Study Guide

American Pastoral Religion

By Philip Roth

Religion

American Pastoral is all about worship, from formal religions to greed, wealth, power, and the struggle for freedom. It also tackles the question of Dawn and the Swede's inter-religious marriage.

Several of the characters in the books take religion super seriously. But for the Swede, the novel's tragic hero, religion is at best a nuisance and at worst a downright threat. For him, the American experience is not just freedom of religion, but freedom from religion.

Questions About Religion

  1. What does Merry's religious path look like? How do you feel about her religious choices? How does the novel represent Jainism?
  2. How does the Swede feel about religion?
  3. What do you make of Lou's arguments against inter-religious marriage?
  4. What are some of the things worshiped in the novel besides God?
  5. Do religion and politics intersect in the novel? Can you find any examples?

Chew on This

In Jainism, Merry is able to find a theological perspective that meets her political perspective… at least for the time being.

Lou's arguments against inter-religious marriages are rendered as absurd (but still dangerous) in the scene where he and Dawn negotiate the religious path of her future children.

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