Date of Award

Spring 2018

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies




Maurice O'Sullivan

Second Advisor

Paul Reich


Alienation, nihilism, disenchantment, and destruction of the Earth are some of the widespread maladies of modernity and post-modernity. Dualisms between body and soul, the physical and spiritual, nature and grace, and fact and value have separated humans from other people, from the Earth, from the divine, and ultimately from themselves. Ambivalence about embodiment has characterized Western Civilization since at least the time of Plato and early Christianity. Over time, a confluence of powerful philosophical, religious, and scientific ideas and movements deepened the fissures of these destructive dualisms. Modern science with its claims to hegemony over objective ways of knowing the world is not capable of addressing the issues that are of most importance to human beings—questions about meaning, purpose, and values. Traditional forms of meaning making like narrative, metaphor, art, religion, and ritual were relegated to the realm of subjectivism and regarded as subservient to scientism. By contrast, the sacramental imagination that typified the pre-modern and early modern worldview saw connections everywhere between God, humankind, and the cosmos. The sacramental imagination sees the material and the spiritual as being intimately intertwined in the warp and woof of reality. This thesis begins by tracing the genesis of the body-soul dualism in the West and how the sacramental tapestry was woven and then torn asunder. On the darkling plain of modernity there arose three poet-prophets to call humanity back to a holistic and embodied way of engaging the world: James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, and Wendell Berry. Although they represent secular, Catholic, and Protestant viewpoints, respectively, they each demonstrate how to recover the sacramental imagination. This thesis enters into the critical conversation concerning the sacramental nature of their works, including comparing and contrasting their sacramental approach. Through a close reading of one work of fiction from each author (Joyce’s novel Ulysses, O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back, and Berry’s novel Remembering), their use of sacramental imagery and the functioning of their fictional works as sacramental texts is explored. Recovery of the sacramental imagination is put forth as a way to embrace embodiment and to regain connections between humans, the world, and the transcendent.