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UNC religious studies graduate student asks the 'Big Questions' in literature

Tonight, Flyleaf books will host a dialogue between UNC religious studies Ph.D. student Brook Wilensky-Lanford and author Scott Cheshire on his new book, "High as the Horses’ Bridles." The story lives inside the mind of a former child preacher as he grapples with what Wilensky-Lanford calls “Big Questions” — questions of existence, morality, etc.

“We all engage the big questions on a day to day basis,” Wilensky-Lanford said. "Literature just shares these perspectives to a wider audience.” 

In his novel, Cheshire exposes us to a perspective we might not have access to. This crafting of unique, authentic personal narratives, fictional and nonfictional, has most inspired Wilensky-Lanford throughout her career. “

Really what fascinates me is how individual people interpret interpret religious texts,” she said.

Wilensky-Lanford works as a teaching assistant for an introductory course on the Hebrew Bible. The course presents a new way of looking at the Bible for many UNC students as they have to approach the text from a historical perspective, and even consult archaeology. Each student brings a unique approach by discovering his or her own narrative of religious thought. 

However, Wilensky-Lanford notes that many students come in with an extensive knowledge of the Bible, which can pose a challenge. 

“With anything you know really well, it can be hard to look at it from a different angle,” she said.

Confronting this struggle between confidence and true knowledge is the basis of Killing the Buddha, an online magazine of which Wilensky-Lanford is editor-in-chief. The name can be a bit puzzling at first, even jolting — kill the Buddha? ‘Isn’t that a bit heavy-handed?’ I thought as I scanned the red-and-black themed webpage hesitantly. 

It turns out that the name comes from a Zen Buddhist legend in which a young monk claims to have found the Buddha and encountered total enlightenment. Upon hearing this in disbelief, his master instructs him to kill the Buddha if he ever sees him, metaphorically communicating that the young monk must challenge that of which he is most certain.

In Cheshire's novel, the child preacher confronts this certainty as he applies the Big Questions to his own prophecies and beliefs. 

arts@dailytarheel.com

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