Religion in contemporary American politics and religion in contemporary American Literature: are they independent phenomena? Literary scholars have largely assumed so. Scholars have attended to nontraditional, liberal religion in postwar American literature, while overlooking how this literature represents and critiques the rise of the Christian Right. Since white evangelical and fundamentalist Christians allied with the Republican party in the late 1970s, Christian conservatives have transformed American politics. As the GOP’s most influential interest group, the Christian Right has set the terms for many of the last four decades’ most contentious and consequential debates. Historians, political scientists, and contemporary American writers alike have attempted to understand the Christian Right and its influence through Christian conservative political discourse. In this dissertation, I argue that U.S. Literature since the rise of the Christian Right critiques Christian conservative discourses and reimagines how religious language can work politically. Considering essays, short stories, and novels by Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Powers, George Saunders, Marilynne Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Helena María Viramontes, Octavia Butler, and Louise Erdrich, I demonstrate how this literature engages with the discourses of Christian creationism and climate change skepticism, Christian apocalypse and U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Christian conservative neoliberalism, “family values,” religious freedom, and Christian nationalism. These writers depict Christian conservative discourses circulating in isolation from opposing perspectives, that portray Christian conservatives besieged by secular society. Yet they also reinterpret Christian language to explore questions raised by evolutionary theory and complicated by advances in cognitive neuroscience about how we experience consciousness, free will and moral responsibility, and the purpose of human existence. They reimagine the bonds that make a family in Christian language, and they imagine how religious discourse could promote political dialogue and empathy in a postsecular society.

Degree Date


Document Type


Degree Name





Steven Weisenburger

Second Advisor

Jayson Sae-Saue

Third Advisor

Beth Newman

Fourth Advisor

Kate Carte

Subject Area

Language and Literature, English and American, Religion, Political Science and Government, Neuroscience, Philosophy

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.