The Moral Imagination and Sergeant James Hathaway in Inspector Lewis

by Heather Ostman

Note: Page numbers from the print version are indicated in brackets and should not be considered part of the text of the article.

[page 42] Seemingly unlikely bedfellows, detective stories and Christianity share common pursuits: justice, truth, redemption, and most of all, mystery. For detective stories, the twists and turns of the plot center on the unraveling of the murder mystery, and for Christianity, religious faith centers on the mystery of the unknowable God who has offered a human son for redemption, according to the New Testament. While not overtly Christian in its themes, the British television murder mystery series Inspector Lewis (2007-2013) addresses both types of mysteries—the worldly, murderous kind, and the divine, metaphysical kind—through the character of Sergeant Hathaway, Inspector Lewis’s junior partner. A character resistant to binaries, always inhabiting the philosophical space between atheism and belief, Hathaway embodies the moral imagination within the chaotic and murderous world of fictitious Oxford, where the university looms large and some of its members—faculty, students, and staff—as well as prominent local residents commit acts of violence and murder in the series. The logical and ethical Inspector Robbie Lewis—a character originating in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels—extends the institution’s grip upon the Oxford microcosm even as he rejects its elitism, but his sergeant, James Hathaway, appears to live in the world far more intuitively aware of its moral ambiguities. A Cambridge seminary graduate who has abandoned an earlier dream of the priesthood, Hathaway is an outsider on the police force, as well as in the Oxford University community. And despite his rejection of the priesthood and his continuous inner struggle against church doctrine, he manifests faithfulness in a postmodern world—in all its ambiguity. The construction of the Hathaway character points to a cultural shift in European and American television, in which the desecularization of culture, where pop culture has replaced a powerful Church presence, paradoxically points to the proliferation of religious ideas in pop culture itself. However, the “religious idea” at work through the character of Hathaway demonstrates an ambivalence to prescribed, imposed notions of faith. This marks him as a figure of the moral imagination within the television series because his approach to the pursuit of truth is characterized by a rejection of absolutes and a willingness to accept the irresolution of spiritual mysteries. [page 43]

James the Just

Hathaway’s first name, James, echoes the biblical James, a complex figure who came to lead the Church following the death of Jesus of Nazareth, his biological brother. In fact, the sergeant’s former school friends remind him of their nickname for him, “James the Just,” in the episode “Life Born of Fire,” a direct nominal link to James of the New Testament. The biblical James the Just resists rote religion and “appears to be opposed to a distorted and sloganizing Paulinism, which influenced Christians to neglect their obligation to aid their poverty-stricken and suffering brothers and sisters” (Metzger and Murphy 331). James is famously known for his instance on the inherent value of faith and works; in other words, faith without action is meaningless for him:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2.14-17)

Like the biblical James, Hathaway resists proscriptive Church doctrine; rote religion fails him more than once. He has learned through difficulty that faith alone does not protect anyone from suffering, particularly when the Church makes claims in absolute terms, but he pursues truth regardless. For instance, in the Season 2 episode “Life Born of Fire,” he admits to Lewis that as a seminary student, he gave a simplistic and ignorant response to a friend’s sexual preferences, as if he were channeling the Church’s position on homosexuality, insensitive to his friend’s suffering—a response and dogma he deeply regrets in retrospect. Hathaway learns early in his life that institutions present the world in binaries—a view he cannot share. Despite his ambivalence, he commits himself to seeking truth and justice, at least in the temporal world as a police officer.

Hathaway distinguishes himself in several notable ways from Inspector Lewis and from Lewis’s predecessor, the equally cerebral Inspector Morse. Played by Laurence Fox, Hathaway is young, blond, and lanky. He represents a new generation of police officers: complicated and ambivalent, he has already discarded one vocational path for another. Prior to his work on the police force, Hathaway was a Cambridge University seminary student, preparing for the priesthood. His prior educational experiences and career ambitions identify Hathaway as an outsider in Oxford, which is dominated by the university. But he is also an outsider on the police force. “Overeducated” and thoughtful, he is also a [page 44] musician who plays “World” music—a genre that draws from traditional and contemporary string instruments, as well as wind instruments, percussion, and keyboards, and merges multiple international traditions into a kind of hybrid genre that defies easy categorization. His music serves as a metaphor for his character: as a police officer, Hathaway is a hybrid of seemingly contradictory traits. His characteristic gentleness contrasts his occasional use of force; his wisdom is beyond his youthfulness. His impressive academic background seems to be at odds with his police work, earning him criticism and good-natured ribbing from colleagues and criminals alike. However, his contrasting characteristics enable him to foster a unique view of the world, one that acknowledges the complexities of life and fosters a response of intelligence and empathy in a world fraught with chaos and violence.

Hathaway’s own complexity is framed in terms of his ambivalence. While he retains a deep understanding of Christianity and the Church, his uncertainty about faith runs just as deeply. However, he is never fully able to abandon the idea that faith is meaningless. Although he asserts that he joined the police force to reconcile this ambivalence, Hathaway never seems satisfied with this choice as a solution to the mystery of faith. In the episode “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea” (season 2), he credits his religious doubt for making him a police officer. In a scene out in the darkened backyard of Dr. Laura Hobson, who is throwing a birthday party for herself, Lewis comes out to discover Hathaway drinking champagne from a bottle and smoking a cigarette by himself on a wooden swing while the party continues inside. Lewis, who is also not enjoying himself, tells Hathaway that a poker game is about to begin:

Lewis: Do you play poker?

Hathaway: No. I play chess.

Lewis: Why doesn’t that surprise me?

Hathaway: I suppose what I’m really thinking is: What time can I decently get up and leave?

Lewis: We could invent an emergency call.

[A siren rings out in the street outside the house.]

Lewis: Maybe there is a god.

Hathaway: If I was sure about that, I wouldn’t have joined the police force.

Hathaway’s admission defines an essential element of his character. His doubt explains the reason that he has become an officer of the law. Unable to completely accept Church doctrine, he commits to seeking justice and solving temporal mysteries. However, even as he has become a detective, Hathaway still appears unsure at times about his career decision. At the conclusion of “Down Among the Fearful” (Season 7), he sits with Lewis on a bench and appears to be drained by the now resolved murder [page 45] of a psychic; Lewis suggests that they start going, presumably back to the police station, but Hathaway does not want to leave the bench—he pauses long enough for the audience to wonder if he means that he never intends to go back, but then he asks Lewis if they can just sit for a little while longer.1 Hathaway rejected the priesthood because he experienced serious doubt, but he also experiences doubt about his decision to become an officer. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of “Down among the Fearful,” he indicates that he just needs to regroup, and soon he will be able to lift himself off the bench to solve another mystery.

Interestingly, Hathaway’s intellectualism does not seem to cause him ambivalence, even as it sets him apart from Lewis and his other colleagues on the police force. As an academic and intellectual cop, Hathaway has only a few peers in detective fiction, such as Inspector Morse and the detective in Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks mystery novel series, who both appreciate opera. P.D. James’s detective in the Adam Dalgliesh series spends his free time writing verse and enjoys a well-regarded reputation as a poet when he is not doing police work. Precedent certainly exists for intellectually engaged detectives in fiction, but Hathaway is exceptional. He is a Cambridge University graduate; he speaks Latin and quotes Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Shakespeare. For instance, in the episode “Quality of Mercy” (Season 2), the title of which derives from Shylock’s speech in Merchant of Venice, Lewis criticizes his sergeant for wasting time on another, seemingly inconsequential case, and Hathaway tells him: “Yeah, but I feel there is something more. ‘By the pricking of my thumbs.’” Lewis responds, “Don’t tell me: Shakespeare.” Hathaway answers in the affirmative: “Bravo.”

The episode “The Gift of Promise” (Season 4) emphasizes Hathaway’s intellectual exceptionality. In this episode, a gifted teenager, Zoe, who has enrolled at Oxford University, is central to the plot, which involves several murders in Oxford as well as her mother’s past as an I.R.A. sympathizer. Zoe’s presence offers opportunities for Hathaway’s own “gifted” abilities to emerge, as well as gentle ribbing and criticism about them from his colleagues. After the first murder, the medical examiner Dr. Laura Hobson, Lewis, and Hathaway scrutinize the crime scene, and Lewis picks up a book and reads aloud its title: Gifted Child. Dr. Hobson, who appears to be intellectually exceptional herself, responds by joking to Lewis: “Don’t speak about Sergeant Hathaway like that. You’ll give him a big head.” Her comment reminds the audience of Hathaway’s cerebral gifts, and it enables them to frame the episode.

In “The Gift of Promise,” the only person with whom the sergeant appears to identify is sixteen-year-old Zoe. In the first exchange with her, Hathaway indicates that his intellectual gifts are compatible with law [page 46] enforcement. However, Zoe, who is exceptionally intelligent, shares her insights into his loneliness:

Zoe: Is that why you are a policeman? Because you’re frightened by your own cleverness and of being lonely?

Hathaway: I was never as clever as you.

Zoe: You were. I can tell.

Hathaway: What makes you think you don’t have to be clever to be a policeman?

Zoe not only recognizes Hathaway’s cerebral gifts but also identifies the inherent loneliness that such gifts exact from their owner. Hathaway, though, parries her attempt to connect to him. Cognizant of his role as an authority—both as someone older and as a police officer—he first deflects her attempt to identify his loneliness with “I was never as clever as you,” but then identifies his “cleverness” by suggesting that it complements police work: “What makes you think you don’t have to be clever to be a policeman?” His question indirectly affirms that he knows what she means; he is aware of his own “cleverness,” even as he does not admit to it.

In a later exchange, following the murder of Zoe’s hot-headed father, Hathaway attempts to connect to Zoe, who likewise resists. The scene takes place in the garden behind her home, while her mother and Lewis talk inside:

Hathaway: I am really sorry about your dad.

Zoe: Why should I believe you? You’re a liar. You told me Don’s [her teacher and her mother’s former boyfriend and connection to the IRA] chances were 70/30, but the doctor had already told me he didn’t know.

Hathaway: Well, that’s what they told me too, but sometimes you lie for the best of reasons. [Pause] Did your dad hit your mum yesterday?

Zoe: She slipped in the garden this morning.

Hathaway: Is that true?

Zoe: Sometimes you lie for the best of reasons.

Hathaway: Don’t grow up angry, Zoe. It takes so much effort to find your place in the world when you are angry. Believe me.

In this exchange, several things occur: Hathaway is trying to comfort Zoe, but then he undermines that attempt with the question about her father’s violence toward her mother. The dialogue takes the form of a dance: Zoe turns Hathaway’s own words on him when she acknowledges that she is lying, as he did, “for the best of reasons.” But his response is most important here, when he warns her to avoid anger, since “[i]t takes so much effort to find your place in the world.” He acknowledges their mutuality: they clearly both have exceptional intellects. His compassion [page 47] leads him to advise her, but his advice suggests that he has had his own experiences with anger stemming from loneliness and an inability to find a “place in the world,” and he provides a response to an earlier exchange when she comments on the inherent loneliness of the gifted child. Yet in spite of his anger, Hathaway continues to seek the answers to the temporal mystery at hand: “Did your dad hit your mum yesterday?”

The exchange with Zoe points to two important impulses of Hathaway’s character: the demonstration of compassion and the pursuit of the truth. In “Gift of Promise,” Hathaway’s protectiveness of Zoe and his attempts to console her show his own emotional intelligence—the ability that Zoe tries to cultivate in herself by studying the humanities at Oxford University. Likewise, in “Old School Ties” and “Quality of Mercy,” Hathaway’s compassion emerges profoundly within the contexts of comforting the family members of those murdered. For example, in one of the early scenes of “Old School Ties,” after Lewis and Hathaway inform the brother of the first murder victim that he will have to identify the body, Hathaway takes the lead in guiding the young man. He places his hand on his back and walks him to the awaiting police vehicle. Observing him, Dr. Hobson says privately to Lewis: “He’s good, isn’t he?” And Lewis responds: “I know. Scary in one so young.” What they recognize here is Hathaway’s extraordinary compassion. His face strains from empathy, but he is continually able to provide guidance to the survivors who suffer.

In the episode “Quality of Mercy,” Hathaway’s empathy compels him to follow a lead to a secondary, but no less important mystery, despite Lewis’s initial dismissal of it. Hathaway discovers that an attendant, Simon Monkford, at a Merchant of Venice preview where the actor playing Shylock dies from a knife wound backstage, is responsible for driving the car that accidentally killed Lewis’s wife Val several years prior.2 He worries that during a murder investigation is not the time to share this information with Lewis and asks Chief Inspector Jean Innocent for guidance. However, when Hathaway finally does tell Lewis—during the inquiry—Lewis reacts with disbelief that Hathaway has kept the knowledge from him for even a short period of time. Although Hathaway treats the knowledge of Val’s killer with too much caution, his care demonstrates his awareness of the difficulty that the situation presents. Lewis is in fact very upset, and Hathaway does not believe that the issue is simply a matter of professionalism. Instead, Hathaway moves beyond compassion and identifies with the impulse to do violence: “I think I’d be tempted,” he says. Importantly, he reflects on his own ability to commit retaliatory violence, but never demonstrates this capacity. In fact, Lewis points out to him that he, Hathaway, would act as a deterrent to violence if Lewis [page 48] himself were tempted in meeting with Monkford and asks Hathaway to attend the meeting for the very reason that he offers protection from the impulse to hurt the prisoner.

The episode of Inspector Lewis that offers the audience the deepest insight into Hathaway’s past and development as a complex, empathetic character is “Life Born of Fire” (Season 2), in which a young man, Will McEwan, smashes a statue of Christ in a church and then kills himself at the altar in front of the vicar. As it turns out, Hathaway knew the young man—he is the friend mentioned previously whose homosexuality he rejected, and that rejection seems to be the key to the episode. Hathaway still feels very guilty about his own response, which Will appears to have taken very badly; he spends the rest of his adult life struggling with his sexuality. His partner, who has undergone a sex change, goes on a killing rampage to avenge Will’s death. Hathaway, Will, and Will’s partner Zoe participated as younger men in a religious program called The Garden years before, an organization charged with offering “Christian answers to contemporary problems.”

The episode merges two aspects of Hathaway’s past that contributed significantly to the development of his character: on the one hand, his former “priestly phase” at Cambridge comes to light; on the other hand, his intellectualism enables him to see the connection between Zoe’s identity and the Phoenix from ancient mythology. For most of the episode, while Zoe is killing off authoritative members of The Garden, Hathaway refuses to tell Lewis why he left the priesthood. However, he explains the ambiguity of faith to his partner:

Lewis: Will was very devout.

Hathaway: I’m not surprised.

Lewis: But then he desecrates a church?

Hathaway: Well, you can believe in God and still be angry with him.

Hathaways’s last comment suggests that he recognizes faith as something that is fraught with complexity and ambiguity and that he himself also experiences some of these complexities still, even as he has distanced himself from the Church. Importantly, in this dialogue, Hathaway has not explicitly rejected the existence of God. On the contrary, he asserts belief in terms of an emotional relationship. One can “be angry” with God, a point that echoes his advice to the young Zoe in “The Gift of Promise” episode, but regardless of human anger, God not only exists but allows for a human, emotional engagement with the Divine.

In “Life Born of Fire,” the question of Hathaway’s sexuality emerges parallel to Lewis’s inquiries about the reason that Hathaway left the seminary and furthers the development of the sergeant as an enigmatic and ambiguous character. In the car, Lewis asks his sergeant, “Are you— [page 49] ?” and then he answers his own question: “No.”

Hathaway: No. Go and ask.

Lewis: No, it doesn’t matter.

Hathaway: You’ve been dying to ask.

Lewis: It’s none of my business.

Hathaway: You really want to know.

Lewis: Well, OK.

Hathaway: What?

Lewis: Are you?

Hathaway: What?

Lewis: Are you gay?

Hathaway: What’s that mean?

Lewis: You know what that means.

Hathaway: There’s boys and girls and a nice, neat straight line down the middle. Gays if you like shoes and musicals. . . .

Lewis: No.

Hathaway: Do you have some finer definition then?

Although Hathaway is perhaps mocking Lewis in this exchange, his understanding of human sexuality reflects his cognizance of the limitations of binaries. Nothing, apparently, is black and white for Hathaway.

The experience with his friend Will appears to have been central to Hathaway’s understanding of ambiguity. When Lewis finally grasps that the sergeant had always known about The Garden—which he had denied earlier in the episode—and that he had also turned his back on Will, Hathaway clarifies the truth, but offers a glimpse into the far-reaching depths of his own ambivalence.

Hathaway: You ever been so sure you were right and you look back and you can’t believe what you thought?

Lewis: Tell me!

Hathaway: I was training to be a priest. It was so exciting. I was surrounded by people who thought just like me but then these things that they say . . . it’s so easy—like breathing—you just believe it and I believed that being gay was wrong . . . . It was my blind faith that had destroyed any chance [Will] had at ever allowing himself to love.

Lewis: That’s why you gave up the priesthood.

Inspector Lewis identifies as the reason for Hathaway’s departure from seminary this necessary break from blind faith. Hathaway’s guilt is central to this moment, as he feels responsible for inhibiting Will from experiencing love. This dialogue articulates a moment of profound introspection for Hathaway, memory of a shaping moment when he was [page 50] first able to think for himself and not only disengage from the “blind faith” and rote teachings of Church leaders but also to engage in the mystery of life—the deep ambiguity, the grey space between right and wrong—a mode of engagement that frames the rest of his life. Hathaway’s guilt had forced him to reckon with the mystery of his existence: if clear delineations between right and wrong prevent love from flourishing, then how can these categories organize human life? By disengaging from the Church, he began to identify what right and wrong meant for him, but even with the passage of time, he cannot reconcile what these things are—there is no clear cut way to apply them to every situation, just as he tells the “other” Zoe from “The Gift of Promise”: “Sometimes you have to lie for the best of reasons.” Similar to the biblical James who rejects the rote, mindless approach to religion, Hathaway finds little or no value in dichotomies and absolutes as answers to the complexities of life.

The Moral Imagination

For nearly seven seasons, Hathaway never reconciles his faith and doubt but occupies a space in Mystery. As a police officer, he still tries to carry out justice, but as we see in the final episode of season 7, he is unable to reconcile his beliefs with his vocation and leaves the force. Yet for much of Inspector Lewis, he manifests the moral imagination within the Oxford cosmos. His character serves as a reminder to the audience that faith can exist with doubt and joy with suffering, and that right is not always clearly distinguished from wrong.

The notion of the moral imagination centers upon “assumptions about the moral possibilities of human nature, man’s capacity (or otherwise) for good” (Tilmouth 8-9). The term is first used in a political context by Edmund Burke and continued to be examined and critiqued by writers and thinkers through the nineteenth century (Himmelfarb ix). More relevant to this discussion, John Paul Lederach, a twenty-first century theologian and thinker, views the moral imagination as a spiritual as well as a political necessity, capable of saving lives, and claims that it depends on “the inherent risk of stepping into the mystery of the unknown” (5). Lederach argues that the moral imagination engages the mystery of existence for the purpose of peaceful conflict resolution. For Lederach, God the Divine is a foregone conclusion, an assumption that enables the capacity of ordinary people to engage the moral imagination in their quests for resolving violent conflicts on the large-scale levels of war and genocide. He suggests that such a capacity defies categories and lies beyond the institutional constructs of religion and government: [page 51]

The thesis that a certain kind of imagination is within reach and necessary to transcend violence requires that we explore […] four disciplines in two broad directions. First, we must understand and feel the landscape of protracted violence and why it poses such deep-rooted challenges to constructive change . . . . Second, we must explore the creative process itself, not as a tangential inquiry, but as the wellspring that feeds the building of peace. In other words, we must venture into the mostly unchartered territory of the artist’s way, imagination and discovery, and ultimately the mystery of vocation for those who take up such a journey. (5)

While Lederach’s thesis focuses on the issue of nonviolent conflict resolution, the principles inherent in his definition of the moral imagination provide an important lens for understanding the character of Sergeant Hathaway, and they are, for Lederach, religious principles. At the grassroots level in conflict zones in places such as Mindanao, Sudan, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and even inner-city gang territories in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, ordinary people “had responded with their lives, in many cases undertaking extraordinary actions, but . . . researchers were somewhat perplexed that these same people did not have an explicit cognitive theology or theory of peace” (164). Instead, they had cultivated an organic “theology of mystery.” Mystery requires risk, he suggests, specifically the risk of engaging—or on his words—“sitting in the messy ambiguity of complexity” (162). In other words, “Risk is mystery. It requires a journey. Risk means we take a step toward and into the unknown” (Lederach 162). He locates the moral imagination in the spiritual realm, assuming that the unknown is something unearthly, and he defines it as the capacity to envision possible solutions to very difficult situations when all other efforts have failed.

Lederach’s definition of the moral imagination is relevant to the consideration of Hathaway for several reasons: 1) he is the only character who embodies ambiguity consistently through the series, never reconciling it but never avoiding it; 2) he refuses to completely abandon the possibility of faith and the existence of God; and 3) at the most basic level, he attempts to be an instrument of peace as a police officer who tries to resolve violent conflict, although usually after the initial violence. In case viewers cannot plainly see a man who is at odds with the Divine, the writers of the series have made him a disenchanted seminary graduate to underscore the point. Although he has rejected the priesthood, he is the spiritual shepherd of the series—just as his first name, James, echoes the leadership of the biblical James. Through him, the Inspector Lewis series develops a morality that embraces complexity and avoids simple binaries [page 52] of right and wrong, even within the contexts of powerful institutions like Oxford University, the police force, and the Church.

Although this series is not explicitly religious, it is loosely aligned with a tradition of Christian detective stories. For example, G.K. Chesterton’s early twentieth-century Father Brown detective stories demonstrate “orthodox Christianity as a romantic adventure always taking place against the backdrop of the waste land, with faith, hope, and charity the only sources of hope and renewal” (Morlan and Raubicheck xxi). Other detective fiction writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and P.D. James, similarly insert Christian themes and concerns in their secular texts. In many of these authors’ works, Christianity bears a clear link to the detective story—both the religion and the genre draw on the human need to create order and bring justice, but “where the detective is limited, Christian faith can comfort the suffering and give meaning to the loss endured” (Morlan and Raubicheck xxvii). Even as the majority of fictional detectives are not directly engaging with questions of faith, “most of them,” argues Eric Biddy, “consciously or unconsciously, are waging a battle against not only injustice, but also absurdity. Yes, we want the criminal caught, but we want just as badly an explanation: how did the killer strike from outside the locked room?” (37-8). Detective stories seek to address the absurd by reorganizing the absurdist narrative; for instance, Sherlock Holmes transforms his clients’ narrative “into one that is comprehensible” (Biddy 39). Maria Plochocki suggests that viewing detective fiction generally as antithetical to Christianity is to “oversimplify it greatly and risk overlooking the theological perspective lent by the metaphysical and/or moral dimension of many detective works, especially more contemporary ones” (Plochocki 148). She compares Inspector Morse himself to St. Augustine in that he is increasingly unable to obtain a temporal answer, and “Morse’s delving into mysteries and creating a hierarchy among levels of enlightenment, which is sometimes denied him, align him with Augustine and other Christian thinkers,” including Thomas Aquinas and Abelard, who share the common pursuit of mystery (152).

Plochocki draws the parallel based on David Bradshaw’s analysis of the profound desire to know—here, she assumes, the desire stems from the drive to “know God”: “Precisely the fact that we cannot know God as he knows himself draws us forward to seek to know him ever more deeply[, causing] this sense of a longing that is always being satisfied and seeking satisfaction” (qtd. in Plochocki 152). In P.D. James’s A Certain Justice, police work and theological study are not dissimilar, as we see when Dectective Inspector Kate Miskin asks her new partner Piers Tarrant why he studied theology at university; he replies, “I didn’t read it to find it useful. Actually, it’s a very good training for a police officer. You cease to be surprised by the unbelievable. Theology isn’t so very different from [page 53] criminal law. Both rest on a complicated system of philosophical thought which hasn’t much to do with reality” (195). Another, earlier conversation with Tarrant speaks directly to Plochocki’s point. Miskin presses her new partner:

“What does this theology do for you? After all, you spent three years on it. Teach you how to live? Answer some of the questions?”

“No, it doesn’t answer questions. It’s like philosophy, it tells you what questions to ask.”

“I know what questions to ask. It’s the answers I’m after.” (284)

Tarrant’s response, “It’s the answers I’m after,” articulates Plochocki’s and Bradshaw’s point; in other words, the seeking of the mystery drives him. Of course, Plochocki makes assumptions about the existence of God, but she bases her deeper point on the notion of mystery, which links the detective story and the foundation of Christian faith: the desire to discover the truth, as we see in Tarrant’s remarks. In this light, Hathaway qualifies as a Christian figure; even as he has rejected the priesthood, he continues to pursue the knowledge of truth.

In the 1960s, sociologists postulated that society was becoming more secular, particularly in the United States; however, Conrad Ostwalt argues that the assumptions underpinning this thesis were misguided, even as various religious organizations in recent times have made efforts to appear more culturally “relevant” (2). The term “secularization” implies an antagonistic stance toward religion, but Ostwalt defines secularization in two ways: as a way to make religion more accessible and “worldly,” but also as a way to express the increasing “irreverence of religion” (8). The United States and, to a greater extent, European nations have never been in a position to be fully secularized. Although “[m]any commentators believe European society is more thoroughly secularized than American society,” it is only because the secularization has manifested in different ways, and partly because Europe has been perceived as more elitist (Ostwalt 5-6). Ostwalt refers to Stephen Carter, who agrees that the postmodern cultural expectation has been to assume that society will reject notions of the supernatural and of religion, and to replace “supernatural explorations with supreme ideas,” but this “secularization model,” he argues, cannot fully explain modern life (9). Furthermore, secularization presumes the lessening presence of religion in the world, yet statistically it appears that religion continues to have firm a footing in the United States (and Europe):

This secularization model, which predicts the inevitable and [page 54] irreversible decline of religion as a condition of social processes initiated in modern Western culture, is now being revisited, questioned, and revised, at least in part because the data do not support that religion is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Poll after poll, study after study, suggests that religious observance in America is as strong as ever. (Ostwalt 9)

Although religion remains visible in the United States and Europe (Ostwalt 10), religious organizations are increasingly attentive to the uses of popular culture to convey their messages. Ostwalt suggests that since Constantine and the emergence of the Christian church, religion and secular culture have co-existed “in a tandem codependency” (3). Furthermore, he claims that as religious organizations become more “secularized,” popular culture increasingly conveys religious ideas:

When traditional religious institutions lose their power, and even when they do not, religiosity will express itself in other parts of the culture, oftentimes in popular cultural forms. So in the contemporary secularization movement, not only do we see religious institutions becoming more like the secular world, we also see secular forms of entertainment and culture carrying religious messages. (31)

Ostwalt is careful to point out that not “everything can be religion,” but various forms of culture are able to offer “a forum for religious discussion” (31). The opportunity to explore the ambiguity of faith and the mystery of existence emerges in the figure of Hathaway under this exact pretense. This character represents not conventional religion but the limitations it may impose on the faithful. He is constant in his pursuit of truth, even as reasons for remaining constant are fraught with doubt.

The sergeant manifests the moral imagination in the Inspector Lewis series, as he models living peacefully and empathetically in the postmodern context of complexity and ambiguity. Even as an outsider in Oxford and on the police force, he sustains his faith in the pursuit, committed to discovering the mystery behind a murder, when the pursuit of the unknowable God eludes him. Like the biblical James, Hathaway operates in the living world, where ambiguity and mystery threaten and strengthen the pursuit of the truth, and he models a way of engaging faith and doubt simultaneously, without allowing himself to reduce either into simplicity but enabling a tempered, peace-building response within the violent and chaotic world of fictional Oxford.


1. Ultimately, Hathaway’s resolve to remain on the force dissipates in the concluding episode of Season 7. Mark Jeffries reports that both star actors, Kevin Whately, who plays Inspector Lewis, and Laurence Fox agreed that the time had [page 55] come for them to move on to other work.

2. Val dies before the first series, off camera, and her death is the catalyst for Lewis’s departure from England and his subsequent return to the police force, where he partners with Hathaway.

Works Cited

Biddy, Eric. “Theodicy and the Detective Story: Holmes, Haverwas, and Auster.” Morlan and Raubicheck 37-46.

James, P.D. A Certain Justice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print.

Jeffries, Mark. “Re-Morse: Hit Drama Lewis to End in Same Way as Predecessor Inspector Morse." Mirror TV. 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 July 2013.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. The Moral Imagination: from Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling. Chicago: Ivan R Dee, 2006. Print.

Lederach, John Paul. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford UP, 1991, 1994, Print.

Morlan, Anya and Walter Raubicheck, eds. Christianity and the Detective Story. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. Print.

Ostwalt, Conrad Eugene. Secular Steeples: Popular Culture and the Religious Imagination. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2003. Print.

Tilmouth, Christopher. Passion’s Triumph over Reason’s: A History of the Moral Imagination from Spenser to Rochester. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Plochocki, Maria. “Morse, the Christian?” Morlan and Raubicheck 148-166.

Episodes Cited

“And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea.” Masterpiece Mystery. PBS. WNET, New York. 30 Aug. 2009. Television.

“Down among the Fearful.” Masterpiece Mystery. WNET, New York. 16 Jun. 2013. Television.

“Gift of Promise.” Masterpiece Mystery. PBS. WNET, New York. 2 Sept. 2012. Television.

“Life Born of Fire.” Masterpiece Mystery. PBS. WNET, New York. 13 Sept. 2009. Television.

“Old School Ties.” Masterpiece Mystery. PBS. WNET, New York. 16 Aug. 2009. Television.

“Quality of Mercy.” Masterpiece Mystery. PBS. WNET, New York. 15 Aug. 2009. Television.

MLA citation (print):

Ostman, Heather. "The Moral Imagination and Sergeant James Hathaway in Inspector Lewis." Supernatural Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 2015, pp. 42-55.