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Abstract

Howard Thurman (1900-1981), whose life spanned most of this century, was a prodigious intellect and a pioneering theologian; his persistent effort, especially over the period of 1930s-1960s, to grapple with racism and classism within American Christianity paved the way for intellectual, political and religious leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Through his contact with Mahatma Gandhi, Thurman became convinced that African Americans might bring the "unadulterated message of non-violence to all people everywhere." Determined to find a moral and practical method to unite the concerns of the human spirit and the immediate material and social needs of disenfranchised people, Thurman moved against the advice of his own mentors and the racial proscriptions and patriotic zeal of Cold War Christianity. His study of Native American and Eastern spiritualities, his growing international frame of reference, his exploration of mysticism and suspicion of formal creeds as divisive, all distinguished him within an American and a Black tradition of religious practice.

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