Strange Jeremiahs: civil religion and the literary imaginations of Jonathan Edwards, Herman Melville, and W. E. B. Du Bois
Over the last few decades the notion of civil religion has gained parlance as a way of making sense of American culture and religion. The term civil religion, often used simply to mean patriotism, refers in this text to the religious styles and rhetoric that emerge from the act of founding of the American Republic as a democratic nation. The author examines the work of three major American authors whose lives span 250 years and who, in spite of their different heritages, all expressed themselves through the tradition of the jeremiad, or prophetic judgment of a people for backsliding from their destiny. Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century theologian whose work defined the Great Awakening, made use of the jeremiad through a theological discourse that defined conversion as a performative act
Stewart demonstrates how Herman Melville, the author of Moby-Dick, questioned the ideology of American optimism; her focus here falls upon his lesser known and often overlooked novel, Pierre, or, The Ambiguities. W.E.B. Du Bois, the preeminent African American intellectual and activist, took up the jeremiad from the implications of the Reconstruction.
Stewart grounds her study in the meaning and act of America's revolutionary founding, the Civil War, and in Reconstruction, which represents a refounding. These contexts along with the cultural meaning of Puritanism set forth the meaning of civil religion within the orders of a revolutionary beginning. Highlighting the promise and failure of the American Revolution, her study offers new resources for understanding American history and culture.
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abolitionists acknowledgment aesthetic African American ambiguity American civil religion American Revolution Arendt argues attempt authentic beauty Bercovitch Black Reconstruction Bois Bois’s Calvinism Calvinist Christian civil religion Concerning the Revival Constitution conversion critical Crummell deﬁne Delattre democracy democratic discussion divine Dusk of Dawn Edwards’s enslaved exchanges experience expressed ﬁgure ﬁnd ﬁrst former slaves founding freedom God’s grace Halfway Covenant Haroutunian human Ibid idea ideal ideology inﬁnite inﬂuence Isabel Jonathan Edwards Kingdom of Matthias legalistic limit Lucy manifest destiny meaning Melville Melville’s Miller Moby-Dick narrator nation nature Negro Northampton novel novelty one’s original Phebe Pierre Pierre’s plurality points political promise public space Puritan race racial reﬂect reformers religious revolutionary rhetoric sacriﬁce Saddle Meadows salvation Second Great Awakening sense signiﬁcance slavery social Sojourner Truth Souls of Black speciﬁc spirit structure talented tenth Thoughts Concerning tion tradition Truth veil W. E. B. Du Bois words writes