Rowan Williams says the theological is crucial to accessing our literary heritage.
It’s really difficult, I think, for people trying to come to terms with the great mainstream tradition of English literature if they don’t see where it comes from, where some of these controlling ideas and images emerge from. And there are strands and elements, I think, in the world of literary criticism and scholarship which encourage that kind of tone deafness about it.
I’ve found, certainly, talking to mixed groups about literary subjects that it’s often remarkably possible – even welcome – to shift the discussion into this area and to say, well, if you want to come to terms with this that’s where you have to come from, that’s the world you’ve got to try and understand. But it is difficult, and I think we’re in danger of losing a huge dimension of that literary heritage if we don’t see where things come from. So that, for example, if you try to pick up any major pre-modern English writer without grasping some of the theological agenda, you’re not going to see how it works. If you try to read even Shakespeare without that – Shakespeare whose language is shot through with the prayer book and the Geneva Bible, and with a whole range of other theological interests – goodness knows what he believed, but you couldn’t really understand that particular dimension of his work without some awareness.