America's Dark Theologian

The Religious Imagination of Stephen King

272 pages

June, 2018

ISBN: 9781479894734



Add to Cart Available: 5/18/2018

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Douglas E. Cowan is Professor of Religious Studies and Social Development Studies at Renison University College. His previous books include Sacred Space: The Quest for Transcendence in Science Fiction Film and Television and Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen.

All books by Douglas E. Cowan

Illuminating the religious and existential themes in Stephen King’s horror stories 

Who are we? Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? For answers to these questions, people often look to religion. But religion is not the only place seekers turn. Myths, legends, and other stories have given us alternative ways to address the fundamental quandaries of existence. Horror stories, in particular, with their focus on questions of violence and mortality, speak urgently to the primal fears embedded in such existential mysteries. With more than fifty novels to his name, and hundreds of millions of copies sold, few writers have spent more time contemplating those fears than Stephen King. Yet despite being one of the most widely read authors of all time, King is woefully understudied. America’s Dark Theologian is the first in-depth investigation into how King treats religion in his horror fiction. 

Considering works such as Carrie, The Dead Zone, Misery, The Shining, and many more, Douglas Cowan explores the religious imagery, themes, characters, and, most importantly, questions that haunt Stephen King’s horror stories. Religion and its trappings are found throughout King’s fiction, but what Cowan reveals is a writer skeptical of the certainty of religious belief. Describing himself as a “fallen away” Methodist, King is less concerned with providing answers to our questions, than constantly challenging both those who claim to have answers and the answers they proclaim. Whether he is pondering the existence of other worlds, exploring the origins of religious belief and how it is passed on, probing the nature of the religious experience, or contemplating the existence of God, King invites us to question everything we think we know.


  • "[Cowan’s] erudition and insight appear throughout, shining especially brightly in his discussions of less popular works like Desperation, Bag of Bones, and Duma Key. Longtime fans will find much to chew on."

    Christianity Today

  • "[An] incisive, accessible work . . . Cowan’s insightful exploration of the religious questions raised by King provides a fresh way for viewing the religious dimensions of popular culture."

    Publishers Weekly

  • "If you are a huge Stephen King fan and want to read more about the philosophical and religious questions his books raise, then this book is absolutely for you. In fact, if you are a mere Stephen King dabbler but an avid horror fan there is a lot of great stuff to take away from this book. Moreover, horror writers can surely benefit greatly from Cowan's discussions as the challenges of our common religious and metaphysical understanding in King's work is often fundamental to the sense of dread and horror we feel. If you want to know how and why Stephen King's writing works so well this is a great place to start your journey . . . once you pick it up you are unlikely to be able to put it down."

    Signal Horizon

  • “An interesting and . . . compelling examination of the religious strains in King's work.”


  • "Douglas E. Cowan's excellent America's Dark Theologian isn't just an intriguing exploration of religious themes in Stephen King's work, it's also a clear and thought-provoking study of the sources and cultural uses of horror stories. Highly recommended to anyone who has ever wondered why we love - or even need - to delve into darkness."

    —Lisa Morton, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Ghosts: A Haunted History

  • "With America's Dark Theologian, Douglas Cowan investigates the ways in which Stephen King's horror fiction engages issues and concerns of a distinctly theological cast. Focusing his study on such key texts as Carrie, Pet Sematary, 'N,' and Revival, Cowan considers the fundamental questions to which King returns time and again: How do we make meaning of our experience of the world? How do we grapple with what Simone Weil called the problem of affliction? How do we confront the ineluctable fact of our mortality? In conversational prose, Cowan ranges through King's work, examining the range of responses it offers to the issues that overshadow our existence. Using terms drawn from theology, Cowan discusses King's continuing engagement with those aspects of human life religion seeks to address. By identifying and exploring this overlap, he maps new routes into one of the most substantial bodies of fiction of the last half-century. In so doing, he deepens his readers' understanding and appreciation of Stephen King's achievement. His own is admirable."

    —John Langan, author of The Fisherman and House of Windows