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Belmont University | Belief in Something Greater

Peter Kuryla

Dr. Pete Kuryla

I am an American, Texas born (to adapt a phrase favored by Augie March). When I was very small, my military family moved around a bit, finally settling in Rantoul, Illinois. I enjoyed an idyllic Midwestern boyhood punctuated by frequent trips to Chicago to visit my large Polish family who, at the time anyway, struck me as an awfully loud group of people. From there I spent my formative years in Wichita Falls, Texas, where I earned my B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from Midwestern State University and where I met my wife Kathy. We moved to Nashville in the fall of 2000 and I finished my PhD in history at Vanderbilt University in December of 2006.  I wrote my dissertation on American intellectuals' responses to the Civil Rights Movement, which has since transitioned into a more ambitious manuscript that travels under the name "The Imagined Civil Rights Movement." In it I offer a few answers to the questions of how it is that so many people have come to reference or claim the movement, and why they consider their claims legitimate. Thus far I've published several shorter pieces: book chapters, journal articles, and reviews.

I study the intellectual and cultural history of the United States, and I tend to focus on political thought along with American philosophy and literature after the Civil War. At Belmont I teach several courses, among others the African American Experience,  American Thought and Culture after the Civil War, and a course on what others have thought of us called "International Vistas: the US Viewed from Abroad." In my classes, I try to get my students to think across traditional disciplinary and conceptual boundaries. So I encourage a way of looking at the past that cultivates what John Erskine called "the moral obligation to be intelligent," such that history becomes a tool for purposeful action in whatever field students choose to pursue. Probably in utter defiance of this philosophy, I am a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, which means that I can't enjoy it when they win. 


Selected Recent Publications

“How Delightfully Awful: Reflections on Kenneth Burke’s Linguistic Approach to Problems of Education” U.S. Intellectual History (blog) June 3, 2015


“Vastations and Prosthetics: Henry James, Sr. and the Transatlantic Education of William and Henry James”                 chapter four in Martin Halliwell and Joel Rasmussen, eds. William James and the Transatlantic Conversation: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Philosophy of Religion, Oxford University Press, 2014, 81-96.


“Ralph Ellison, Irving Howe, and the Imagined Civil Rights Movement,” Society 50: 1 (January 2013): 10-15.


“Esthetic Sensitivity: The Sublime Architectures of Paul Conkin’s Puritans and PragmatistsHistorically Speaking (January 2012): 24-26.

“Barack Obama and the American Island of the Colorblind” Patterns of Prejudice, 45: 1&2 (April 2011): 119-132.

“Parties Down at the Square Amidst Courtroom Melodramas: A Reconsideration of the Modern Civil Rights Movement Demonstration” Patterns of Prejudice, 43:1 (February 2009):  17-40