“A Question Making Time”: Corita Kent, the White Catholic Imagination, and American Catholicism

Timothy J. Dulle, Fordham University


This dissertation lifts up Pop artist and longtime Catholic nun, Corita Kent (1918–1986) as a paradigm for understanding changes in the US Catholic community, especially developments which I term white Catholicism and Secular Catholicism. Analyzing Corita’s upbringing in Los Angeles, her innovative pedagogy, critically-acclaimed artwork, activism, and evolving religious identity as a Catholic woman, this dissertation draws a connection between shifts in European-American Catholic identity after World War II and the surge in religious disaffiliation toward the century’s end. Corita came of age and began her career as a woman religious in Southern California, a region which lacked the infrastructure of European ethnic Catholicism that shaped Catholic life in other regions of the country. As nationally-inflected forms of Catholicism declined across the US following the war, new forms of pan-ethnic white Catholicism developed. In 1951, as Corita completed her formal training and made her first prize-winning serigraph, she was well-positioned to synthesize the spiritual impulses of white Catholicism and American popular culture more broadly. At Immaculate Heart College, Corita also developed an influential pedagogical approach focused on creativity and experiential learning. In the 1960s, embracing Pop Art, she rose to national prominence as a Catholic artist and came to understand social activism as constitutive of her spirituality. By 1968, exhausted from her many commitments and under pressure from the archbishop of Los Angeles, Corita left her religious community and the Catholic Church. Until her death in 1986, Corita continued her career as an artist in Boston. No longer a Catholic, and in fact identifying in the 1980s as a religious “none,” Corita nonetheless continued making artwork which expressed a distinct spirituality, one that took seriously her formation as a socially engaged and culturally confident US Catholic, but which instantiated those beliefs outside of the institutional Catholic Church. I term this spirituality Secular Catholicism, and argue that, through it, Corita Kent stands as an important forerunner to today’s many religiously disaffiliated “nones.”

Subject Area

Religious history|Theology|Spirituality

Recommended Citation

Dulle, Timothy J., "“A Question Making Time”: Corita Kent, the White Catholic Imagination, and American Catholicism" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28495038.