Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Robert A Gross


This study explores the central role that a spiritualized friendship played in the thought and writings of antebellum reformers. It identifies a spiritual sensibility that was widely shared by many radical New England activists of the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s regardless of their specific denominational beliefs, and argues that this sense of spirituality motivated them to become activists who labored to transform their society.;Specifically, this dissertation analyzes the work and writings of a variety of reformers who believed that spirit or soul could serve as a mechanism for leveling some of the most dominant cultural and institutional power hierarchies of the mid-nineteenth century. Organized around three case studies---Theodore Dwight Weld's and Angelina Grimke's efforts to conceptualize an egalitarian marriage in 1838, white and black abolitionists' debates over the political efficacy of spiritualized friendships in the early 1840s, Elihu Burritt's struggle to destabilize nationalism and foster a sense of global community in the late 1840s---the dissertation explores the ideological centrality of spirit in the period's millennial, utopian struggles against racism and slavery, sexism and patriarchy, and nationalism and war. Believing these hierarchies to be rooted in physical, bodily differences---in race and sex and nation---the reformers of this study saw in the disembodied, immaterial soul a means for unmaking those hierarchies. An ever growing recognition of the primacy of the soul within each and every human being, they believed, could function as a political instrument that would transform society by leading to a correlative appreciation of the inconsequentiality of the body and bodily difference. Together these case studies demonstrate how this spiritual sensibility shaped the political ideology and practical strategies of abolitionists, woman's right activists, and pacifists, investing their efforts to affect revolutionary social change with the zeal and conviction of religious faith.



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