From discourse to activism: Trajectories of Percy Bysshe Shelley's nonviolence philosophy in literatures of resistance

Susan Joan Peterson, University of Rhode Island


My dissertation traces the emergence of a new discourse on nonviolence conflict reconciliation during the age of the English Romantic poets. Specifically, this project examines Percy Bysshe Shelley's prose works such as An Address to the Irish People, Proposals for an Association of Philanthropists , and the Notes to Queen Mab. Within these texts Shelley articulates both the philosophy and methodology of nonviolent conflict reconciliation. His theory significantly impacted the formation of the philosophies and the campaigns of the later nonviolence author/activists Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mairead Maguire. Rather than viewing their momentous campaigns as separate, disconnected events, my goal is to establish nonviolence as a discourse that begins with Shelley's Irish writings. Shelley's recommendations for nonviolent resistance are expressed in Thoreau's work as “civil disobedience,” in Gandhi's writings as “satyagraha,” and in the contemporary works of King and Maguire as “nonviolence reconciliation.” In the writings of these activists there is a commonality of language that can be traced back to Shelley. This nonviolence discourse is reflective of and advocates selfless, compassionate love in the same degree for the enemy as for the friend. Strategies of exclusively nonviolent protest and action are utilized to accomplish the goal. The campaigns of these practitioners remain wholly consistent with Shelley's recommendations. Two case studies are presented within this dissertation as examples of contemporary nonviolence campaigns that incorporate Shelley's philosophy and methodology. These are the King Center project in South Africa in 1994 and the ongoing nonviolence projects in Colombia, South America under the leadership of civil rights veteran Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. These movements are representative of the dissemination and institutionalization of nonviolence around the world as articulated in the body of discourse began by Percy Shelley in the nineteenth century.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Susan Joan Peterson, "From discourse to activism: Trajectories of Percy Bysshe Shelley's nonviolence philosophy in literatures of resistance" (2004). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3135913.