America’s Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King

Douglas E. Cowan. New York Univ, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4798-9473-4
Cowan (Cyberhenge), professor of religious studies at Renison University College in Waterloo, Ont., dives deep into Stephen King’s writings to excavate theological questions in this incisive, accessible work. Though King does not offer a coherent or systematic scaffolding for belief, Cowan writes, his horror fiction raises questions that religions purport to answer about human origins, destiny, and control over powerful forces. After defining religion as the drive to make one’s life harmonious with an unseen order, Cowan approaches his argument though thematic chapters, showing King’s characters struggling to find their places in an often hostile universe. His examples (a physician processing death as he escapes demonic children in Children of the Corn, and a couple becoming bound by ritual in Rainy Season) range across the whole of King’s career to address the role of socialization in how humans understand inexplicable phenomena, explain emotions through narratives, answer the conundrums of death, and navigate other key elements of spiritual frameworks. Throughout, Cowan remains unconcerned with King’s own religious beliefs and instead uses his characters alone to form his arguments about the religious impulse, giving the book a detached but rigorous quality. The two chapters on ritual and religious experience, in particular, effectively deploy detailed close readings (although the entire work brings nuance to King’s horror tropes). Rich enough for scholars yet easily readable by a general audience, Cowan’s insightful exploration of the religious questions raised by King provides a fresh way for viewing the religious dimensions of popular culture. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2018
Release date: 06/01/2018
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