Zeitgeist incarnate
: a theological interpretation of postapocalyptic zombie fiction

  • David Baird

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis attempts to take seriously the claims made by many postapocalyptic zombie narratives to represent the world as it truly is, analyzing and then assessing the theological value of their depictions of the human predicament. The approach is both formal and what Gary Wolfe calls transmedial, examining the recurring narrative structures and themes of texts across several media and eras as part of ‘a popular aesthetic movement and not just a body of works of fiction on similar themes’, with special attention given to the films and television of the new millennium. The aim is twofold: to extend the relevance of postapocalyptic zombie fictions beyond the relatively narrow vogue of a cultural moment, and to prompt a richer appreciation of the significance of the Christian faith within contemporary society. To this end, Chapter One contextualizes the complexity of these texts’ relationship to Christianity by examining first the most prominent obstacles and then the implicit promise of these texts for theological reflection. It places special emphasis on the interior tension in many of these fictions between, on the one hand, aggressively emphasizing the apparent absence of the supernatural, while on the other, frequently claiming to disclose a dimension of human experience in excess of what can be ordinarily perceived by the senses. Chapters Two and Three extend this analysis to the complex content of what these stories depict. Chapter Two considers the multilayered symbolism of decline in their conspicuous spectacles of disaster, disintegration, and death. Chapter Three examines the countervailing symbolic motifs of residual integrity and regeneration that are exhibited most prominently by characters who attempt to live genuinely human lives in spite of these circumstances. The first half of the thesis concludes by proposing a composite postapocalyptic view of the human predicament, which represents the world as ambiguous, dramatic and quite possibly, although not certainly, absurd. Chapter Four begins the theological reflection upon this kind of postapocalyptic perspective, proposing how such depictions might be illuminated by Christian theological descriptions, particularly the absurd existential circumstances brought about by the original sin. Chapter Five, reciprocally, suggests some of the ways the dramatic images of these texts might enrich theological reflection by eliciting fresh insights into the significance of the central mysteries of Christianity, especially the paradoxical already-and-not-yet of eschatological expectation. The thesis concludes by offering a final evaluation of whether, all told, the world can be truly considered postapocalyptic from a Christian perspective, arguing that although there are significant differences, postapocalyptic fictions and Christianity put forward strikingly similar pictures of the deeply self-conflicted circumstances of the common human predicament.
Date of Award25 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorGavin Richard Hopps (Supervisor)


  • Theology and the arts
  • Postapocalyptic
  • Zombies
  • Popular culture
  • Fiction
  • Film
  • Development of doctrine
  • Trauma studies

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