This essay describes a new context for understanding the political stakes of US fiction described as postsecular—namely, the emergence of global human rights consciousness in the later twentieth century. Placing Americanist literary criticism’s recent “religious turn” in dialogue with the field of literature and human rights yields new insights for each, I argue. To demonstrate the benefits of this critical dialogue, I interpret two major novels studied by the “religious turn”—Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead—in relation to the United Nations’ responsibility to protect doctrine, which has reshaped the concept and practice of humanitarian intervention in the twenty-first century. Each novel dramatizes a dying father’s strained deliberations over the ethics of intervention on behalf of a vulnerable child—the subject whose maturation provides the figural foundation for human rights consciousness—against potentially grave harm. Each, moreover, deploys language and concepts of spiritual ambiguity to illuminate ethical and epistemological dilemmas that beset decisions regarding whether or not to intervene. Locating sacredness in the subject of human rights, McCarthy’s and Robinson’s texts enmesh rights claims and spiritual idioms in ways that suggest new critical paths for both Americanists and scholars of human rights and literature.

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