Walsingham in Pushkin’s A Feast During the Plague is first seen as feasting with his friends. Later the Priest comes a criticizes their actions, especially those of Walsingham, who is revealed to have lost both his mother and wife.
Religion has traditionally served as a way of finding comfort and hope for people during hard times. Walsingham in this play however, goes against those ideals and attempts to forget the pain by celebrating in the midst of the plague. We eventually do not know how well this worked as the play ends with him “plunged in deep contemplation.”
I think it is possible to observe a similar trend with COVID and how as of late, religion has been very frequently targeted for having accelerated the spread of the virus, at times perhaps rightfully so as described by events in this article.
However, the article also mentions the role that religious institutions have been taking such as, providing help for marginalized groups, tackling fear through trust and battling discrimination heightened by pandemics. Given this, simply pushing back religion is not going to be a solution. There need to be ways to guarantee that these activities are carried out, though being cautious about the downfalls of blind faith.
These points are well taken, Jihun. It’s true that a lot of the high profile commentary on religion has focused on superspreader events held by worshippers who refuse to follow public health guidelines. Less has been said about the many religious organizations who provide relief and support to the sick. In the Pushkin play, the Priest is the voice of social institutions that govern morality. I think there’s some ambivalence in the treatment given to the Priest. Is he like the prophet Tiresias? Or is he a nuisance? It’s also true that from Sophocles and Thucydides forward, our texts have called attention to the breakdown of ritual and religiosity under the pressure of the plague: certainly something for us to continue to keep an eye on as we go.