Speaking to a seeking generation : non-religious art and the surprising turn towards religion, America 1970-1975

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis provides a historical and cultural account of how and why many young, middle-class Americans (aged 18-35) disengaged with religious institutions, and turned to a variety of other cultural sources for personal fulfillment during ‘the long 1960s’ (1958-1974). In light of this context, it analyses in detail three works of art (in different media) which, despite negative critical expectations, garnered extraordinary popular success with this generation in the early 1970s: The Rothko Chapel (1971), Ingmar Bergman’s film Cries and Whispers (1972), and Richard Adam’s novel Watership Down (1972; US publication 1974). The thesis examines the commissioning, production, and distribution stages, as well as the immediate popular and critical reception, of these three art works in order to better understand their particular appeal to young people and the phenomenon of their unexpected success. In doing so, it uncovers a range of previously unexamined testimonial evidence, and provides a more contextual and rounded treatment of this phenomenon than in previous studies. It shows that the unexpected popular appeal of these art works can be attributed to how they channeled many of this generation’s concerns and anxieties, as well as desires for fulfillment. It also suggests that they seem to have opened up traditional Christian narratives and themes in a defamiliarized context. The thesis contributes new perspectives on this particularly significant period and generation in twentieth-century American history and culture, on these three seminal art works, and on the relationship between religion, the arts, and popular culture more generally.
Date of Award2 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorGeorge Corbett (Supervisor)


  • Religion
  • Christianity
  • Art
  • Popular culture
  • Secular
  • 1960s
  • History
  • Spirituality
  • Spiritual seeking

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 26th August 2025

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