dimensions of imperialism. In a polemical Afterword, the editor argues that modes of reading religion and literature in post-colonial cultures are characterised by a theodical preoccupation with a praxis of equity.
Interweaving the interpretative methods of religious studies, literary criticism and cultural geography, the essays in this volume focus on issues associated with the representation of place and space in the writing and reading of the postcolonial. The collection charts the ways in which contemporary writers extend and deepen our awareness of the ambiguities of economic, social and political relations implicated in “sacred space” - the sense of spiritual significance associated with those concrete locations in which adherents of different religious traditions, past and present, maintain a ritual sense of the sanctity of life and its cycles. Part I, “Land, Religion and Literature after Britain,” explores how postcolonial writers dramatize the contested processes of colonization, resistance and decolonization by which lands and landscapes may be viewed as now sacred, now desacralized, now resacralized. Part II, “Sacred Landscapes and Postcoloniality across International Literatures,” draws upon postcolonial theory to inquire into how contemporary fiction, drama and poetry represent themes of divine dispensation, dispossession and reclamation in regions as diverse as Haiti, Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Arctic, and the North American frontier. A critical “Afterword” considers the implications of such multi-disciplinary approaches to postcolonial literatures for present and future research in the field. Writers discussed in the essays include Russell Banks; James K. Baxter; Ursula Bethell; Erna Brodber; Marcus Clarke; Allen Curnow; Edwidge Danticat; Mak Dizdar; Sara Jeannette Duncan; Zee Edgell; “Grey Owl”; Haruki Murakami; Seamus Heaney; Peter Høeg; Hugh Hood; Janette Turner Hospital; James Houston; Dany Laferrière; B. Kojo Laing; Lee Kok Liang; K.S. Maniam; Mudrooroo; R.K. Narayan; Ngugi wa Thiong'o; Ben Okri; Chava Pinchas-Cohen; Mary Prince; Nancy Prince; Nayantara Sahgal; Ken Saro-Wiwa; Ibrahim Tahir; Amos Tutuola; W.D. Valgardson; Derek Walcott; and Rudy Wiebe. Maps accompany almost every essay.