The Undiscovered Thurman: The Early Howard Thurman and Religious Liberalism Unfinished Business of Race Relations

Perry, Larry, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Warren, Heather, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The Undiscovered Thurman: the Early Howard Thurman and the Religious Left’s Unfinished Business of Race Relations (1899 to 1949) is an intellectual and political biography of the early Howard Thurman. While it is a biography of Thurman, it is just as much a biography of the numerous zeitgeists, circumstances, and institutions that produced him. This detailed account of the early Thurman and the world around him points one towards a more politically radical and philosophically and theologically robust account than the popularized post-1949 Thurman. Ultimately, the younger Thurman calls us to reimagine American intellectualism and liberal religiosity, as tools in the struggle for racial equality. Furthermore, The Undiscovered Thurman traces Thurman’s intellectual, religious, and political evolution and maturation. Here, I seek to locate the various sources—experiences, institutions, professors, activists, and their respective organizations—that informed him as an intellectual and minister. Thurman, more than any of his contemporaries, walked a unique line, bringing about an intersection between black and white academic and religious institutions. Accordingly, my dissertation discusses Thurman’s training and professional work at academic institutions, such as Morehouse College, Columbia University, Rochester Seminary, Haverford College, Spelman College, and Howard University—where he engaged and recreated Pragmatism, Mysticism, the Social Gospel, and Liberal Theology. My dissertation also discusses Thurman’s work as a minister and activist within liberal religious circles, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Young Men’s Christian Association, the Student Volunteer Movement, and Fellowship Church for All Peoples in San Francisco—where he embodied and reconstructed pacifism, pluralism, and creative religious expression. Though Thurman took on the politics, philosophy, and theology of religious liberalism, I find that throughout his training and career he used liberal religiosity to contend with the realities of black life—making him distinct from many of his white liberal religious counterparts.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
African American Religious History, Liberal Religion, African American Studies, American Intellectual History
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