Thesis Fest #12: Agency, Communion, Religion

Part of the mystical quality surrounding Life of Pi is Pi’s ability to claim one part of a dichotomy for the other. Reality becomes a part of myth, for instance, rather than its opposite. Many of these conflations deal directly with agency and communion. Pi’s treatment of religion exemplifies this tension. Religion, for most, is communal. It brings people together and connects them to something bigger than themselves. Agency is usually set up in opposition to these sorts of concepts. Pi, however, thwarts this binary. For him, religion is a tool and is, in that way, a very agentic sort of thing.

While religion is very important to Pi in the first part of the novel, it is forced to the background while he is on the lifeboat so that themes of survival and struggle can take its place. Chapter 74, however, deals with religion in the foreground. For this reason, it is illustrative of Pi’s raw feelings on religion. “I practised religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances,” Pi says (208). The word “adapted” is a strong one, implying that Pi has ownership of the rituals. Pi inverts the typical understanding of religion. Religion, typically understood, is bigger than man and so therefore connects man to things beyond himself. For Pi, though, religion is man-made and perhaps smaller than man but is just as important. Pi would probably argue that it is more important in this adaptable way. Once religion has been taken down from its pedestal, it becomes even more meaningful to people because it meets them where they are. They are able to adapt it for their own lives and situations. Thus, through an agentic act (adaptation), Pi makes a communal thing (religion) even more communal.

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