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Miller's Canticle, set in a Catholic monastery in post-apocalyptic Utah, remains one of the most important examples of religious science fiction.
This list contains 34,420 citations from literature (primarily science fiction and fantasy novels and stories) referring to actual churches, religions and tribes. This list is intended for literary research only. This is not a source of information about religion.
Which source material has been indexed? This database is not comprehensive in that all works of science fiction have not been indexed. But this may be thought of as a sampling. Much of the literature currently indexed was chosen simply because it was available at the local library. Additionally, certain non-arbitrary collections of literature have been indexed:
Hugo Award-winning novels (100% complete)
Nebula Award-winning novels (100% complete)
Locus Award-winning s.f. novels (100% complete)
Locus Award-winning dark fantasy/horror novels (100% complete)
Amazon.com's "25 Best sf/f novels of the century" (100% complete)
All stories in The Modern Classics of Science Fiction (Dozois) and The Norton Book of Science Fiction (Le Guin)
Campbell Award-winning books (100% of 1st place winners and 89% of 2nd and 3rd place winners have been indexed)
Star Trek: Voyager novels (92% complete); DS9 novels (88%); TNG novels (73%); New Frontier novels (100%)
World Fantasy Award-winning novels (85% complete)
Tiptree Award winners (65% complete)
Locus Award-winning fantasy novels (63% complete)
Philip K. Dick Award-winning novels (45% complete)
X-Men novels (44% complete)
Over 350 other novels and anthologies
At the close of 2000, 69 different novels have won the Hugo or Nebula award (some won both). 26 novels have won the Campbell Award. (A total of 84 books have won Campbell awards if one counts 2nd and 3rd place Campbell awards in addition to 1st place.) 20 novels have won the Philip K. Dick award. A total of 133 awards have been given for the Nebula or Hugo best novel, the 1st place Campbell award, or the Philip K. Dick award. These 133 awards have gone to 110 distinct books (many have won multiple awards).
Note that only Engish-language works have been indexed. The "Works Indexed" page lists all novels and stories indexed for the database.
As the list below indicates, certain religious groups are mentioned in science fiction more often than others. For instance, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam, and of course Christianity in general, are frequently mentioned religious groups. Many English-language science fiction novels feature in-depth literary exploration or detailed depictions of real-life religious cultures. Nearly always this is done within the Western Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, most often with Catholicism. In addition to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the two religions which round out the "Big Five"--Hinduism and Buddhism--are mentioned frequently, but almost always briefly and in passing. These patterns are not surprising and reflect the background of most English-language authors. Other contemporary religions, including Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Jainism, and the Baha'i faith, are referred to very rarely.
The primary factors determining which religious groups are referred to most often are:
the religious affiliation of authors (There are more Catholic SF/F writers than Protestant, which is one of the reasons there are more references to Catholicism than Protestantism.)
which religions have many adherents (Islam is mentioned frequently in futuristic literature, because many non-Muslim writers envision Muslims as a distinct and important people far into the future.)
which religions are interesting and culturally distinctive (Many SF/F writers mention Latter-day Saints specifically, but few mention Presbyterians.)
It may also be mentioned that time travel and alternative history stories are more likely to contain references to Catholicism than any other religion because the Catholic Church was the dominant institution during many of the key periods of historical, intellectual and technological development in Western history, and most SF/F writers are from a Western background. After the European Enlightenment period and the Protestant Reformation the link between church and state was much weaker in the West. Accordingly, religion features less prominently in most time travel and alternative history stories after that period.
Once again, this list is intended for literary research. Many references to religious groups within science fiction and fantasy literature are positive or neutral. But many references are negative. This is not necessarily a reflection of the religious groups, but of the nature of the writers and of mainstream literature. The science fiction field naturally attracts many writers with alternative viewpoints. The percentage of writers from groups which are statistical minorities in the U.S., such as atheists, Jews, agnostics, Catholics, etc., is far higher than in the general population. As with other genres, culturally dominant groups and institutions are far more likely candidates for criticism within literature than minority groups.
The religious groups which are portrayed most negatively in science fiction (based on the number and degree of negative references, starting with the most negatively portrayed) are: the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, Communists, televangelists, Thugees (Kali worshippers), Christian Fundamentalists, Shi'ite/Muslim fundamentalists, and Baptists.
Certain archetypes or stereotypes are commonly found among religious characters in mainstream science fiction. There is the academically and philosophically talented Catholic priest who surprises those around him with his open-minded, self-effacing manner. While there is an abundance of priests and nuns among science fiction characters, practicing lay Catholics are rarely used. Protestantism is all too frequently represented by a hate-mongering or greedy conservative preacher who is more caricature than character. The speech, ideas, and characteristics of these Protestant preachers (often Baptist or Baptist-like) usually seem drawn from televangelists. Evangelical televangelists have become "stock villains" in science fiction, especially since the end of the Cold War. Latter-day Saints use a lay ministry, so there are no Latter-day Saint preacher characters. Latter-day Saint characters in science fiction are frequently soldiers, law enforcement officials, engineers, or political leaders, and are usually characterized as pious, prayerful, and family-oriented, but rather insular.
There doesn't seem to be a stereotypical character type for Jews or Muslims. The Islamic world as a whole is often portrayed as an enemy nation in historical, near-future science fiction and thrillers, and Islam is frequently written as an important and thriving religious culture long into the future. But individual Muslim characters fill a variety of roles, as scientists, businessmen, allies or conquerors. In their religiosity, Muslim and Jewish characters range from devout believers to non-practicing non-believers.
Jews are the most diversely portrayed religious minority in science fiction. This can be attributed partially to the disproportionately large number of Jews (mostly non-practicing) who have written award-winning science fiction and used Jews as main characters. Also, because of the predominance of anti-Semitism in Western culture in the past the Holocaust, mainstream writers are particularly careful to avoid stereotyping this ethnic/religious group. Another factor which has contributed to the more balanced (and more frequent) portrayal of Jews in science fiction is the prominence of Jews in the scientific and other academic professions.
Some comments about methodology An important distinction about this database is that indexes references to "religions" and not to "religion." This means the references are to groups of people, and not references to general religious topics. This database does not index literary references to topics such as "God", "love", "tolerance", "faith", "epistemology", "salvation", etc. It does contain references to "Catholic", "Islam", "Judaism", "Amish", "Hopi", etc.
Nearly all fiction (and certainly most science fiction and fantasy) addresses some of the same universal human themes that religion addresses. A significant proportion of science fiction novels which have won Hugo, Nebula or Campbell awards are primarily religious in theme, with scientific or futuristic issues absent or secondary. (Examples include: A Case of Conscience by James Blish; A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; Way Station by Clifford D. Simak; Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny; To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer; Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre; The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke; Hyperion by Dan Simmons; Doomsday Book by Connie Willis; Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick; The Alteration by Kingsley Amis; The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer. On Wings of Song by Disch. Some of these are primarily about abstract religious themes; some are about religions and churches as social institutions, and their history, future, or interaction with society and change. Some are about both. It is amazing how many Hugo-, Nebula, and Campbell-winning science fiction novels have Catholic institutions, clergy, and terminology mentioned on nearly every page.)
All works of literature are influenced by the religious beliefs and culture of the author. But it would be impossible, for example, to include in this list any novel written by a Christian author which contains a generic Christian theme, such as redemption or forgiveness, but does not mention Christianity by name. To attempt to catalogue religious references in general would be an enormous task. It would also be very subjective.
Indexing references to religious groups can be done more quickly and objectively, primarily by searching the literature for all proper names of religious groups. We have also included references to religious groups which do not include the group's name, by staying alert for associated words and phrases such as "imam", "rabbi", "rector", "nun", "rosary", "church", "fire temple", "Bible", "Luther", "Moses", "Siddhartha", "Jesus", etc.
It is easier to identify references to religious groups by their proper name than by associated words. If a religious group has been mentioned by name in a book or story that we have indexed, it is almost certainly included in this database in association with that book or story. Where there are multiple references, we may not index every reference, but the database will mention that this is the case, and will often include page numbers for additional references. Where there are multiple references within a single work to smaller, sectarian groups (which are less frequently written about), we may include more text from such references in the database.
Some religious groups referenced by this index are fictional and exist only within literature, such as Poul Anderson's "Avantism", Orson Scott Card's "Speakers for the Dead", or Dan Simmons' "Church of the Shrike". Nearly all science fiction and fantasy authors have created their own religious groups within their fiction, usually complete with doctrine, practice, and organizational guidelines. Often these new religious groups are developed in great detail, as with Katherine Kurtz's Deryni, Piers Anthony's extensive "Tarot" system and the "Holy Order of Vision", Octavia Butler's "EarthSeed", Walter Jon Williams' "Church of the Apostles of Elohim and the Nazarene", David Brin's "Gaianism" or Bohnhoff's "Meri". Occasionally these literary creations have served as the inspiration for real-world organizations, such as the real-world, tax-exempt Church of All Worlds, named after the religion created by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land, Discordianism from Shea's Illuminatus, various Klingon and other Star Trek clubs, and L. Ron Hubbard's well-known Scientology. However, purely fictional religious groups are not the focus of this list, and not every fictional religious group mentioned in the works referenced has been added to this list.
Distinct religions and philosophies of alien races are also usually invented in science fiction tales which prominently feature aliens, but references to these are usually not in the database unless they specify statistical estimates. Interestingly, alien races described in depth in science fiction nearly always have a distinctive religion, but they are rarely described as having more than one. "One religion per species" seems to be the rather un-Earthlike rule, although there are exceptions.
Along with references to religious groups, cultural references in other select areas have been indexed, in categories such as "television", "movies", "literature", and "music." Thus, this database can tell you, for example, which science fiction novels mention actor Robert Redford. (Elliot S. Maggin's Superman: Last Son of Krypton; George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards; Crystal Wood's Cut Him Out in Little Stars; Connie Willis's "At the Rialto"; Paul J. McAuley's Fairyland; Michael Bishop's No Enemy But Time.) This practice wasn't initiated with the earliest works indexed. More information about non-religious/ethnic topics indexed is available here.
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Note that groups marked with an asterisk (*) are purely fictional.