Salman Rushdie to Speak at St. Mike’s

Booker Prize-winning novelist and free speech advocate Salman Rushdie will be speaking at St. Mike’s on March 30 at 10:00am in the Canada Room in Brennan Hall.

By: Martyn Wendell Jones

Salman Rushdie, the author of the Booker-winning novel Midnight’s Children (1981), is known for writing thoughtfully, critically and entertainingly on topics from politics to religion. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), a magical realist novel that contains dream sequences depicting a controversial episode in the history of Islam, brought him world-wide fame when in 1989, Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in response to elements perceived to be anti-Islamic. Though it now lacks the official backing of the Iranian government, the fatwa has not been rescinded. Rushdie wrote about his experiences living under formal protection during the height of the controversy in a memoir titled Joseph Anton (2012).

“The geopolitical responses to Rushdie’s work demonstrate that novel-writing matters,” USMC Vice President and Principal Randy Boyagoda says. “There’s something about the written word, especially when it has contact between the sacred and the secular, that has an effect on people’s lives unlike any other.” Though Rushdie is an avowed atheist, faith, religion, and revelation have been constant points of interest in his work. “For him the sacred matters in profound ways,” Boyagoda says.

Rushdie not only makes heavy use of religious themes and motifs in his fiction, but claims that faith changed his formal approach, as well. In an essay on faith and politics from 1985 entitled “In God We Trust,” he writes, “My work, much of which has been concerned with India and Pakistan, has made it essential for me to confront the issue of religious faith. Even the form of my writing has been affected.” Magical realism became the vehicle for capturing a faith-inflected point of view: “If one is to attempt honestly to describe reality as it is experienced by religious people, for whom God is no symbol but an everyday fact, then the conventions of what is called realism are quite inadequate.”

This experimental and boundary-pushing approach to depicting faith in fiction is part of what makes Rushdie perfect for St. Mike’s Principal Boyagoda says: “The ways in which he writes about [religion] can be serious, moving, provocative, and even funny at times. This is exactly the kind of engagement of pressing questions about human life that we seek here at St. Mike’s out of our own Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Rushdie will be visiting a few months after New York Times columnist and conservative opinion-writer Ross Douthat spoke at St. Mike’s on the viability of being a “Harvard Catholic.” “Each thinks and writes about the interfaces of the sacred and the secular in divergent ways and together demonstrate the capaciousness of what we’re doing here,” Principal Boyagoda says.

“If we only invite Ross Douthat or Salman Rushdie, that’s not really interesting,” Principal Boyagoda continues. “It’s having both speak at St. Mike’s that makes this interesting.”


All tickets to the free event have been reserved.