Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Thomas J. Sugrue

Abstract

ABSTRACT

THE POLITICS OF DIGNITY: SOCIAL CHRISTIANITY AND THE MAKING OF GLOBAL LOS ANGELES

Sean Thomas Dempsey

Thomas J. Sugrue

This dissertation argues that a new form of social Christianity developed in the postwar decades that had a profound impact on the political and social history of Los Angeles. Rooted in, but distinct from, the Social Gospel tradition of ecumenical Protestantism, this form of social Christianity also included important contributions that cut across denominational lines, especially from Roman Catholics and progressive African American congregations. Intellectually and theologically, postwar social Christianity focused on advancing a range of social thought and policy centered on Christian notions of human dignity and was especially interested in responding to the challenges and possibilities of postwar urban centers such as Los Angeles. The interplay of these Christian ideas, practices, and policies which took root in a multitude of congregations and religiously-affiliated organizations in the globalizing city of Los Angeles created a distinctive strain of postwar urban politics, a “politics of dignity.”

This politics of dignity, forged at this vital intersection between postwar social Christianity and the globalizing metropolis of Los Angeles had several characteristics which affected the political and social trajectory of the city and which constitute the heart of this project. First, it created the possibilities for interdenominational and interreligious cooperation on a host urban issues, in part because of postwar theological commitments to interreligious dialogue, ecumenism, and social justice. Second, it was inherently devolutionary, advocating for greater community empowerment and organizing at the grassroots level. Third, it grappled with the increasing pluralism and diversity of Los Angeles by relying on a global and inclusive vision of human community. Fourth, it sought to advance a broad agenda of racial liberalism and economic justice, but in ways that departed significantly from secular counterparts. Lastly, it was internationalist in orientation and increasingly transnational in practice, as post-1965 immigration transformed the religious, racial, and ethnic demographics of Los Angeles. Like Los Angeles itself, the politics of dignity was complex, contradictory and diffuse, but succeeded in offering a moral vision for a city undergoing rapid social change.

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