Supposing you picked up a book (secondary world fantasy, FWIW) and from beginning to end, it didn't have a single mention of religion in it. What would you think? I mean, none of the characters, major or minor, are religious, no places of worship, no names of gods, no forces beyond mortal ken, no epithets or swears or the like. How hard would you roll your eyes?


When I look at all the things I want to add to my story's worldbuilding, religion isn't one of them. Right now the world is very frail and basic, I have to add a lot regarding language, currency, economy, border politics and documentation, even technology. I also want to expand a few things I did address, like food and clothing, arts, and class differences.

Ostensibly religion is too big and too important a part of people's lives, even (sometimes especially) if they are not adherents themselves. Certainly I doubt I'd ever write a contemporary or historical story without addressing religion at least a little. However, building a whole set of religions suitable to four POV characters of four different species frankly sounds like more trouble than it's worth.

I don't really like religion, and don't find it fascinating enough. Then again, I don't find economics very interesting either, but I look at my story and see that it's necessary to address things like trade and craft, currency exchange and the value of certain goods, in order to accomplish the story I'm setting out to tell.


Can I accomplish my story in a world with no religion, or is that just too implausible?
sharpest_asp: Black and white art of a hissing snake arounda  dagger (Default)

From: [personal profile] sharpest_asp


I know one spec fic that is called Sci-fi, but the science is so iffy that I tend to think of it as retconned fantasy. The author tried to leave out religion. She replaced it with an aura of mystery around one of the social groups on the planet, and all the oaths they have revolve around that class and the threat they face. In the end, she set up an unorganized cult, or at least that was the feeling of it for me by the end of the first few books.

That does not, however, mean it cannot be done. Depending on the level of rational thought each society of your world has, it could be very feasible. Or maybe it's there, but doesn't subsume the people's thoughts and interfere.

The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable with your world. If it feels right without religion, it's right.
jazzfish: artist painting a bird, looking at an egg for reference (Clairvoyance)

From: [personal profile] jazzfish


ISTR that _Swordspoint_ by Ellen Kushner had no religion (or magic, for that matter) whatsoever. Any religion that was there stayed very much in the background. (The companion piece _The Fall of the Kings_ has both magic and a variety of cults/extramural religions, but TFotK is an odd duck for a lot of reasons.)

So, I'd say it's perfectly doable.

(Swordspoint is a virtuoso piece of fantasy writing and worldbuilding in any event, and certainly worth your time.)

From: [personal profile] pippin


I could only get three chapters into Swordspoint due to the sheer boringness. Does it actually get better?
jazzfish: Jazz Fish: beret, sunglasses, saxophone (Default)

From: [personal profile] jazzfish


...

No. If you aren't taken by the language and the characters and the layers of formality over top of the viciousness, then, no, it doesn't get better.
ingo: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ingo


I honestly don't think I'd notice if there were no religious references unless someone else pointed it out! You might want to think about how their cultures would have developed in the absence of religion, though--what kind of art, myth and stories would they have?
ingo: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ingo


Anthropologically speaking, religions are formed for many other reasons than someone's desire to believe in something nice and cuddly after death. Making sense of the unknown and explaining the natural world is a part of it, of course--but only part.

You would also need to consider what rationale is in place behind any cultural taboos your characters have about food, geographic locations, or sex etc. Also, how differently will your societies celebrate marriages? births and deaths? Will they celebrate them at all? How did these rites of passage develop in a secular society? What alternatives would you have for religious festivals, pilgrimages and other methods of social cohesion and community-building? Will your societies have a sense of the sacred at all (not necessarily in a traditional religious sense)?

To be honest, if you're going for a secular society you probably don't need to worry too much about religious references or the above. If you're planning on indepth worldbuilding for societies who have never experienced anything like religion, you may wish to take it into consideration though.
tyger: Axel, covered in blood.  Text: ETHICS: Something that happens to OTHER PEOPLE (Axel - ethics)

From: [personal profile] tyger


It's not impossible, but given that a surprisingly large amount of conversational English expressions, particularly curse-words and the like, reference religion in some way or another, it is exceedingly difficult, to both remove them and have them flow in a believable manner. Another thing is why would the given culture(s) not have any religion/spirituality at all? I'm not entirely certain if it's all, but at least most human cultures throughout history have had their own religious/spiritual systems of beliefs/traditions/customs, so what makes those(ese) cultures(s) different? Do they put their belief in other things? If so, why, and why aren't those things regarded in the same sort of way religions tend to be? Is religion-as-such forbidden but a strong unshakable trust/belief in [the political system/science/work/natural processes/etc] okay? What caused religion-as-such to be taboo, or did it never become mainstream, and if not why not?

...tl;dr; as long as it makes sense within the confines of your world, and doesn't feel forced, go for it.
tyger: Axel, Roxas, and Xion, on the clocktower. (Default)

From: [personal profile] tyger


I think, particularly when life is hard, having something to believe in that will take care of you is important, but I'm not religious, a sociologist or a theologist, so I can't say for sure; I'm sure there's information out there, though.

Possibly, but even then there're linguistic holdovers; if they're simply not religious any more then you have to know either why those phrases disappeared from common consciousness, or how they came to be in the first place, what they reference, and so forth.
marina: (Default)

From: [personal profile] marina


I wouldn't mind/notice at all, unless religious was somehow obviously lacking in the world itself, like there were refrences to it that weren't followed through. I come from a background of no religion anywhere in a huge country for generations, so it wouldn't bother me in the slightest.
ailelie: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ailelie


As others have said, the lack of religion is not merely the lack of places of worship and the mentions of gods. Belief is part of the fabric of any group. The legends, fears, hopes, understanding, etc.

1. Blessings and curses.
Do your people believe in luck/fate/fortune? (As an idea, not a being) If not, then your 'good lucks' will more likely be 'don't give ups' or 'you can do it.' and so on. A comment above mentions the effect on curses.

2. How do your people explain the world around them? If purely with science, then how are difficult concepts broken down for the less educated? Does the belief in science lead to any reverence for those who seem to understand the secrets of the world?

3. What are people afraid of? Why? How do they protect/comfort themselves?

4. What is the ideal person? Who do people strive to be/be like? Why? Or, if not one person, what are the traits commonly agreed to be good and desirable?

5. Seconding Tyger's comment above

6. Superstitions?

7. How do people explain disease? And how did they before that explanation?

Etc.

These aren't things you'd necessarily need for a story, but since you're world-building, they are some of the things you'd probably want to consider.

To answer your other question-- If I was reading a story that made no reference to religion, I'd think nothing of it. Religion isn't always necessary to a story and shoehorning it in would be silly. (The blatant lack of religion, however, is noticeable and, frankly, silly. It is one thing to leave it out and quite another to constantly draw the reader's attention to the fact that you left it out).

If I was reading world-building notes that made no reference to religion, though, I would definitely comment.

As for having four different species and not wanting to make four different religions...

1. Do any of them have a religion with customs that would be noticeable throughout the average day or week?

2. Are any of their religions opposed in a way that they would bicker or leave the discussion of religion aside in order to preserve peace?

3. Do any of them practice a religion that would require them to abstain or indulge in certain drinks, foods, or practices?

4. Do any of them see religion as the source of their power or understanding?

5. Do any of them wear symbols of their religion? Are they easily seen or would they only appear under certain circumstances?

6. Does religion affect how any of them speak?

And then, to build the religions themselves:

As a single person and not a whole group practicing the religion-- who is the primary recipient of their belief? (A god or goddess (the only option or one of many)? Nature in general or specifically (a mountain, the sun, a star, the ocean, trees, etc)? Ancestors (a patron or in general)? A concept (luck, fate, love, etc)? etc) // Why do they believe? (grew up? chose? converted? part of life and not really thought of as any more special than cooking or sleeping? greatly important? Road to Damascus moment?) // Finally, is their religion typical of their people or not? How so and why?

You don't really need to create a full religion for each of the four characters. You just need to figure out how it would affect the four of them and when it may be visible. Later, you can color in those areas as they become relevant.
trobadora: (Default)

From: [personal profile] trobadora


I was going to write a comment, but you already said it all. Great comment!
ailelie: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ailelie


Religion as philosophy. Forgot that one. My head was stuck on organized, which is really only part of the picture.

Add 'often' in front of your 'force for social conflict' and I'll agree with you. I'd even go 'usually.' I've seen it otherwise (outside of religious fantasy even) or at such a low degree of conflict that it didn't really register plot-wise.

As for your species differences, I'd simply point out that religion can affect the stratification of a society.

Epithets are also fun b/c they give an idea of what the society's values are.

As for your story, I do hope you share it. Should be interesting if it includes conflict between nation and species.

From: [personal profile] miss_haitch


I'd say if you're not interested in writing about religion, don't -- concentrate on the aspects of your world you're interested in. Plus, I don't think it would come across as incompleteness. I love the Kristin Cashore books, for example, which are completely secular.
sibyllevance: (Default)

From: [personal profile] sibyllevance


I can't remember anything resembling religion in Kristin Cashore's books either, or for that matter in The Hunger Games trilogy. You can certainly do without!
attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

From: [personal profile] attackfish


It can be done without easily, especially if you're focusing on only one or two characters. (Books with huge casts frequently need more meticulous world-building, because you're seeing the world from so many perspectives. Read some recent fantasy (or reread, more likely, amirite?) and highlight every reference to religion you spot. Except for books like the "Percy Jackson" books or the "Queen's Thief" books where the gods walk around and make trouble, there aren't many.

I've been doing a lot of thought on the matter, as I'm going the opposite direction, as my WIP has multiple religions including monotheistic ones, no gods as characters, religious and ethnic tensions, and a main character who considered becoming a member of her religion's clergy before the rest of her life got in the way and is still quite religious. It's whatever works for you, your characters, and your world. Most people won't notice it's gone unless they're looking for it. Curse words, however, will be fun. I suggest sticking to "fuck" and "shit."
attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

From: [personal profile] attackfish


Funny, mine to! My whole family's really foul mouthed. My protagonist is from a very militaristic society, and their word for "coward"'s a major obscenity, used as an expletive as well as an insult.

the "chosen one" trope isn't my favorite, and usually I'm in it for the character drama and the politics. Since I'm a political science major, and my expertise is on the Middle East, ethnic and religious politics is something that fascinates me.
ailelie: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ailelie


Would those words be as strong in a different society, though? For example, if sex is not seen as forbidden in any way, would curse words based on it have the same power? What about a society without much fertile land? Wouldn't shit be seen as something to prize?
attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

From: [personal profile] attackfish


One of the few fairly universal expletives is some variation on a term for excrement. Humans have a natural aversion to the disgusting, (which tends to be the dangerous germ filled, or potentially poisonous) which, no matter how useful animal dung may be for a specific society, still includes shit.

Also, most societies that have marriage, and I have no reason to believe the societies in this novel don't, have some sort of prohibition on illicit sex (as marriage is a way of regulating a powerful human drive) and therefore the potential to develop a profanity that refers to illicit sex, even without a religious reason for said prohibition.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)

From: [personal profile] firecat


Supposing you picked up a book (secondary world fantasy, FWIW) and from beginning to end, it didn't have a single mention of religion in it. What would you think?

I am fine with created worlds that have no religion.
kate: Kate Winslet is wryly amused (Default)

From: [personal profile] kate


Supposing you picked up a book (secondary world fantasy, FWIW) and from beginning to end, it didn't have a single mention of religion in it. What would you think? I mean, none of the characters, major or minor, are religious, no places of worship, no names of gods, no forces beyond mortal ken, no epithets or swears or the like. How hard would you roll your eyes?

Honestly, I probably wouldn't even notice.
magycmyste: (rinoa)

From: [personal profile] magycmyste


I doubt I'd really notice, except maybe as an afterthought. But if it isn't important to either your plot or characters, then it probably doesn't matter. Religion, in terms of believing in a higher power, I think is only important to the extent that it affects your characters and plot (I mean, if you've got a rabid priest making trouble for your characters, then yeah, you may want to expand on that a bit.

In terms of religion as Something the characters strongly believe in (like a rock musician saying that rock n' roll in his religion), then, yes, I think it's extremely important as their driving force. But that's metaphorical, and not what you're talking about here, right?

It sounds to me like you've got plenty of other forces in your society (species and nation as stratifying points) that can replace higher-power religion quite easily, and provide the driving forces in your world.

I think [personal profile] ailelie covered everything else I would say, so I'll leave it at that. ^_^
Edited Date: 2010-08-10 11:18 pm (UTC)
anthimeria: Open book, says "sometimes you reach what's realest by making believe" (Books)

From: [personal profile] anthimeria


I have to say, it's a hard thing to mess with.

I DO know that Anne McCaffrey caught a certain amount of flak for having a series without religion--in her Pern series, she claimed the colonists were atheists and no religion ever developed in the thousands of years of book canon. Now, the characters did have deeply held beliefs, but they were all attached to tradition or a way of life instead of a belief in a higher power.

The implausibility of leaving out religion depends in a great part on the world you're building.

Personally, the way I would deal with it would be to sketch out some kind of belief system for each of your POVs, and then just leave it in the background. Whether or not it's religion is up to you and your characters. As the worldbuilder, YOU have to know it's there and what it does to the world but it doesn't have to play much of a role.
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)

From: [personal profile] melannen


I'm coming in late on a catch-up but I couldn't resist chiming in:

If it was a book that wasn't strongly about worldbuilding and the world - if it was one of those old-fashioned plots that was primarily about action, about doing things, not people or places or themes - I probably wouldn't notice, and wouldn't care if I did.

If you're going for anything deeper, though - your characters/worlds need some kind of organizing system of belief. It doesn't have to involve gods or afterlives or priests or souls, but (unless you're making them fundamentally cognitively different from humans) there will be some things that the average person takes on faith, that they will use as the foundation for everything else they (think) they know about the world. (Even if those things can be more-or-less objectively proven - like, in our society, 'the earth goes around the sun' - the average member of the society won't have personally done the proof. Unless that fundamental underlying belief is 'taking things on faith is bad and everything must be proven', in which case skepticism then becomes the organizing principle.)

It sounds like when you talk about how the four-species thing works, you've started there - that there are some things about how the four species relate that fundamentally shape your characters' conception of how the world works - and that's the direction I'd go.

The danger of *not* taking the time to figure out what your characters take on faith is that you'll just give them exactly the same principles you have, unexamined, as a default.
Edited Date: 2010-08-19 01:48 am (UTC)
theoretical_cat: Two metal faces erected in a field, targets in their eyes, lights from a distant structure forming a communication. (Division Bell)

From: [personal profile] theoretical_cat


I would say that you could get away with it, but people generally have some short way to express anger or excitement... So that would probably still be there, just deriving from some other kind of phrase, rather than referencing religion (so no "damn!" or "oh my god!" but maybe still "shit" or "wow!"). Outside of that, I wouldn't notice, unless it were pointed out.
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