They Looked for a City: A Comparison of the Idea of Community in Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr

Journal of Religious Ethics 18 (2):33 - 55 (1990)

Abstract

Howard Thurman (1900-1981) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) were both Christian ministers and social prophets who made significant contributions to the religious and social life of America and the world. Although Howard Thurman is the lesser known of the two, his life and ministry influenced many highly visible individuals (including King) in American society and the larger world community. Both thinkers were also black Americans whose earliest experiences of oppression based on the coalescence of color and race in the segregated South had a profound impact on their quests and interpretations of human community. These early experiences, and later ones, are given in autobiographical statements throughout their writings, sermons, and speeches. While this dimension of their lives and its influence on the development of their understandings of community is a major concern of this essay, the fundamental problem addressed here is the ideal of community in Thurman and King. In the following, the continuities and discontinuities in the two thinkers' perspectives will be presented. The discussion will center upon three foci which form an analytical construct for the comparison: 1) the experiential and intellectual sources of community; 2) the nature of the ideal community; and 3) the actualization of community. In summary remarks, significant themes in both will be presented which can serve as the basis for further discussion in religious ethics on the problem of community.

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