Carlos Eire: Yale professor/Cuban exile to kick off Salt Lake book festival

Historians in the News

Carlos Eire is really two people — one is an erudite professor of history and religion at Yale University, who teaches classes and writes scholarly books, and the other is a Cuban exile of 47 years ago.

This second Eire is a man with strong emotions, and he is responsible for writing "Waiting for Snow in Havana" three years ago, the story of Eire's childhood in Cuba and his escape to the United States at the age of 11.

Eire, who said he loves both personae, wanted to title the memoir "Kiss the Lizard, Jesus," but his publisher rejected the title, calling it "off-putting and disgusting."

"But the lizards stand for many things," Eire said by phone from his Yale office in New Haven, Conn. "I still have a fear of reptiles. I found a snake in my basement two weeks ago and I thought I was going to die! I just have an irrational loathing of these creatures.

"Actually, they're good creatures who eat bugs and vermin. I did cruel things to them as a child. Life is filled with things like that (lizards) that we think are bad. Death is a lizard, but we learn to live with it."

Eire's lecture in Salt Lake City will deal with death in 16th-century Spain, the subject of his scholarly research. "As a small child, I had a preoccupation with death, so it was inevitable that as a professional historian I would study the subject."

His research in Spain demonstrated that "a belief in the afterlife was very real. ... Death is the ultimate inconvenience, something no one escapes. Yet we're hard-wired as human beings not to be able to look at it for very long. We know it's there. Some, like morticians and doctors, have a switch they use to turn it off when they go home."

But Eire asserted that "Death is the main reason humans believe in religion. The ultimate paradox of religion is that we can't prove there is an afterlife. It's very hard for most of us to imagine not existing. There's also a genetic component, as demonstrated in the book 'The God Gene: How Faith is Hard-Wired in our Genes' by Gene Hamer."

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