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Rainn Wilson's big life questions in the website-turned-book 'SoulPancake'

May 1, 2011 |  5:58 am


Fans of the mega-hit television show “The Office” know that Rainn Wilson’s character, Dwight Schrute, is a man who speaks and acts in absolutes. As an author, Wilson has proved he is markedly different from his alter ego.

“We didn’t want to have answers and we don’t,” said Wilson during a conversation Saturday at the Festival of Books with advice goddess Amy Alkon.

The “we” Wilson was referencing is the team behind SoulPancake. In 2009, Wilson launched the website with co-creators Joshua Homnick and Devon Gundry. The project has also produced a bestselling book of the same name.

“SoulPancake” is a space to explore big, universal questions in a playful and irreverent way. On the website and in the book, readers encounter art, ideas, quotes, diagrams and prompts. Wilson described it as a workbook, coloring book and “think book” for readers.

Although “SoulPancake” focuses on spirituality and not religion, Wilson spoke about the ways in which his own religion, Bahai, influenced the work. He said one of the fundamental principals of the Bahai faith is an “individual investigation of truth.” Wilson also spoke of the correlation between art and spirituality and the Bahai teaching that the two are indistinct. 

One section of “SoulPancake” contains suggested good deeds -- such as the self-explanatory “reverse pickpocket.” Throughout, the authors and artists encourage readers to engage with others and the world at large. Wilson said that one of his favorite things about “SoulPancake” is the way it connects people who are working through the same questions and creates a dialogue to explore together.

The book's co-authors, Devon Gundry, Golriz Lucina and Shabnam Mogharabi, joined Wilson on stage for part of the discussion. They are in the process of filming webisodes that document some of the prompts from “SoulPancake” in action. Personally, Wilson said, he is doing some writing for television and movies, adding he would continue to play Dwight for at least another year or two.

During the talk, Wilson was steadfast in distinguishing himself as an asker, not an answerer (“I’m really not a guru,” he said) but expressed a passion for getting people to join his quest. He said “SoulPancake” is meant to specifically appeal to young people who aren’t asking themselves these important questions.

“We really did 'SoulPancake' as a service to get people to think about stuff. Think about, why is it that we never have discussions about what happens to us after we die? Why is that so taboo? Why can we never talk about that? Part of the reason is because of religious people proselytizing and trying to shove their point of view down other people’s throats. That’s left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

-- Caitlin Schneider

Photo: Rainn Wilson and Amy Alkon. Credit: Caitlin Schneider