Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




How religion shapes political and civic engagement has been a consistently fruitful question for American social theorists. Religion has often been understood as providing the moral underpinnings of civil society, traditionally in ways that promote cohesion or preserve the status quo. Despite this, there has been a long tradition of progressive religious engagement in American civic and political life, including the abolitionist movement, civil rights movement, and anti-nuclear movement. Through an ethnographic examination of six politically progressive religious communities, including two communes and four congregations, I examine how religion is put towards progressive ends. Through this, I develop the concept of

moral imaginaries, highlighting how politically active and civically engaged social actors connect their everyday behavior to wider universes of meaning. I use the concept as a way to anchor discussions of meaning within social movements that privileges the lived, sense-making activities of social actors, showing the co-construction of imagination and action. Through this, I demonstrate how meaning shapes practice outside tactical considerations, opening up a wider space for analysts to think about culture in social movements and civic engagement.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.