Skip to main content

Spiritual Moderns

Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion

Examines how and why religion matters in the history of modern American art.
Andy Warhol is one of the best-known American artists of the twentieth century. He was also an observant Catholic who carried a rosary, went to mass regularly, kept a Bible by his bedside, and depicted religious subjects throughout his career. Warhol was a spiritual modern: a modern artist who appropriated religious images, beliefs, and practices to create a distinctive style of American art.
Spiritual Moderns centers on four American artists who were both modern and religious. Joseph Cornell, who showed with the Surrealists, was a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Mark Tobey created pioneering works of Abstract Expressionism and was a follower of the Bahá’í Faith. Agnes Pelton was a Symbolist painter who embraced metaphysical movements including New Thought, Theosophy, and Agni Yoga. And Warhol, a leading figure in Pop art, was a lifelong Catholic. Working with biographical materials, social history, affect theory, and the tools of art history, Doss traces the linked subjects of art and religion and proposes a revised interpretation of American modernism.

352 pages | 122 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2022

Art: American Art

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion


"Doss’s clear and cogent prose, accented by crisp illustrations of key works and supported by extensive research, make this distinctly focused and illuminating study an essential choice for art history collections."

Carolyn Mulac | Booklist

“Through detailed accounts of the life and work of four twentieth-century American artists, Doss works to unseat the notion that modern art and religion, or spirituality more generally, are incompatible and separate. She compellingly demonstrates how the significance of religion and spirituality in artistic practice has been suppressed and disavowed, or, alternatively, has contributed to an artist’s lesser status within the art-historical literature. In each thoroughly researched and lucidly written chapter, she illuminates the importance of religion and spirituality for these artists and in so doing deepens our understanding of their work.”

Rachael Z. DeLue, Christopher Binyon Sarofim ’86 Professor in American Art, Princeton University

Spiritual Moderns is an apt extension of Doss’s rigorous art-historical scholarship, and there is a great need for this study. As Doss persuasively argues, it is time that the field of modern American art history recognized the singular importance of religion and spirituality within the production and reception of twentieth-century American art. The canonical figures Doss considers engaged deeply with their respective religious traditions while challenging conventional orthodoxies and crafting unique images of transcendence. Doss offers a compelling revisionist account of modern American art history and the cultural work that religion and spirituality performed, historically and aesthetically.”

Marcia Brennan, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Humanities, Rice University

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Chapter 1. Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and Religion
Chapter 2. Joseph Cornell and Christian Science: “White Magic” Modernism and the Metaphysics of Ephemera
Chapter 3. Mark Tobey and Bahá’í: “White Writing” and Spiritual Calligraphy
Chapter 4. Agnes Pelton and Occulture: Spiritual Seeking and Visionary Modernism
Chapter 5. Andy Warhol and Catholicism: Pop Art’s “Spiritual Side”
Chapter 6. Spiritual Moderns: Culture War Controversies and Enduring Themes

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press