The politics and theology of prophetic pragmatism: A contribution to the critique of radical political philosophy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Charles Winquist


prophetic pragmatism, radical political philosophy

Subject Categories

American Studies | Philosophy | Political Science | Religion | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation makes a contribution to the critique of radical political philosophy and theology by analyzing the theory and practice articulated and advanced by Cornel West. This analysis examines and evaluates the theological and political significance of the discourse of prophetic pragmatism, the practice of prophetic pragmatists, and Cornel West as a prominent and powerful representative of a new class strata of cultural workers laboring within the first world academy. This critique interprets prophetic pragmatism, prophetic pragmatists, and these new cultural workers as symptomatic of and as contributing to the ongoing reformation of the academy, a reformation which is theorized in this dissertation as part of the larger project of reforming cultural institutions and discourses in a manner which supports the existence and continuous expansion of an essentially transnational mode of capital accumulation. Chapter One situates prophetic pragmatism, prophetic pragmatists, and Cornel West in relationship to the structural development of the capital-labor relation from the New Deal to the present, and in relationship to the development of the post-segregationist, post-colonial, multicultural academy. Chapter Two assesses the practical consequences of West's theoretical eclecticism through an examination of his amalgamation of Christian and Marxist concepts and his Foucauldian-based genealogy of modern racism, and concludes with an historical materialist explanation of contemporary racism. Chapter Three explicates the internal contradictions of West's anti-realism and anti-foundationalism, and initiates a critique of his cultural materialist theory of society and social transformation. Chapter Four evaluates the interests represented by West's recent theoretical discourses and his interpretation of the April 1992 Los Angeles riots. Chapter Five summarizes the social significance of prophetic pragmatism, prophetic pragmatists and new class strata of cultural workers, critiques the politics of identity and multiculturalism, and concludes by making several proposals regarding what may and must be done to support the collective global struggle for human emancipation.


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