Perverts and penitents: The crisis of faith, the death of Satan and the (re)birth of doubt in the works of Cormac McCarthy

Kristina R Harvey, Fordham University


In this dissertation I develop a reading of Cormac McCarthy's texts through an investigation of the crisis of faith and the vexed relationship between the secular and the sacred spheres that is central to this twenty-first century post-secular world. In Chapter One, I place McCarthy in the context of other American post-secular writers and explore how he is contributing to a new way of looking at the friction between belief and unbelief by posing questions about the fundamentals of theological and social structures. In Chapter Two, I focus on McCarthy's subversion of the apocalyptic narrative and his exploration of evil, both important components of the post-secular mode and critical for a comprehensive study of McCarthy's works. In Chapter Three, I explore how McCarthy integrates religious doubt as an essential element of the discourse that collapses the distance between faith and secularity, holding us captive in an agony of grace and questioning the very structures that shore up our daily experience. Finally, in Chapter Four, I focus on McCarthy's central text, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, in which strands of the post-secular mode construct a modern reading of the uneasy overlap between the sacred and the secular. While McCarthy can rest uneasily at times in the post-secular framework, it is his investigation into the tension between religious doubt and secular reason that is his contribution to the conversation among post-secular texts. McCarthy creates landscapes that are peopled with believers and doubters locked together in a violent dance that privileges neither group. In McCarthy's ambiguity, we can read his texts as a secular warning of the human ability to destroy the world and as a sacred gesture suggesting belief in a divine presence. We are to read McCarthy's texts as signs of our depravity and as gestures toward something greater than ourselves. The intersection of the rational and the divine leaves the reader both vulnerable in his doubt and willing to believe in the terrible beauty of McCarthy's world.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Harvey, Kristina R, "Perverts and penitents: The crisis of faith, the death of Satan and the (re)birth of doubt in the works of Cormac McCarthy" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600974.