Only The Gods Are Real: The Dialogical Theology of Postmodern American Science Fiction Open Access

Belser, Beverly Howell (2015)

Permanent URL:


This dissertation is an examination of the ways in which science fiction literature offers us a vantage point from which to explore American religion as it is embedded within the economic, social, political, and technological dynamics of the late twentieth century. In this dissertation I seek out alternative visions of American religion in The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula Le Guin, Trouble on Triton (1976) by Samuel Delaney, and American Gods (2001) by Neil Gaiman. These three proof texts each enact a kind of dialogical theology--a religious thinking technology--that rearranges the reader and their perceptions of the world in multiple directions and on many levels at the same time. Given the relationship between dialogic possibility and context, the dialogical theology of these texts is defined by the depth of their roots in American history and culture, making theirs a distinctly American dialogical theology that maps the complex and contradictory relationships between religion, culture, technology, and social change. Part of my question asks how changes in the ambient socio-political rhetoric in the United States become changes in American dialogical theology. Understanding the relationship between history, discourse, and the novel helps us to see the ways in which how we understand religion is bound up with the broader concerns of any given particular historical moment. This project does not provide an ontology of religion, but rather uses the notion of dialogical theology as a lens through which to bring The Dispossessed, Trouble on Triton, and American Gods to life and as a result to open up our understanding of American religion specifically as well as the broader category of the religious.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1. Language, Discourse, and Religion 23

2. Science Fiction, Religion, and the Postmodern 59

3. Utopia and Subjectivity in Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed 91

4. Ritual, Performance, and Embodiment in Samuel Delaney's Trouble on Triton 128

5. American Religious Bricolage in Neil Gaiman's American Gods 167

6. Epilogue 206

7. Bibliography 211

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files