Filling the Vacuum: New Religious Movements and the search for meaning in HBO The Leftovers

Manuel Lopez

Professor of Religious Studies at New College of Florida


This paper examines the emergence of new religious movements in the HBO show, The Leftovers, and their attempts to fill the vacuum created by traditional religions and their lack of answers to a rapture-like event. Based on Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel of the same name, The Leftovers examines the effects (social, psychological, spiritual) of a rapture-like event in which 2% of the world’s population simply vanishes without any logical explanation. In the aftermath of the event, a series of religious figures and movements emerge to offer very different answers to the rapture, such as the healer Holy Wayne, or the nihilistic group the Guilty Remnant. This paper will argue that the show embraces as a creative and narrative device the tension between the notion that, on the one hand, the rapture doesn’t have any meaning and, on the other, that its meaning may not be fully comprehended by any single interpretation. The rapture has revealed that there is mystery in the world, but what that means is another matter (God may have spoken, we just don’t know what s/he/it is saying). Being human, the show seems to argue, is to embrace the contradictions and impossibilities of a question without an answer.

2018 National Conference
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