Religious Poetry and the Red Dot

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type

Closed Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


English and Theatre

First Advisor

Young Smith

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre


The religious poet, generally revered as inspired transcriber of holy intervention - perhaps as often de facto creative architect of a particular social blueprint - carries an odd weight in the literary world. Here, a historical timeline of somewhat skewed consequences is not intended to infer negligence on the part of the scribe, or the nonexistence of God(s), but just as the same creative mind can envision the eradication of a particular disease while unknowingly redirecting lab results to reach that goal, so too can the religious poet's words eventually have unintended consequences in the social/political world.

One might start with the ancient caves in France, where moon and star charts are theorized to have had both practical and mystical uses - to what extent was early culture driven not only to alter existing patterns of habitation but also to deal with the concepts of parish and theological responsibility in defense of these works? Babylonian mythology poetically celebrates the omniscience of the gods while simultaneously cementing their hold on Babylonian society, and the early Vedas of India, the creation myths of American native cultures, and the complex interwoven Chinese myths of rivers and beasts all leave their direct political mark, even given their fantastical content. The poetic foundations of Hammurabi's laws are couched in established devotional duty in the same way ancient Hebrew texts support the pragmatic religious policies binding the wandering Abrahamic tribes.

Creation stories are often strengthened and adapted through the centuries by poetic apologists - St. Thomas Aquinas, writer of lyrical Eucharistic hymns as well as church philosophy, was quite forthright concerning the cross-influence of religion and politics, and both the Law of Hammurabi and the modern Iraqi Constitution, connecting a span of almost three thousand years on the same land, use similar poetic invocations to a higher authority. In modern times, established religions are anchored in their ancient poetic tenets, while the new enlightenments create their own (and oddly similar) versions of religion/ethical pragmatism - Tupac's "Ghetto Gospel", Ram Dass' "Be Here Now", and John Lennon's "Imagine" all refer to the higher aspirations of major religions, minus the institutionalization of those same moral concepts.

Religious poetry has not only the power to please God/gods but also to inspire mortals to build worlds that mirror those higher moral concepts. Even the screenwriter is not exempt if we can, as a society, be lifted with the purity of "The Force" in Star Wars and then grow into that concept as we maneuver the daily politics of Earth in the twenty-first century. The right words are binding and mighty, and unleash the spiritual imagination of the listener - the reader - the ancient one who places her hand over the red dot on El Castillo's cave wall and feels the power of the Almighty.

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