Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation intervenes in the critical debate over Ernest Hemingway’s religious orientation. One camp of Hemingway scholars argues that he was a practicing Catholic, while the other camp argues that Hemingway was an existential atheist. Rather than side with either camp in this binary debate, my research offers a third option that bridges the gap between these opposing positions. Examining Hemingway’s life and works through the eyes of contemporary political philosopher Giorgio Agamben, I argue that Hemingway is, properly speaking, neither a secularist nor a theist, but a secularized theist, whose “religion” takes the form of masculine volition, or sovereign, self-originating choice. As Agamben does well to demonstrate, sovereign choice secularizes the imago Dei, a Christian concept for human exceptionalism, or the belief that human beings are metaphysically superior to the rest of nature. Under the parameters of this philosophical framework, I then compare Hemingway with the 20th century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to illustrate how sovereign choice unites Catholicism with existential atheism, both of which discover humanity’s capacity for absolute freedom in nothingness, or the negative ontology of God’s absence. My study of Agamben offers a critical reading of Sartre, which then provides an interpretive lens through which to consider Hemingway’s literary works. I conclude that Hemingway’s masculine volition—the practice of sovereign, self-originating choice— secularizes the imago Dei in the form human exceptionalism. My conclusion resolves the critical disagreement surrounding Hemingway’s religious orientation and offers a novel reading of the author’s works.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.