Religion and the Remaking of Leftist Thought in the 20th Century
Notions of community-building and humanism lay at the heart of their theological worldviews. But, their political activism was rife with ambiguity, an indication that religious values have not grafted seamlessly onto radical politics. Dorothy Day had a hard time identifying with leftist organizations and politics, given her misgivings about the moral commitment of institutions, whether church, party, or state. Curtis W. Reese grappled with the political implications of Unitarian theology and the meaning of humanism as activism. M. M. Thomas, an Indian Marxist theologian, struggled to promote a unifying framework for global, ecumenical Christians that could surmount Cold War polarities, debates over non-violence, and denominational differences. Some activists, such as Patrick Ford, an Irish-Catholic labor radical, became deeply disillusioned with what they deemed the immorality of leftist politics. Ford’s understanding of Christian values eventually led him away from the radical left and toward cultural conservatism by the end of the First World War.
In four paper presentations, this panel aims to examine the complexity of the religious Left and critically assess its historical and political impact in the twentieth century. Our scholarship should appeal to those interested in religious history, intellectual history, politics and social movements.