At Killing the Buddha, Kiera Feldman reports on a recent panel that brought together Malcolm Gladwell, James Wood, and Christine Smallwood. What unites this seemingly motley crew of New York literati, you wonder? They all claim an evangelical upbringing.
Organized by n+1 and titled “evangelicalism and the contemporary intellectual,” the panel asked participants to discuss how their religious backgrounds has inflected their intellectual work. To both Feldman’s surprise and mine, “evangelicalism was not portrayed as something one must inevitably cast-off to live a life of the mind; there were no narratives of recovery, of journeys from the darkness of ignorant faith to the light of reason.”
Weaned on the Good Book, not surprisingly, all three cited its influence on their modes of reading today. Wood described himself as “marked” by the idea of “high stakes” in literature. How can some contemporary writers be so grounded in this world, Wood asked, “so uninvolved with the highest things, with the fate of your soul?” In turn, Smallwood credited the church with teaching her how to read a text closely, understanding its power, whether it be secular or holy. As a child, Gladwell loved hearing Bible stories because “you could go to church on Sunday, and the preacher would talk about what happened in Parliament that week in biblical terms.” It inspired him to see that “one book could encompass everything.” Who knew Gladwell’s bestsellers have biblical aspirations?
Read the entire piece here.