Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation argues that a tradition of modern American literary intellectuals, including Vida Dutton Scudder (1861-1954), T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), Claude McKay (1889-1948), Dorothy Day (1897-1980), Walker Percy (1916-1990), and Wendell Berry (1934-), leveraged sacred history to sanction surprisingly radical critiques of modern society. Devotion to the religious past energized, rather than enervated, the imaginations of these socialists, anarchists, and Catholic personalists. When they criticized American capitalist life, these writers looked back to past exemplars of radical community, from sixth-century monks to 1930s radical preachers of the U.S. South. By showing how Christian traditions nourished radical thinkers, Breaking Bread with the Dead challenges both secular Left historiographies that tie the spread of democracy to the demise of traditional religion and religious Right ideologies that assume the equivalence of doctrinal orthodoxy and political conservatism. It offers an alternative history of a modern American literary radical tradition deeply rooted in religious commitment.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

William J. Maxwell

Committee Members

Long Le-Khac, Leigh E. Schmidt, Abram Van Engen, Rafia Zafar


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