Date of Award

Summer 7-1-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Braiterman, Zachary J.


Advertising, Christianity, Fundamentalism, Messianism, Superman, Wizard of Oz

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | History | Religion | United States History


A historically variegated emblem of trust and faith, the messianic idea is the offer of religion to the people for salvation from the coming catastrophe. This dissertation analyzes the messianic idea in "America." The foci of the study are popular messianic figurations that serve as heuristic devices to explicate early 20th century U.S. culture, revealing two ideological impulses that encapsulate collective responses to the anxieties of the age: authoritarian-populism and catastrophic-utopianism. Four case studies, encompassing four different genres of media, define and illustrate these ideological impulses: The Fundamentals, Superman comic books, Bruce Barton's capitalist Christianity, and The Wizard of Oz film. These iconic figures reflect respectively: a fundamentalist and nostalgic desire for the past; libidinal authoritarianism; commodification of religion; and the triumph of grift and hucksterism. Together, these figures constellate the messianic idea in "America," a collective investment in an elongated historical present, which, in turn, colonizes psycho-social space with increasingly entrenched images that congeal into icons overtime. The messianic idea in "America" is best understood iconologically rather than theologically. As an icon, messianism's primary contributions to the "American" cosmovision are a paranoid catastrophic-utopianism and religiously inflected authoritarian-populism.


Open Access

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