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Against Modernity

Title: Against Modernity: New Perspectives on the Catholic Worker Communal Movement and the Fight for Dignity in Labor, 1936 to 1945.

Inaccessible until May 31, 2021 due to copyright restrictions.

Name(s): Austin, Nicholas Scott, author
Drake, Jamil William, Professor Directing Thesis
Kalbian, Aline H., 1954-, Committee Member
Corrigan, John, 1952-, Committee Member
McVicar, Michael J., Committee Member
Florida State University, degree granting institution
College of Arts and Sciences, degree granting college
Department of Religion, degree granting department
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Master Thesis
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2019
Publisher: Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource (102 pages)
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: This thesis examines the Catholic Worker movement’s understanding of antimodernism and modernity through its first farming commune, Maryfarm. Created during the middle of the Great Depression, Maryfarm became the initial foray into Peter Maurin’s ideal of the agronomic university. As part of Maurin’s three-point program for social reconstruction, the agronomic university would conceptually seek to re-humanize individuals through the land. According to the Catholic Worker movement’s co-founders, persons had lost their inherently dignified, selfless, and communal nature through modernity’s demystification of the divine, its reliance on science, and its industrial work ethic. By working together, living together, and owning machinery together on the land, modern individuals would relearn their authentic nature, return to modern urban cores, and reconstruct modernity from within. Yet, Maryfarm’s reality proved anathema to its ideal. Within and without, Maryfarm’s critics increasingly perceived the commune’s disorganization through its lax work ethic and its decentralized structure. While some principled Catholics Workers tilled the land, others failed to realize Maurin’s embodied ethic of self-discipline and personal responsibility for the common good. As the Depression’s unemployed and transient homeless congregated at the commune, the reality of Maryfarm’s decentralized structure grew increasingly discordant with Maurin’s ideal. To understand the discrepancy between Maryfarm’s conception and reality, this thesis argues that the Catholic Worker sought to decenter modernity (as epitomized by industrial capitalism) through its personalist philosophy and its understanding of urban and rural space. The Catholic Worker movement rejected modernity’s individuality, profit-drive, and dehumanizing labor ethos. Through a theology of the Body of Christ, it appropriated the era’s emphases on personal responsibility, thrift, and self-discipline and utilized them to address industrial capitalism’s woes. By seeing Christ in others, Catholic Workers would cultivate selfless personal responsibility for the preservation of community. The movement’s conception of the agronomic university also decentered modernity through its emphasis on rural spaces. With the spiritual and degrading hollowness of industrial cities, the land provided an outlet to reconceive one’s personhood. After this cultivation, Catholic Workers would return to urban spaces and spread their revolution of the heart. But as seen through the reality of Maryfarm, Maurin’s notions of self-discipline and personal responsibility only would reify modern conceptions of individuality and independence. To undertake this study, this thesis historiographically intervenes with two new theoretical perspectives. First, it analyzes Catholic Worker personalism through modern art and, subsequently, embodied practice. To situate personalism historically, this thesis uses modern art as a lens to understand an American antimodern milieu, which challenged modernity and industrial capitalism’s perceived hollowness. By seeking something tangible, Catholic Workers utilized the theology of the Body of Christ to discipline the body to articulate notions of individuals working for the common good. From this antimodern aesthetic, this thesis transitions to another perspective, spatial analysis, to evaluate the conceived agronomic university. The farm’s conceived space sought to reorient individuals out of modernity and into a contemporary manifestation of an envisioned medieval community. Yet, the founders recognized the inextricable connection between urban and rural spaces, the former for its food and the latter for its workers. Eventually, these reconstructed persons would return to urban cores to spread their work ethic. With these two perspectives, this thesis examines conceived bodies and conceived space on Maryfarm’s physical land. As a confluence for unemployed workers, Maryfarm became home to various flows of modern individuals, who brought their experiences, hopes, and desires with them. Because of personalism, Maryfarm rejected any emplaced authority. Instead, workers had to cultivate self-discipline and selflessness on their own. As a contested space, Maryfarm allowed individuals to derive their own meanings and work ethics from their experiences, particularly along gendered lines.
Identifier: 2019_Spring_Austin_fsu_0071N_15195 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Thesis submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts.
Degree Awarded: Spring Semester 2019.
Date of Defense: April 8, 2019.
Keywords: Catholic Worker, Farming, Modern Art, Personalism, Peter Maurin
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory Committee: Jamil Drake, Professor Directing Thesis; Aline Kalbian, Committee Member; John Corrigan, Committee Member; Michael McVicar, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Religion
Persistent Link to This Record:
Host Institution: FSU

Choose the citation style.
Austin, N. S. (2019). Against Modernity: New Perspectives on the Catholic Worker Communal Movement and the Fight for Dignity in Labor, 1936 to 1945. Retrieved from