A Bitter Poetics of Differentiation: Cultural Evolution in the Verse of John Wesley Powell

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2023-08-31
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Taylor and Francis
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Philosophy and Religious Studies
Abstract
The famed explorer, scientist, and U.S. government administrator John Wesley Powell (1834–1902) was a significant contributor to cultural evolutionary thinking in the late-nineteenth century. In addition to scientific publications, he also – curiously – used the genre of poetry as an outlet for his ideas. This article analyzes two of Powell’s obscure published poems. I argue that his poetry is significant, not for its literary value, but for what it reveals about theories of cultural evolution that were operative for a significant U.S. government agent who played a critical role in the production of knowledge about Native American religions. This article contributes to the theme of political theology and settler colonialism by examining the ideological features of settler colonialism – the production of ideas, knowledge, and theories that have supported and justified U.S. settler colonialism. I demonstrate that there was an aesthetic as well as a scientific register to racialized cultural evolutionary thinking.
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This submitted article is published as Dees, S. A Bitter Poetics of Differentiation: Cultural Evolution in the Verse of John Wesley Powell. Political Theology, Volume 24, 2023 - Issue 7: Settler Colonialism and Political Theology. Guest Editors: Dana Lloyd and Jan Pranger. https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2023.2250962. Posted with permission.
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