Author, critic, and professor Randy Boyagoda visited the Wheaton English Department on April 6th to give a reading of his latest work and to share with students his perspective on faith and fiction. Boyagoda, a graduate of the University of Toronto and Boston University, is now an Associate Professor of English at Ryerson University.
Boyagoda began his address by describing how, as a young academic, he once struggled to integrate his devotional Catholic formation with a career in secular academia.
“Read Charles Taylor’s The Secular Rage,” he explained, “and then go pray the rosary with my mother, and you’ll see two very different worlds that seem to have very little to do with each other.”
Boyagoda had feared becoming a casualty of the culture war, as he navigated academic circles that seemed unfriendly to faith. Now, as a professor at an urban secular university in Toronto and a contributor to openly religious publications, as well as hardline secular progressive magazines, Boyagoda makes the connection between the life of the mind and the life of faith.
Is faith anywhere to be found in modern literature? The answer is yes, said Boyagoda, but “we may have lost faith in our ability to speak and think and write about literature in faith terms that convince…That strikes me as a great challenge we have. If you can only convince those who believe the same way you do, then you’re just hiding the lamp under a bushel.”
He encouraged students to immerse themselves in the current literary world, going beyond fiction that is overtly Christian.
“If that’s all we read,” he explained, “we’re sitting backwards in a car that’s hurtling forwards…There’s a whole world in front of us that is godless, and we’re making it godless by ignoring it.”
Boyagoda’s first two novels take an oblique approach to the spiritual: Governor of the Northern Province is about an ex-African warlord enjoying the hospitality of small-town Canada, and Beggar’s Feast is a four-part novel about family, ambition, tradition, and modernity in the tropics of Ceylon. His current work-in-progress, A Fool’s Cap Map of the World, explores more direct questions about a life of faith in the modern world. A Fool’s Cap Map of the World follows the adventure of an “egotistical, cowardly” Sri Lankan professor in Toronto with two big secrets: he believes in God, and he has a flat-screen TV.
“If you’re a college professor in Toronto, you’re not allowed to have either of those things,” joked Boyagoda, who concluded his remarks by reading a few pages of the new work.
His animated delivery invited listeners to laugh at the semi-autobiographical touches and telling, close-to-home humor. He concluded the reading with a time for questions and conversation with students about faithful writing and spiritual vocation.