Active and contemplative lives in a changing climate: The Emersonian roots of Thoreau’s political asceticism

Journal article


Balthrop-Lewis, Alda. (2019). Active and contemplative lives in a changing climate: The Emersonian roots of Thoreau’s political asceticism. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 87(2), pp. 311 - 332. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfz010
AuthorsBalthrop-Lewis, Alda
Abstract

This article addresses an existential quandary for scholars of religion in an age of climate change. Given climate problems, it might seem like we ought to spend our lives doing something more civically productive than reading and writing books. Yet, we continue in our professions. I address this by examining Henry David Thoreau’s experiment at Walden. Thoreau drew on a variety of religious traditions and texts in his thinking about religious asceticism and coincident questions about the value of active and contemplative life. In this article, I focus especially on a portion of the Harivaṃśa Thoreau translated and a very quiet controversy that arose between Emerson and Thoreau about the value of practical effect. Thoreau’s investment in ascetic life, both active and contemplative, shows one way in which the writing life itself sometimes aims to resist the drive for growth that powers contemporary climate change.

Year2019
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Religion
Journal citation87 (2), pp. 311 - 332
PublisherOxford University Press
ISSN0002-7189
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfz010
Page range311 - 332
Research GroupInstitute for Religion and Critical Inquiry
Publisher's version
File Access Level
Controlled
Place of publicationOxford, United Kingdom
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