Cruciform Pilgrims: A Constructive Theopolitical Anthropology Open Access

Senior, John Edward (2010)

Permanent URL:


This dissertation explores three related questions: What kind of self is formed in the context of political activism? Is it a good self? And what theological sense can be made of such a self? Political activism often requires that citizens exercise uncooperative, instrumental, and even aggressive forms of moral agency. Yet many theologians have neglected the implications this has for the formation of the self.This neglect is sometimes by design. Some theologians, that is, think the church is the only morally relevant polity in which persons are formed and are therefore uninterested in these three questions. Other theologians have simply not attended to the morally complex ways in which persons exercise political agency and the morally ambiguous consequences that the exercise of political agency has for the formation of the self.

The first part of the dissertation examines the ways in which selves are formed as moral agents in the context of political engagement. Specifically, it accounts for the complex interplay between moral identity (the sources of moral meaning and experience that inform a person's understanding of their fundamental moral commitments and sense of purpose) and political agency (the capacities for effective political action in different political contexts). The mutually constitutive relationship between moral identity and political agency forms the political self. That formation, however, is always incomplete and ambiguous, owing to the moral challenges political engagement poses to both agency and identity.

The second part develops an alternative political anthropology, drawing chiefly on John Calvin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It argues that the political self, however broken, is a site of redemption. The cruciform shape the political self takes discloses God's reconciling presence in the world, despite the world's persistent denial of its ultimate political configuration in the City of God.

Table of Contents


Steve Mackey, 1
Political Vocation, Agency, and Identity: Preliminary Definitions, 14
Political Vocation, Agency, and Identity in Modern Polities, 23
Argument and Chapter Outline, 36
Theological Assumptions, Rhetoric, and Method, 42


Modernity's Divided Self...55

Wanda Foley, 64
Two Framings of Pluralism, 73
Identity, Agency, and Institutional Formation, 88
The Self, Divided and Circled, 92


Closed Identities...98

Functional Closure: Tocqueville's American Christian, 105
Insulated Closure: Yoder, Hauerwas, Bennett, and Niebuhr, 115

Yoder's Disciple, 166
Hauerwas's Peasant and Martyr, 125
Bennett's Christian Citizen, 131
Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man, 137

Conclusion, 143

Open Identities, 145


On the Narrative Construction of Political Identity...147

Political Identity, Agency, and Personal Narrative, 156
Three Narratives: Amanda Bostwick, Diane Lawson, and Carol Hughes, 167

Amanda Bostwick, 167
Diane Lawson, 173
Carol Hughes, 179

Stanley Hauerwas on Truthful Story, Christian Politics, and the Moral Life, 190

Narrative, Rationality, and the Formation of Character, 193
Church, World, and Liberal Polity, 204
Competing Stories and the Christian Story, 208

Conclusion, 209


A Critique of Discursive Political Agency...216

Liberalism's Scholar, 224
The Legacy of Public Reason and the Religious Citizen, 231

Public Reason in the Work of John Rawls, 234
The Religious Citizen, 244
Translation, 249
Reason Giving, 250
Amanda Bostwick, 252
Diane Lawson, 259

Political Agency Beyond Discourse and Cooperation, 264


Cruciform Pilgrims: Concluding Reflections on Political Agency...270

Augustinian Pilgrims, 281

Johnson's Theology of Public Conversation, 281
Mathewes' Theology of Political Life, 285

Calvin's Cruciform Pilgrim, 289

Critical Response, 299

Bonhoeffer on Responsibility and Political Action, 305
Cruciform Pilgrims and Political Vocation, 311

Appendix A

Qualitative Research Methodology and Interview Schedule...316


About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files