Nobel Winner Assails Religious Intolerance in L.A. Visit

January 27, 2007

Author: K. Connie Kang

Source: Los Angeles Times,1,7525410.story?coll=la-news-religion&ctrack=1&cset=true

Religion, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka says, is the 21st century's defining issue — just as W.E.B. Du Bois predicted race would be for the 20th century.

On one level, he says, spiritual practices can enrich humankind. But religious fundamentalism is the greatest threat to peace and democracy in the world today, according to Soyinka,the Nigerian writer who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature.

"With the death of ideology in general, and the death of communist ideology in particular, which virtually amounted to religion, religion ... has stepped in to fill the vacuum," he said in a recent interview. As evidence he pointed to conflicts in Darfur, Chechnya and Indonesia.

Soyinka, 72, who has endured imprisonment, exile and many death threats for standing up to dictatorial rule in his homeland, was in Southern California last week to give a lecture on "Deities for a Secular Dispensation" at Claremont Graduate University's Institute for Signifying Scriptures.

The institute studies all forms of scriptures — not just written sacred texts such as the Bible and Koran, but also messages appearing in other forms: through figures, icons and objects.

In June, the institute started its first major collaborative research project: Scriptural Fundamentalism Among Peoples of Color in the United States. Soyinka's talk was the institute's inaugural address in the distinguished lecture series.