Creating a fictional religion is one of the most difficult feats in literature. A religion that feels real requires a sense of place, a set of rituals and terms, and a shared history in which fact, legend, and politics meld together. In other words, it requires the elements of worldbuilding that make fiction—especially science fiction and fantasy—so difficult. Writers who venture into this territory run the risk of romanticizing religion or demonizing it; of oversimplifying religion or making it so nebulous that it loses meaning for both the characters and the reader. Successful examples include the Bene Gesserit of Dune, as well as the Earthseed faith from Parable of the Sower, an idea so potent that it has even inspired real life imitation.
The 21st century has given writers a new urgency in engaging and reimagining religion. The reasons are so ubiquitous that a list quickly becomes unwieldy: 9/11, the continued rise of the religious right, the war on science (specifically evolution and climate change), sex scandals, financial scandals, and the collision of mainstream religious institutions and various social justice movements. Looming in the background is an unprecedented demographic shift, evidenced in virtually every survey on the topic, in which an increasing number of people simply walk away from traditional religion. One thing that both the fiercest atheist and the most pious apologist can agree on is this: the traditional sources of religious authority have been badly compromised, in some cases eroded to almost nothing, leading many people to seek what could be called spiritual fulfillment elsewhere.