Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



First Adviser

Pettegrew, John

Other advisers/committee members

Carrell-Smith, Kim; Simon, Roger; Raposa, Michael


This project focuses the evolution of the American Christian left through a case study of the mid-level African American intellectual and theologian, Howard Thurman (1899-1981) and the physical embodiment of his thought, The Church For the Fellowship Peoples. The Fellowship Church, founded in San Francisco in 1944, was the nation’s first interracial, intercultural, and interfaith church and my research uses the institution as a text to interpret broader cultural and intellectual trends of the period. The study is steeped in the history of American pragmatism, mysticism, social activism, cosmopolitanism, and even cultural consumerism. Ultimately, it elucidates important points about the condition of the American mind before the success of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and sparks a dialogue on the psychologically transformative aspect of nonviolence that scholars of direct action often overlook. The Fellowship Church was established during a moment of intense social and cultural conflict but its history illuminates the ways in which people have imagined initiating social activism from a grassroots level during times when government has failed to protect its citizens’ civil liberties, safety, and overall wellbeing through judicial safeguards. Thurman’s efforts to affect individual consciousness in the midst of the broad and complicated systemic failures and contradictions of his own historical moment are particularly relevant in the conflicted social climate of the twenty-first century. His belief that “a major revolution in the human spirit” could begin at the local level was indicative of the time in which he lived and worked and is still pertinent and applicable today.

Available for download on Wednesday, June 01, 2022

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