I have been involved with editing a book about social scientific and cultural studies approaches in Biblical Studies. Its titled is “Methods, Theories, Imagination: Social Scientific Approaches in Biblical Studies” and it is now available from Sheffield Phoenix Press. The “cultural studies” didn’t make it into the title in the end, but they can definitely be found inside the book – alongside an explanation about why and how culture and society are related and how disciplinary distinctions are a blurry affair in much-praised interdisciplinarity.
The volume features many interested explorative essays and includes my own playful reading of the spy narrative of the book of Numbers (chapter 13) as if it were a Star Trek episode.
“Faith and science, I have learned, are two sides of the same coin, separated by an expanse so small, but wide enough that one side can’t see the other.” (from Mary E. Pearson. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, part one of The Jenna Fox Chronicles)
In the story, set in an unspecified near-future, teenager Jenna Fox finds out that her parents have replaced 90% of her body with sophisticated biotech in order to save her life after an accident. Jenna doesn’t find this out until about 40% into my Kindle edition of the book. In the world of the book, it is illegal to replace such a high percentage of a human body.
I found it interesting that religion, especially a religious site, plays a small but distinctive part in this narrative, which is a classic coming-of-age story:
Jenna’s grandmother Lily, who opposed Jenna’s parents’ decision to save her life by making her into a non-consenting cyborg, is a practicing Catholic and takes Jenna with her to a Catholic monastery. Jenna, experiencing amnesia, is still unaware of her new cyborg identity when she visits the church for the first time. Christ, though, she seems to remember – almost like something eternally present – but the solemn atmosphere of the church does not evoke any feelings at her first visit, or so she reports (it is a first person narrative).
Then, though, her presence in the church evokes a sudden memory of her own baptism at two weeks old: one of her first suspicions that something oddly different is happening to her brain. She feels like she is not supposed to remember events from such early childhood.
Still unaware of her cyborg body, she sees her soon-to-be boyfriend Ethan at the Mission for the first time.
To me, the locale of the Mission in the book appeared as a sort of static place. Almost a blank space, where references to the past are made, references to traditions, Saints, cemeteries. The old Mission is dedicated to nurturing plants with unadulterated DNA: yet another way the locale is characterised as a sanctuary, as something restorative, since the disaster that catapults this book into the “slightly postapocalytpic” sub genre is attributed in part to genetic engineering.
After Jenna learns about her new cyborg body, she confesses this (and her “illegality) to Ethan in the Mission.
At her final visit there, she feels, well, something: “Souls, if there is such a thing, are nourished and mended here.” And, indeed, at the end of the book, her skeptic grandmother Lily – who for most of the book has treated New Jenna as a “thing”, entirely different from old organic Jenna – baptises Jenna, so that the strange memory of her baptism at two weeks old arches all the way to the end of the book to her second baptism, as cyborg Jenna, with her grandmother finally acknowledging that there must be a soul that transcends the body.
In his essay “Parables for the Postmodern, Post-9/11, and Posthuman World: Carrie Ryan’s Forest of Hands and Teeth Books, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, and Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox” (published in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers (Basu, Broad, Hintz, eds.), London/NY: Routledge, 2013, pp. 189-202) Thomas J. Morrissey writes, interestingly and accurately, that YA dystopias encourage a posthuman perspective: “At this point in our history we are figurative cyborgs whether or not we know it or accept it” (Morrissey, 191). I quite agree with this statement and would therefore read Jenna Fox as essentially arguing that the very human trait of religion is passed on to what humans create.
Jenna says, “The world has changed. So have I.” So has religion.
By way of footnote: I highly recommend Basu, Broad, and Hintz’s edited volume mentioned above. Do read!