Episode Script

“Rethinking Religion” is a radio, podcast and audio journal from Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life.  Please visit our website, www.ircpl.org for additional transcripts, unedited conversations, and a shorter summery edition.


NORRIS CHUMLEY: Today on “Rethinking Religion”: British-Indian novelist and essayist, Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight’s Children, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, Shalimar the Clown, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and The Satanic Verses – for which a fatwa was issued on him in 1989.Salman Rushdie’s novels are stories within stories that dance with different levels of religious experience.  He frequently employs myth, magic and superstition – yet he’s a proclaimed atheist.  This is “Rethinking Religion”…


NORRIS CHUMLEY: Today on “Rethinking Religion,” we bring you a public conversation with novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie, which took place not long ago in Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library in front of a live audience of several hundred people.  He’s interviewed by author and professor Gauri Viswanathan.  She frames the conversation on “Religion and Imagination.”(EVENT AUDIO)

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Do you see yourself trying to recover, through literature, the impulses of a religious imagination before it freezes into theology, before experience turns into a theological, ethical construct?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, the first thing to say is that all literature began as sacred literature. That is to say, the beginnings of writings are religious, that the oldest written material that we have is all the product of one or another religious experience. It’s a long time, if you look at the history of literature, before literature separates itself from that articulation of religion. So there is something profound in the origins that link them.

The other thing is that religious language has had such a powerful effect, I think, on all of us, whether we are religious or not, that there aren’t words to express some things except religious words. For instance, if you think about a word like the soul, what does that mean if you are not a religious person? I don’t believe in an afterlife or a heaven or a hell and so on, and yet I feel that when I use that word it has some meaning. What could that meaning possibly be? There isn’t a secular word for that feeling that we are not only flesh and blood, that there is, as Arthur Koestler, said “a ghost in the machine.”

Whether you are religious or not, you feel obliged to use language that has been shaped by religion in order to express things that may not have a religious purpose. So that’s a constant battle. But I think you are right to say that I’m not interested in devotion, and in that sense I’m not interested in writing books that express anything other than inter-human devotion, which is temporary.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: So do you see something about aesthetics that does have that religious sensibility?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: For me the great, the most useful thing has been the power of religion to create very strong metaphors.  I’ve gone back often to what I call dead religions, what’s more commonly called mythology. But remember that the great Greek myths were once the religion of Greece, and Roman mythology was once the religion of Rome. It had all the apparatus of priests and anathemas and so on to defend it. Now that it doesn’t have that, we can simply look at it as text and, of course, you find in these stories astonishing amounts of meaning compressed into very, very small amounts of words.

When I was writing The Ground Beneath Her Feet, for example, I was studying the Orpheus myth.  Now, you can express the whole story of Orpheus and Eurydice in less then 100 words.  It doesn’t really require more than 5 or 6, what, 10 sentences maybe, and yet the amount of complexity pushed into that very small story is almost inexhaustible. You have this very complex examination of the relationship between love, art, and death, and you can turn it this way and that way. You can say that this story tells us — shows us — the power of art inspired by love to overcome death. Or, if you are feeling more pessimistic, it can show us the power of death to destroy love, even when love is guided by art.There isn’t a single reading; there are many readings.  That’s something that living religions also have in common. There is not a single way of reading the text; there are very rich and complex ways of reading these texts.


NORRIS CHUMLEY: In this edition of “Rethinking Religion” we’re offering a public conversation with novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie.  The topic is religion and imagination…


SALMAN RUSHDIE: The way in which a story is created or an imaginative piece comes to life, there is a mystery in it, and you can’t deny that is so. There is a bit of me — I guess the bit of me that is sitting here — that is quite rationalistic. I would argue, not unconventionally, that religion comes after reason and that, actually, religious texts were invented by people and that gods, indeed, were invented by human beings in order to answer the two great questions of life, “Where do we come from?” and “How should we live?”  It seems as if every religion is based on an attempt to answer those questions, the question of origin and the question of ethics.I would say, and I have often said, that I don’t need religion to answer either of those questions.  Because, on the question of origins, the one thing you can say about every religion ever invented is that they are wrong.  The world was not created in six days by a sky god who rested on the seventh; the world was not created by the churning of primal material in a giant pot; the world was not created by the sparks unleashed by the friction of the udders of a gigantic cow against the boulders of a bottomless chasm. All these things might be pretty, but they are not true. And so it seems to me that religion just has nothing to say on the question of origins. And on the question on ethics, it seems to me that whenever religion has got into the driving seat on that question, what happens is inquisition and oppression.

So it seems to me not just uninteresting, but not valuable to turn to religion.  I don’t want the answers to come from some priest.  I would prefer them to come from this, from the process of debate and argument and the kind of thing for which this institute has been set up. Actually, the first thing you accept in that situation is that there are no answers. There isn’t an answer; there is only the debate. The debate itself is the thing from which flows the ethical life. So that is what I would say, and that is what I think. But when I’m writing, something weird happens, and the result is these books which clearly do contain a large amount of what you would call supernaturalism.  I find that as a writer I need that in order to explain the world I am writing about.  As a person I don’t need it, but as a writer I do.  So that tension is just there.  I can’t reconcile it, it is just so.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: I remember in an earlier conversation we had, when we talked about The Satanic Verses, you said that you were attempting to depict the convulsions that take place at the birth of any new religion, which you described as a history often marked by discord and disagreement.  You had said, and I quote, “There are scenes in The Satanic Verses in which the early religion is persecuted and early members of the religion are verbally and physically abused by the mob in the city now called Mecca, and some of that abuse is there in the novel and some of these sentences were taken out as my abusive view of Islam.”  Then you ask, “If you’re going to make a portrayal of the attacks on a new born faith, how can you do it without showing the attackers doing the attacking?”SALMAN RUSHDIE: It ought to be possible simply to say, “This is something like what might have happened at the beginning, at the birth of this religion.”  It ought to be possible to say that, neutrally, without seeming to be on one side or another. Clearly, what happened in the case of The Satanic Verses was that there was an assumption that I was on one side rather than the other and that, therefore, my meaning should be found in the hostility rather than in the defense.  It’s a shame that’s what happened, but it is what happened.  I think, on the whole, it must be possible in any open society to discuss openly how things happen.  I think it’s a great shame in the world of Islam that so much interesting contemporary scholarship about the origins of Islam is not acceptable.  And the reason it’s not acceptable is because of the insistence on the divine origin of the text.Now, if you insist that the text is the uncreated word of God, then presumably the social and economic conditions of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century after Christ are not important, because God operates on a larger canvas than that.  If, however, you are willing to historicize the text and to look at its creation as an event inside history rather than above history, then immediately what we know about the history of the period opens up and illuminates the text.  I think one of the scholarly tragedies, right now, is that it’s not really acceptable to do this inside much of the Muslim world.

To give just one example, in the Qur’an, the Bible stories are strangely varied from the versions that exist in the Old and New Testaments so that in the chapter of the Qur’an called Miriam, which is about the birth of Christ, Christ is born in an oasis in a desert under a palm tree.  Now, the reason for this is clear. Allow me to historicize for a moment: The prophet did not begin to prophesy until he was over 40 years old, and before that he had a long period as a traveling merchant, a very successful one.  On those journeys, at oases and at way stations he would have met the only Christians who were present in the Arabian Peninsula at the time, who were Nestorian Christians. And Nestorian Christianity made local variations, local adaptations of Bible stories, so, in fact, the story about Christ being born under a palm tree in an oasis is a Nestorian story.  It existed in the Nestorian tradition before the Qur’an, and the version in the Qur’an is more or less identical to that.  So immediately you can see that this version arrives the way it does in this text because of the life experience of this man.  But this is something you can’t say because it negates the divine origin of the text. So this is the problem that is faced.

If you look at the Judeo-Christian definition of God, it differs from the Muslim definition in one important particular, which is that the Jews and Christians say that man was created by God in his own image.  What that sentence clearly suggests is that there is some relationship between the nature of man and the nature of God, created in his own image.  Islam says the opposite, that God has no human qualities.  In fact, it suggests that it would demean God to suggest that He had anything as minor as a human quality.  He has divine qualities.

And so Ibn Rush’d argued that language, also, is a human quality, and, therefore, it was unreasonable to expect or suggest that God spoke Arabic, because God presumably spoke “God.” As a result, even if you believe the story literally, when the archangel appears on the mountain and delivers the message to the prophet, he, understanding it in Arabic, is already making an active interpretation.  He is already taking something which arrives in non-linguistic form and is understanding it linguistically — something which arrives as a divine message which he is transforming into human comprehension. So it was argued that if the original act of receiving the text is already an act of interpretation, then further interpretation is clearly legitimate.  That was his attempt, I think probably the most brilliant attempt, to destroy the power of literalism from inside the text, and from inside what is already said and accepted. Well, that didn’t work, unfortunately, though I wouldn’t mind having another go.  Because it is true, and it is very sad, that of all the great world religions, this is the one which is born entirely inside recorded history.  We really know what was happening at the time, and so it’s the one that can be studied as an event inside history, as a economic, social, cultural, political, world historic event. It’s actually not difficult to see the ways the conditions of the time impinge upon the Qur’an as a text and help to shape it, and it’s a tragedy that you’re not allowed to do that.  I guess I tried to do that and there were people who disapproved.


NORRIS CHUMLEY: In this edition of “Rethinking Religion,” you’re listening to a public conversation between novelist Salman Rushdie, and professor/author Gauri Viswanathan, recorded recently on the campus of Columbia University, at Low Memorial Library.  The topic now turns to Rushdie’s novels.


GAURI VISWANATHAN: Shalimar the Clown offers a terrifying glimpse into a world of religious extremism that preys on minds and hearts tortured by longing and betrayal in order to serve its own violent purposes.  Yet, in your hauntingly lyrical evocation of Kashmir, the counterpoint to religious extremism is not necessarily secularism — at least that’s what I think — but religion restored to a more expansive and more inclusive practice.SALMAN RUSHDIE: Exactly.  I remember, and I think many people my age who have any knowledge not just of India but of other parts of the Muslim world can remember, another idea of Islam, one that had more or less nothing to do with what walks around the world calling itself Islam nowadays, one in which it was O.K. to argue about things and to talk freely and to live at peace with other people and so on.  It wasn’t perfect because none of us are perfect, but it was possible.

I remember my parents’ generation.  I remember growing up in that world of people who were in many cases devout Muslims. My grandfather went on the Hajj to Mecca.  He said his prayers five times a day every day of his life, and his children and his grandchildren, being grandchildren, would make horrible fun of him and ask him why he spent so much time with his bottom higher than his head.  And, instead of getting cross with us, he would laugh at us and encourage us to come and have a talk about it.  I remember the Sufi Islam of Kashmir, the way in which that Islam was affected by its contiguity with Hinduism, and the way in which the Hinduism of Kashmir was affected by its proximity to that Islam, so that, for instance, as I said somewhere in the novel, in Kashmir you have these little shrines of Sufi saints all over the place and people would stop and make offerings.  Well, as a Muslim you’re not supposed to worship anyone but the one God; you’re not supposed to go and do puja at the shrine of Sufi saints. Yet that’s what everybody would do, and, interestingly, even the Hindus would do it.  Hindu truck drivers would stop by the road and put a flower or offering at the shrine of a Muslim Sufi saint.

That’s something interesting and rich, I think, that developed in Kashmir; this composite culture that was neither completely Hindu nor completely Muslim, and for a while it worked, and now it has been destroyed.  I think the loss of it is a thing to grieve over, not only in Kashmir, but in many places of the Muslim world.  I’m old enough to remember what places like Beirut were like in the 1950s and 60s. They were great cosmopolitan cities, great seats of culture.  And to see the way that has been destroyed leads one to say there may be many things for which one can blame the United States, but the self-destruction of Muslim culture by other Muslims is a self inflicted wound, and it is a grievous wound.  In that novel I tried to write about that other, to my mind, more beautiful approach to the world.  You’re right that the answer to religion is not no religion, but another way of thinking about religion, another way of being in the religion.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Engaging with the richer currents of religion?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: One of the characters in The Enchantress of Florence is asked by Akbar, just before he has his head chopped off, what his idea of paradise is, since he is on his way there.  He says that in paradise the words “religion” and “argument” mean the same thing and that there is no suppression in religion. This reminds me of the very great line in the first paragraph of Saul Bellow’s novel, The Adventures of Augie Marsh.  He says, “there is no fineness or accuracy in suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.”  That openness to ideas is something which I don’t think should be seen as being antithetical to religion. You only have to look at Jesuit argument.  I went to speak at Yeshiva College last year, and I had a very hard time because they’re all trained in disputation. So there I was with a thousand students, sort of embryonic rabbis whose entire discipline was to tear apart the argument of the person next door. God, it was difficult.  I’m not going there again.GAURI VISWANATHAN: Well then maybe you can confirm or deny something I had read somewhere that you actually enjoy speaking to religious audiences?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Did I say that?  I wasn’t telling the truth.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: I think among the most memorable passages I have read anywhere among your work, you wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece in December 2005, and I quote, “Multiculturalism has all too often become mere cultural relativism under cover of which much that is reactionary and oppressive, of women, for example, can be justified.”  You referred to a couple of notorious recent cases of women, Imrana in India and Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan, women who were very brutally victimized, but the object of your critique in this article is not just the religious authorities and judicial systems that defer to them in India and Pakistan but also the international community that refuses to get involved, saying, “Oh, that’s their culture, and that has to be respected even if it offends us.”  So this question of relativism is a very interesting one in your work.SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, O.K., I don’t know how unfashionable this is, but I think there are universals. I think there are things that are universally true, and I think there are such things as universal rights.  The reason I think it is not culturally specific.  The argument made by relativists is that it is culturally specific to argue that there are universals. I think there are other ways of approaching it.

One of those essential characteristics that we all share is the characteristic of language, of speech.  We are a language animal, we are an animal that has always from the beginning used language in order to understand itself and in order to define and shape the kind of creature that it is. If you begin to restrict, limit, forbid, circumscribe the ways language can be used, you are committing an offense which is not culturally specific. You are committing an existential offense.  It is an offense against the nature of the animal that we are.

We are the language animal, and we have to be allowed to use language to understand ourselves.  Therefore, to defend the freedom of language as a universal human right seems to me justifiable not by appeal to this or that cultural tradition, but simply to the biology of the beast. This is the thing that we are. You take language away from the human beings, you take humanity away from them. So it seems to me that it is possible, in this way, to argue for the universality of certain rights. We are a dreaming animal. We live very richly through the things that we imagine. Were it not for the capacity of imagination, there would be very little progress in human existence.  You have to imagine a wheel before you can make a wheel; you have to imagine the hyperlink before you can construct the hyperlink.  First you dream it, and then you make it so.  All through human history imagination precedes reality, and things move constantly through the border between imagination and reality. What starts as a dream becomes reality. So, again, to start restricting our ability to dream and vision, and to tell us that there are things we can dream about and other things that are bad dreams that we must not have, is a crime against humanity.

It’s not about whether you are Muslim, or Christian, or Chinese, or American. It’s about the kind of creature that we all are and have always been.  That’s why I think that there are such things as universals, because we are remarkably alike.  I forget, because I’m not a scientist, what the figure is, but there is some ridiculously high quantity of our genetic code that is common to all human beings. There is two or three percent variation that accounts for all this diversity. We are much more the same than we are not.  If that is true, then there must be things which apply to all of us.

I think relativism is the dangerous death of liberalism.  If you will justify anything that anybody does because it comes from their tradition, it means you abdicate your moral sense; you cease to be a moral being. “Oh yes, let them kill novelists because it is what they do. We personally don’t kill novelists, but if it’s their way then they must kill novelists.”  For some reason I feel an objection to that position.

In the article you mention, which talks about the oppression of women, if you were to take religion away as the justification, nobody would tolerate that for a minute. The kind of limitations that women have been placed under, the crimes committed against women in the name of religion, are so profound and yet somehow people don’t get as agitated about them as if the same thing had been committed by someone who wasn’t using God as the reason. Well, that seems like nonsense to me.

That’s why I’m saying that to be tolerant and open and argumentative doesn’t mean that you don’t have a moral sense. You still have moral responsibility. You still have to make choices. You still have to say, “This is right; that is wrong.”


NORRIS CHUMLEY: If you would like to hear the complete and unedited interview with Salman Rushdie, please visit our “Rethinking Religion” website at IRCPL.ORG.    There you’ll also find interesting blogs, transcripts, and other programs on the intersection of religion, culture and public life.  Our conversation continues…


GAURI VISWANATHAN: Let’s look at Akbar, one of the major figure in your last novel, The Enchantress of Florence.  Would you see the historical presence of competing beliefs as a model for experiments with intellectual and religious pluralism, such as the one Akbar created with this tent of new worship? SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, he’s attractive, isn’t he? Because he had this open-mindedness on the subject of religion. I don’t know that it was complete openness; it was more pantheism than open-mindedness, more of a belief that all religions were ways of worshiping the same god, described and named differently, but essentially the same. And, as you know, he tried to invent a religion which expressed that idea, the so-called “ Din-i-llahi,” and it didn’t catch on. People in the end preferred their differences to the idea of unity, and I think that’s one of the poignancies about the project of Akbar. The so called Ibadat Khana, the house of worship, the place of debate . . .GAURI VISWANATHAN: But it’s not even a house, it’s a tent.

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well I made that up, I made that up.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: No, but that’s what’s so interesting in this little conceit that you have.

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Well, what interests me is that. If you read the story, the history of Akbar and this place the Ibadat Khana, the chamber where all these philosophies met everyday in debate, it’s clear that it was a very important place in the court.  And yet in what remains of Fatehpur Sikri, the capital city, nobody knows where it was.  The building is lost, and nobody has any idea of where in the site it might have been. It’s very strange that a building which was clearly so important in the life of the court should have vanished without leaving a trace. So from that I just decided, well, maybe it was never a permanent building in the first place.

The Mughals were incredible tent makers. They made very elaborate multi-story tents, and, in fact, you can say that the architecture of the Mughal period is a rendering in stone of some of the principles of the tent makers and that the architecture in some ways derives from the tent making. So I thought, maybe it’s a tent, and then I thought, maybe that’s kind of appropriate because ideas are not permanent.  Ideas are things in flux, and they move and shift and you can pick them up here and put them down over there, so maybe a tent is the right place to discuss ideas.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Is Akbar an ideal for you in any ways?

SALMAN RUSHDIE: No. I worry about the idealization of Akbar because I think that a lot of that is backwards projection.  We want to have a liberal, tolerant, almost kind of democratic man in the sixteenth century, but he was a despot, Akbar, and he was not interested in not being a despot. He was a man jealous of his power and he exercised it.  I think the thing I was interested to write about was that conflict in him, between the self that was disputatious and open minded and the other self that didn’t want anybody to argue with him. You can’t understand him simply as one or the other. The thing that is colossally important about him is that he tried so hard to break down the barriers between the peoples of India, the barriers created by their different belief systems.  I think that it is a heroic action, and it was followed by his son and his grandson.  Jahangir, Shah Jahan, the next two emperors, essentially followed that project.  Then after that came Aurangzeb who did a great deal to unmake the project.  But, yes, I think it’s admirable.

But there are limits to it. There is a story that pre-exists, which I didn’t make up.  It’s a legend, but it’s a legend that I thought was interesting because it shows the possible limits of such a project. The story is that the court musician, Dansen, created this raaga, which was the raaga of fire, and sang it so beautifully that his skin began to burn and, at the end of the music, there were actually burns on his body.  So Akbar said to him, “Go home and rest and get well.”   He came from the city of Gwalior, so he went back to Gwalior to rest and recover. In Gwalior he met these two girls called Tana and Riri who were famous for the beauty of their singing.  They sang to him the Megh Malhar, the song of the rain, and the rain fell and it was magic rain and it washed away his burns. The emperors, hearing this story, astonished, invited these girls to the court so that he could celebrate them.  And in the girls’ family there was a conversation, and the problem was that these were Hindu girls from a Hindu family and they did not wish to go to the court of a Muslim king.  Yet they felt that if they were to refuse to go, then the king would be angry and there would be reprisals against their family, and so on.  They didn’t know how to say yes, and they didn’t know how to say no, and so they committed suicide. And it just struck me, if you were that kind of king, if you were the kind of king who believed that the borders between religions could be broken down and that people could all live together in mutual understanding, what a shock it must be to discover that there are people who would sooner die, sooner die than buy into that project.  And it seemed to me that that was the limit of it. That’s why I’m saying it’s not idealistic. Here’s a project, but there are limitations to the project. There are people who will not do that, and we have to recognize that and see why that is and what comes out of that.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Well I think it’s very interesting the position that you are taking about the idealization of Akbar because there is certainly one strand of thought, especially in India, where Akbar is held as this proto- secular, syncretic figure.SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah and some of that is true, some of that is true.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Yeah, in fact, I was thinking of Armartya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian, where he makes the strong claim that the diffusion of argumentative traditions in Indian life, cutting across social classes and shaping the Indian social world and culture, has helped to make heterodoxy the natural state of affairs in India, and even goes so far as to link it to the development of democracy. Would you go in that direction?SALMAN RUSHDIE: Far be it for me to argue with Armartya Sen, but why not?  Look, Amartya uses Ashoka and Akbar as early examples of the development of a kind of Indian intellectual tradition which he espouses and values, which he offers as intrinsically Indian tradition — not something imported from outside.  The idea that this kind of open, disputatious, secularist principle can be discovered from inside the Indian tradition rather than from outside, it is, of course, important, and I would not disagree with him about that. But the problem with selecting a couple of exemplars and saying this is what the Indian tradition comes from immediately makes one want to say that there are opposite exemplars. Why is it Akbar who is the model and not Aurangzeb?  Why is it that the 50 years of tolerance of the reign of Akbar should be the model rather than the 50 years of oppression and violence of the reign of Aurangzeb only 3 kings down the line? Ashoka and Akbar were both enormously impressive figures and it’s perfectly right to try to derive from them, if you like, an Indian tradition that one would want to have. The reason why I resist doing only that is that there is also a counter-tradition, a tradition of Muslim oppression of Hindus and Hindu oppression of Muslims, and the unwillingness of those two sides to compromise or get along.  That’s part, unfortunately, of the tradition too.  And that’s not just about India; that’s true anywhere you look. You can find models as shining examples in the past to say that these are the people to look to see where the present comes from, and where the future should come from, but you always have to recognize that there is a counter-example.  Certainly, if you are writing novels, it’s very difficult to be only on one side of the fence. You have to be on both sides of the fence. You have to give the devil the best tunes.

GAURI VISWANATHAN: Well, with this vision, Akbar’s vision of new intellectual and religious pluralism that you depict, it’s very dispiriting to reach the end of the novel and see that vision disintegrate. There are these very powerful lines. In fact, I’m going to just quote.

SALMAN RUSHDIE: You are going to give away the end of the novel?

GAURI VISWANATHAN: No, I’m not giving away.  I think history has already given away the end of the novel, but:

“Once he has gone, all he thought, all he had worked to make his philosophy and way of being, all that would evaporate like water. The future would not be what he hoped for but a dry, hostile, antagonistic place, where people would survive as best as they could and hate their neighbors and smash their places of worship and kill one another once again in the renewed heat of the great quarrel he had sought to end forever, the quarrel over God. In the future, it was harshness not civilization that would rule.”

It’s an extremely bleak sense of the very possibility that Akbar had worked so hard to achieve in his life.

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Yeah, sorry about that. It is bleak. It is bleak, but, you know, look at the world we live in. Look at it! I don’t want to be singing some happy song while people are slitting each others throats and throwing bombs at each other all over the place.  Just look at it. I mean, what is this? We live in a harsh world. We don’t live in this world of tolerance and happiness and music and dance. We live in a world of death and bombs and destruction and hatred and distrust, etc., etc.I believe that maybe something happened that will change that, but it’s difficult to live at this moment in the history of the world and be an optimist. It’s difficult.


NORRIS CHUMLEY: Our series, “Rethinking Religion,” offers a multi-perspective view on people and their ideas – and the values, traditions and beliefs that influence them.  Today, we spoke with Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie, born in 1947, considered by some to be a stylist of magical realism mixed with historical fiction, dabbling in connections and schisms between east and west, atheism and devotion, metaphor and mythology.  He was recorded in a public conversation with author and professor, Gauri Viswanathan.


NORRIS CHUMLEY: “Rethinking Religion” is a project of Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life in New York City.  To hear the entire, unedited interview with Salman Rushdie as well as a short-summary edition, and for transcripts and a lively blog where you can join the conversation, please visit our website at IRCPL.ORG.  I’m Norris Chumley for “Rethinking Religion.”

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