"From a Calmer Height of Love and Wisdom": Emerson, Religious Sentiment, and Environmental Intimacy

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Abstract:
While it has long been acknowledged that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work has had an important impact on religious thought in America, he is often treated as either a proto-secularist forerunner to a non- or irreligious literary culture, or an early figure in the development of an array of mystical, spiritualist, and metaphysical movements. In contrast, “‘From a Calmer Height of Love and Wisdom’: Emerson, Religious Sentiment, and Environmental Intimacy” offers a reading of Emerson’s public corpus as delivering an intricate and multifaceted engagement with the concept of religion that is more philosophically nuanced than has been recognized by the interpretive tradition. Rather than treating Emerson as promoting an anti-institutional religion of individual spiritual fulfillment, this dissertation portrays Emerson as deeply concerned with the actual practice of religion insofar as it functions as an important site for ethical cultivation. By adapting Stanley Cavell’s perfectionist reading of Emerson to provide an affective means of regaining intimacy with other persons and the world rather than seeking to intellectually master one’s relations, this work extends the perfectionist project by reading it as part of Emerson’s practical religious intervention in which he seeks to find the quotidian ways of bringing the actual world closer to the ideal. Emerson is shown to be an engaged social critic who hopes to redeem notions of religious tradition that might prove to be useful, while abandoning those which are retrospective, placing his work in the tense space between tradition and novelty. Ultimately, when Emerson’s religious project is seen as a combination of the concern for individual cultivation and forms of community practice, it provides a way to develop an environmental ethic that aims to bolster the abilities of ordinary people to reflect creatively on their daily lives. By holding together a transcendentalist sense of the immanent reflective capacities of the human with an understanding of the intimate constitutive relations between humans and environments, Emerson offers ethical resources for responding to the anthropocene.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--Brown University, 2017

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Friesner, Nicholas Aaron, "'From a Calmer Height of Love and Wisdom': Emerson, Religious Sentiment, and Environmental Intimacy" (2017). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library. https://doi.org/10.7301/Z0TD9VSQ

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