confusion-and-cake asked writingwithcolor a question
I’m planning a fantasy story. As a reader, I’ve noticed many fantasy worlds are grounded in European civilizations/traditions and so I wanted to base my story off of another region. I have decided to base the two countries in my story off of India and Iran. I know the major religions in these countries are Islam and Hinduism, respectively. Would it be better if I included these religions in my fantasy world? Or could I create a different religion for the characters (and would this be offensive)?
If this is a secondary world, I would recommend making up some religions. It’s tricky regarding coding invented religions as one thing or another in particular and there’s a wealth of opinion (Even among WWC mods!). I personally have no real issue with Hindu-coded fantasy religions as long as it’s not hugely exotifying and doesn’t rely on stereotypes. These religions can function as ethno-religio-geohistoriopolitical stand-ins for real world religions such as Hinduism and Islam, fulfilling similar historical and cultural roles as Hinduism and Islam did/do in our world. However…
The idea of an “India” analogue that is all one religion is concerning. All-Christian and all-Muslim India have colonialist and coercive undertones given the historical context and in the present climate an “all-Hindu” India is basically the same (it’s an orgiastic fever dream of many in the BJP). Because of the recent and recorded colonial history, this is a dodiger notion than, say, creating a fantasy France that is pagan instead of Catholic (technically, France does have a history of being colonized that replaced Celtic paganism with Roman paganism and later Catholicism, but that was 2000 years ago and then France went on to be a major colonial power within the last 500 years).
India without it’s pluralism isn’t India and it’s a shame that whoever’s in power always seems to want to destroy that. Religions in India include Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Sanamahism, Sarnaism, Bathouism, Donyi-Polo (those last four are indigenous tribal religions of eastern and northeastern India often classed under “Folk Hinduism”), and more. And so creating a fictional India without at least some suggestion of that diversity does rub me the wrong way. Doing a secondary-world India-analogue makes this a little less dodgy—for instance, I think you could have a fantasy land of a similar climate and material culture to real India and then give then a home-grown Jesus-analogue figure and then have a version of fantasy-Christian history that ends up with a “Christian India” without all the colonialism (note that it’s not actually Christian but Christian-ish).
Even before religions from outside the subcontinent arrived there, India was incredibly pluralistic. We should remember that the term “Hindu” wasn’t used as a religious designation until the 15th century just to distinguish natively subcontinental belief systems from others (this was well after Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism had established presences in India). Before then you still had a variety of streams of philosophy that were often very divergent. Some of these ended up splitting off into other religions like Jainism or Buddhism and the rest mostly died out as Vedanta philosophy grew ascendant, which formed the foundation of modern Hinduism. With this perpetual history of pluralism and the current political climate, suggestions of an alternate India that lacks that makes me uneasy.
Now that I think about it, Iran isn’t so dissimilar. It’s an Islamic republic now, but historically its been home to not only a number of strains of Islam and Muslim philosophy but also Iranian paganism, Zoroastrianism, Zurvanism, Mandaeism, Manichaeism, Bahai, etc.
Just in general, the idea of religious homogeneity makes me feel weird in my gut. My vote for secondary world fantasy is to make up religions, but if you’re going to make up fantasy religions, make up some diversity.
France chose Laetitia Casta to be the model of Marianne of the year 2000, whose sculpture was created by the artist Marie-Paule Deville-Chabrolle and was presented for the first time in November 1999, with the 82ème Congress of the Mayors of France.