Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen, editor of Divine Dirt Quarterly and immersed in the Conversion Project, interviewed by Lynn Alexander.

LA: I often start by asking about current projects, books, collections, the “work”. Can you run down some of your projects, such as Divine Dirt Quarterly?

AB: Sure.  I started Divine Dirt Quarterly (DDQ) in the Fall of 2009 because I was just beginning to write theological fiction—that is, fiction that deals with religious issues within a secular context, and found that the work either had too much religion for more secular markets and not enough for the religious markets. DDQ was my offering to folks like me who wanted to explore theological issues through fiction, poetry, art, non-fiction, and even film without fear of censorship.

Apart from that, I currently have a novel under consideration by an agent about a teenager who either hears the voice of the divine or suffers from schizophrenia,  and a novella forthcoming from Rebel Satori Press about a young woman who struggles with both becoming a tattoo artist and her own sexuality. I’m about one or two short story acceptances away from putting together a collection.

LA: Why spirituality as an emphasis? Why do you find yourself committed to the exploration of theological and philosophical questions?

Because the exploration of that which we don’t understand is an innate part of what makes one human. I see religion as the womb of science and arts—the first imaginative and cognitive reach of humanity to explore and try to explain just what the hell is going on. The fact that many religions over time have created walls against reason and creativity is hypocritical. Much of what we view as staples of faith in today’s incarnations of religion—especially the Abrahamic traditions, are due to the interpretations of artists, not necessarily holy writ itself. This capacity and desire to explore the unknown and express the agonies and ecstasies associated with that exploration through the arts is paramount.

LA: At Jello World, J. Lea Lopez asked you about the name “Dirty Prophet” and you explained that prophets are often about change, and dirt appeals to you because you connect it to nature, our origin, our composition.  What could you say about change, what needs to change or should change, what are the problems we have?

Do you think there are limits on what we can understand?

AB: There was a recent poll conducted by The Pew Forum on the general knowledge of adherents to different religions. Of those polled, atheists and agnostics were the most knowledgeable. In fact, many adherents scored low on facts about their own faith. I don’t believe the subject of religion should be force-fed to anyone, however since it does seem to be a powder keg of animosity and source of diversion in the world, we owe it to ourselves to brush up on some of the issues.

My goal with change is, through creativity and expression, for folks to begin to see the faiths of others in the same light as their own. Faith and religion, after all, share a commonality in that they reach for a mystery that no one, no matter how enlightened their tomes and prophets are, has quite gotten their heads around yet.

I think the limits of our understanding are set up by the barriers we construct. Science is making discoveries at an exponential rate. We might have even found an Earth-like planet. That’s some cool shit! Where religion often fails is that it takes such discoveries as threats to the adherent’s understanding of scripture or even God and so you have people who shut down and refuse to look over the fence they’ve created. But really, if God is as big as they say he is, why would he allow the spark of life to be limited to our tiny, infinitesimal speck in the cosmos?

LA: You are working on a project that involves the exploration of different world religions, one at a time. Can you say more about that, your methods, and what you are hoping to do? And what are your plans for this project?

AB: The initiative is called Project Conversion: Twelve Months of Spiritual Promiscuity. It will launch January 1, 2011, and will chronicle a year in which I convert to one religion every month and document the whole experience via photos, video, and blog. My goal is to be a sacrifice—to be a convert in effigy. People, mostly religious, are often reticent to research or explore other faiths because they fear their own faith will be tested. This problem contributes to the misunderstanding of many religions by people who were uncomfortable , scared, or just too lazy to find out. So I’ll do it for them. Also, reading about a religion will only get you so far. Being a part of the faithful is a tactile and personal experience. This will also give people a chance to see what a marginalized faith—like Sikhism or Wicca, go through as an often misunderstood and discriminated segment of society.

Because I have no background in any of these faiths and often my daily living norms will be challenged, there is sure to be a lot of embarrassing, entertaining, and awkward moments along this journey because my family will have to deal with this project as well.

LA: When you say that it is tempting to decide, do you mean that people find a certain comfort in having difficult questions resolved?

What about situations where people think something is decided, but science or circumstances force them to revisit their conclusions, can the same tendency that brings people comfort and stability also make change difficult?

Do you think these questions can be resolved for you, personally, meaning spiritual questions?

AB: There’s certainly a comfort in at least some sort of knowledge. Most are terrified of the unknown, that’s why most religions typically have a vivid or at least hopeful vision of the afterlife. But I think that the questions that exist now, as in “How did the universe come into being?” present a temptation to go the easy route and say “God did it.” This often closes the door to further exploration. I don’t think it has to be that way. If some divine being (or just a higher, smarter one) did compose the universe, why stop there? Does it really dismantle one’s faith to discover the inner workings of the cosmos?

The only real difference between science and religion is that science isn’t afraid of being wrong. Instead of backtracking or just denying knew evidence or discoveries all together, science clarifies new information through objective testing and then, if sound, rewrites the books without much of a fuss. Many religions don’t embrace change. Christianity cuts us off at Jesus. We recycle Buddha every generation. Muhammad was all she wrote for Islam. But what these people don’t realize is that religion continually aggregates, as we’ve seen with more recent additions like Sikhism, Baha’i, Satanism, and scores of others. The question is, do they have the balls to admit that God might be bigger than their books or their hegemonic concepts of the divine?

Personally, I loathe the idea of settling for something. I’m truly a spiritual whore. Just when I grooving on one faith or philosophy, another walks by in a tiny black dress with a nice ass and there I am hopelessly smitten again. That’s why I think Project Conversion will be great. Everyone will understand that the twelve faiths and I are only friends with benefits.

LA: What are your plans for 2011?

AB: 2011, if everything goes to plan, will shave at least five years off my life. Project Conversion will soak up most of my energy and time, but during the year I hope to have my novel at least represented if not picked up by a publisher. It’s the first book of a series, so if it is picked up I’d naturally start writing the next in the series.  But much of the year will be spent with the project, pimping out my writing and, somewhere in the middle, I might have time to hang out with my kids, attend school, and hit on my wife.

You can check out Divine Dirt Quarterly here, and Project Conversion here.