Where Are the Wild Things? A Cultural-Psychological Critique of a Political Theology of Climate Change Denial


One aim of this essay is to understand why white evangelical Christians, more than any other religious adherents in the United States, are deeply invested in denying the emergency of anthropogenic climate change and in obstructing action to address anthropogenic climate change. Michael S. Hogue, in his recent book, American Immanence, blames a religious imaginary he names the “redeemer symbolic.” This symbolic complex inspires the devotion of the politically powerful white evangelical Christian and nationalist movement in the United States at the present time. A second aim of the essay is to analyze the redeemer symbolic. Through a reading of Maurice Sendak’s much-loved illustrated children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, the essay suggests that U.S. white evangelical devotees of the redeemer symbolic share a kind of inability to come to terms with a vital and ineliminable wildness in persons and cultures; further, that this inability correlates with a political-theological failure, even refusal, to grasp the emergency of anthropogenic climate change. The essay first explicates the redeemer symbolic, with a particular focus on its implication in the legitimation of climate skepticism. Then, with the aid of key concepts from the psychoanalytic theory of D.W. Winnicott, it interprets the story of Max, the protagonist in Where the Wild Things Are, as a fable of healthy development of what Winnicott calls “transitional space” and a related “capacity to be alone.” Unsuccessful development of those resources, it is suggested, contributes to an account of why adherents of the redeemer symbolic typically refuse wildness and thus may be prone to climate negligence. More importantly, though, recognizing the cultural-psychological importance of “wild things” (as by the “counter-fable” of Max) may help fire imaginative ways around the obstructiveness of the redeemer symbolic, to more effectively address climate change in particular, and human well-being in nature in general.


climate change, Michael S. Hogue, imagination, political theology, Maurice Sendak, wilderness, D.W. Winnicott, psychoanalysis

How to cite:

Irvine, Andrew B. “Where Are the Wild Things? A Cultural-Psychological Critique of a Political Theology of Climate Change Denial.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 4, no. 1 (2020): 88-101. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2020.0008.


Andrew B. Irvine
Division of Humanities, Maryville College
502 E Lamar Alexander Pkwy, Maryville, TN 37804, USA.


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