Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Bob Perelman

Abstract

Modern American Poetry and the Protestant Establishment argues that secularization in modern American poetry must be understood with reference to the Protestant establishment. Drawing on interdisciplinary work revising the secularization thesis, and addressed to modern poetry and poetics, Americanist, and modernist scholars, the dissertation demonstrates that the tipping point of secularization in modern American poetry was not reached at the dawn of modernism, as most critics have assumed, but rather in the decades following World War II. From the 1890s to the early 1960s, poets such as Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, James Weldon Johnson, and Harriet Monroe - founding editor of the important little magazine Poetry: A Magazine of Verse - identified the establishment with the national interest, while fashioning gestures of openness toward its traditional targets of discrimination, particularly Roman Catholics, African Americans, and Jews. These gestures acknowledged the establishment's weakened position in the face of internal division, war, racial strife, economic inequality, and mounting calls for cultural pluralism. The poetry extending these gestures drew equally on the authority of religious and political literary genres - such as the ode, sermon, psalm, and masque - and establishment institutions - such as the church, state, school, and press. Beginning with Monroe's imperialist Protestant American poem of ceremonies for the Chicago's World Fair in 1893, the dissertation concludes with Robert Frost's reading at the Inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, a watershed moment in which the literary scion of the Puritan-Yankee line blessed the election of the country's first Roman Catholic President on the establishment's behalf.

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