While scholars have recognized personalism as an idiom circulating through leftist US political culture, we have yet to clarify how it reconceived personal experience as a site for transforming society by disrupting prevailing structures of power. This essay considers the personalist projects of Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. as exemplary of personalism’s radical political force. Day and King similarly drew from their experiences of the traditionally private domain of Christian religious belief to reconceptualize political participation. They rooted universal claims for social cohesion in forms of intersubjectivity encountered in daily life and social transformation in how the moral and material intersected in everyday scenes. Situating their public protests alongside their published writing, public speeches and sermons, and their private letters, memos, and diaries, I highlight how Day and King articulated personalist political visions that mobilized sacrificial love, devotional practice, and spiritual community to produce systemic change. This revisiting of Day and King aims to recontextualize not only what we think we know about these familiar figures but also what we think it means for the personal to be political.


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pp. 75-100
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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