Nietzsche, Christianity and Cultural Authority In the United States, 1890-1969 Open Access

Connelly, Patrick Lawrence (2011)

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Nietzsche, Christianity and Cultural Authority
In the United States, 1890-1969
By Patrick L. Connelly
This dissertation examines the reception of Friedrich Nietzsche in the United
States between 1890 and 1969 with a particular focus on the intersection between his
critique of Christianity and the decline of Protestant cultural authority. My study suggests
that this intersection proved important in understanding Nietzsche's rise in stature in
American intellectual and cultural life despite apparent obstacles. I explore these
dynamics by providing a panoramic overview of Nietzsche's American reception before
highlighting three key flashpoints where Nietzsche's ideas were engaged in intellectual
and cultural venues in which Protestant cultural authority was being contested.
I consider three important strands of interpretation in the early reception period:
professional philosophers, cultural critics and social/political activists outside the halls of
academia, and Protestant ministers, theologians and intellectuals. Academic journal
articles, monographs, book reviews, collected papers and university publications are
consulted to determine how Nietzsche's critique of Christianity resonated in the changing
world of professional philosophy. I analyze the books, journalism, cultural
criticism, and political and social writings of independent intellectuals to assess their
beliefs regarding Nietzsche's critique of Christianity and how it may be utilized in their
efforts. I also examine the writings, speeches and sermons of Protestant intellectuals who
were responding to Nietzsche amidst an array of challenges to their cultural authority.
Nietzsche's thought was assessed, resisted and enthused over by all of these groups who
were increasingly aware of the ongoing seismic shifts of cultural authority.
The dissertation concludes with an epilogue that explores how the three strands of
interpretation explored in the subsequent three chapters, which focused on the first three
decades of the twentieth century, persisted into the 1960s. I argue that earlier dynamics of
engagement laid the groundwork for Nietzsche to be accepted as a serious philosopher in
subsequent decades when Protestant cultural authority was greatly diminished. This
dissertation seeks to contribute to intellectual, cultural and religious history by
highlighting the dynamics between ideas and social structures in the history of Nietzsche
interpretation and by exploring more in depth the notion of cultural authority.

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