David Mitchell's Post-Secular World: Buddhism, Belief and the Urgency of Compassion

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Rose Harris-Birtill analyses the secular reworking of Buddhist religious influences across David Mitchell’s complete fictions, including his novels, short stories, and libretti, arguing that their shared ethical perspectives draw them into a continuous post-secular world, and introducing the Tibetan Buddhist mandala as a fittingly post-secular comparative model through which to analyse Mitchell’s fictional worldview. Harris-Birtill demonstrates that Mitchell’s fictions cumulatively map not a physical terrain but the metaphysical world of belief, creating an interconnected world-system in order to suggest new ethical approaches to global humanitarian crises, revaluing the role of secular belief in galvanising both compassionate action and collective resistance. This study also reads the recurring character of Marinus as a form of secular bodhisattva, analysing Mitchell’s use of reincarnation as a form of non-linear temporality aimed at generating future-facing ethical action amidst the worryingly linear temporality of the Anthropocene. Harris-Birtill also identifies shared post-secular world-building in other contemporary literature, analysing novels by Michael Ondaatje, Ali Smith, Yann Martel, Will Self and Margaret Atwood in order to suggest the emerging literary category of mandalic literature. This perceptive study combines Buddhist philosophy with critical theory, drawing on Jung, Derrida, Foucault and Spivak, alongside contemporary theories of metamodernism and globalization. Taking a post-Jungian approach to the Tibetan mandala not as an ahistorical symbol but as a living socio-cultural artefact in diaspora, Harris-Birtill also identifies the wider implications of the mandala’s theorisation, noting the urgent need to resituate this ‘holistic’ symbol within the ongoing socio-political struggles that led to its increased international visibility.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Number of pages304
ISBN (Electronic)9781350078611, 9781350078604
ISBN (Print)9781350078598
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameNew Horizons in Contemporary Writing
PublisherBloomsbury Academic


  • David Mitchell
  • Buddhism
  • Literature
  • Literature and criticism
  • Literature and capitalism
  • World literature
  • Foucault
  • Derrida
  • Jung
  • Spivak
  • post-secular
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Ghostwritten
  • Globalisation
  • Globalization
  • Contemporary fiction
  • Contemporary literature
  • Religion
  • British literature
  • British fiction
  • metamodernism
  • Mandala
  • Tibetan Buddhism
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Michael Ondaatje
  • Ali Smith
  • Yann Martel
  • Will Self
  • Deconstruction
  • Panopticism


Dive into the research topics of 'David Mitchell's Post-Secular World: Buddhism, Belief and the Urgency of Compassion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this