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Title page for ETD etd-03262004-150516


Type of Document Dissertation
Author Neal, Ronald Brian
Author's Email Address ronald.b.neal@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-03262004-150516
Title On the limits and possibilities of social transformation: a study of the prophetic pragmatism of Cornel West, the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr and the theological legacy of Benjamin Elijah Mays.
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
victor anderson Committee Chair
lewis v. baldwin Committee Co-Chair
eugene teselle Committee Member
john lachs Committee Member
michael hodges Committee Member
Keywords
  • mays
  • niebuhr
  • west
Date of Defense 2004-03-19
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
RELIGION

ON THE LIMITS AND POSSIBILITIES OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION: A STUDY OF THE PROPHETIC PRAGMATISM OF CORNEL WEST, THE CHRISTIAN REALISM OF REINHOLD NIEBUHR AND THE

THEOLOGICAL LEGACY OF BENJAMIN ELIJAH MAYS

RONALD B. NEAL

Dissertation under the direction of Professor Victor Anderson

This dissertation is concerned with the social impact, and meaning of political conservatism for secular and theological political projects that seek to empower the disenfranchised and address ongoing social inequality along the lines of race, class, and gender. My thesis is that progressive political projects, both secular and theological, have been eclipsed by political conservatism and, if they are to remain viable, they must undergo internal criticism and reformulation. This dissertation addresses these concerns on three levels: first, it treats the eclipse of progressive politics by political conservatism; second, it offers a theological interpretation of this eclipse; and lastly, it identifies a theological resource for the reconstruction of progressive politics and political theology in the 21st century. Prominent in this dissertation is the social impact of political conservatism, over that last two decades, and the movement to end affirmative action in the United States. In my estimation, these forces symbolize the eclipse of progressive politics in America.

In identifying the kind of progressive politics that has been eclipsed by political conservatism, I turn to the political philosophy of Cornel West. In my view, West’s political philosophy, prophetic pragmatism, represents the kind of progressive politics that is no longer influential in the United States. In making sense of why progressive politics is no longer influential, I turn to the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr’s reflections on history, liberalism and radicalism are insightful for interpreting the eclipse of progressive politics. In an effort to reform progressive politics and political theology, I turn to the theological legacy Benjamin Elijah Mays. Mays was a mid-twentieth century African American public theologian, who forwarded a theological perspective that placed a premium on democratic theological and political discourse and promoted education, as a strategy for social transformation. His theological legacy is a resource for progressive politics and political theology today. In the end, I build on the concerns drawn from my treatment of West, and the insights drawn from my treatment of Niebuhr and Mays, and make recommendations for the reconstruction of progressive politics and political theology in the 21st century.

Approved ___________________________________ Date______________________

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