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Religion, Democracy, and Work: Emerson and Economic Crisis

Posted: 6 Apr 2010  

Mark Cladis

Brown University - Department of Religious Studies


When our interpretations of Emersonメs political thought includeラrather than dodge or defuseラhis religion, our accounts of his work are enhanced. Among other things, we stand to learn much about his contributions to the democracy theory of his day and of our own, and new and bright light is cast on Deweyメs claim that モEmerson is not only a philosopher, but that he is the Philosopher of Democracy.ヤ I will highlight Emersonメs early and late religiosity, mainly focusing on the Divinity School Address (1838) and Worshipヤ (1860). In these essays, we see an evolving, normative conception of religion in relation to democracy, or what I will call Emerson's spiritual democracy. I will identify two central and interrelated components of this Emersonian spiritual democracy, namely, self-reliance and work. These virtues belong to his conception of a democratic character and cultureラthat is, to the identity of a democratic nation and its citizens. In particular, I will highlight what he called the democratic practice, モworkヤラEmersonメs an attempt to address the anomie and hardship that was brought on by rapid economic change.

Suggested Citation

Cladis, Mark, Religion, Democracy, and Work: Emerson and Economic Crisis. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper . Available at SSRN:

Mark Cladis (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Religious Studies ( email )

PO Box 1927/ 59 George St.
Providence, RI 02912
United States
(401) 863-3106 (Phone)
401-863-3109 (Fax)

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