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Prophesies of GodlessnessPredictions of America's Iminent Secularization from the Puritans to Postmodernity$
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Charles T Mathewes and Christopher McKnight Nichols

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195342536

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195342536.001.0001

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 The Romantic Era

 The Romantic Era

Emerson's Churches of One

(p.53) 3 The Romantic Era
Prophesies of Godlessness

Matthew Mutter

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses Ralph Waldo Emerson's prophetic announcement of both the decay of orthodox, institutional religion and the ascent of a solitary spirituality founded upon the intuition of the “moral sentiment.” Matthew Mutter argues that this dual expectation is made possible by a radicalization of the Puritan project of integrating the sacred and the secular. This radicalization ultimately placed the burden of sacred order on the vision of the perceiving individual, which in turn diminished the significance of outward social and political arrangements. Attention is given to Emerson's misapprehension of the actual trends in nineteenth‐century American religious life, to the differences between Emerson's prophetic stance and those of Whitman, Thoreau, Melville and Lincoln, and to the effects of the Civil War on Emerson's thought and American public religion in general. The conclusion looks at Emerson's legacy in American religious history.

Keywords:   Ralph Waldo Emerson, churches of one, deism, transcendentalism, moral sentiment, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville

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