Spirituality of nature in Emerson’s “Nature” and Thoreau’s “Walking

I chose this topic for my final paper because I found Emerson and Thoreau to be the most interesting authors we have read this semester. I found their writings on the religious aspects of nature to be the most interesting because they incorporated aspects of Christianity into their transcendental ideals. They also seemed to have a more open interpretation of religious morals and where those can be found. Nature served as the incarnation of God on Earth as well as a place of worship in their writings. I want to focus mainly on the “Spirit” chapter in Emerson’s “Nature” and the beginning of Thoreau’s “Walking”. Emerson explains his thoughts on the spirituality of nature in his chapter titled “Spirit” which would be my main focus. Thoreau likens nature to God and Heaven in the beginning of “Walking” which would be another focus of my paper.

1. How do the authors combine aspects of Christianity with their perspective of nature?
2. Do the authors see nature as the incarnation of God, a place of worship, or both?
3. How does “human nature” play a role in the authors’ interpretation of morality?


11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kbudd on October 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I too like to look at Christianity in literature. It allows for in depth reading especially in the likes of Emerson and Thoreau. One question I continued to ask myself when reading this two, that may be beneficial for your essay, is :

    4. Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man from the dust of the Earth before God breathed life into man. Does this inherently make us apart of the earth and nature?

  2. Posted by lpeake on October 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I really like your third question because I find the idea of there being a true “human nature” fascinating so it would be interesting to look at how the authors feel about that.

    Since you’re discussing how their Christianity impacts their view of nature I think another good question would be:

    4. Do there authors believe that nature has an intrinsic value outside of humans, or did God create nature solely for human benefit? How does their Christianity impact their views on the value of nature?

  3. etrotta,

    I like how straight to the point your topic proposal is. My favorite question is the first one. 19th Century literature seems to have a lot of Christian influence on the writers. Emerson, on the other hand, does not portray this and so this will be interesting to read about. If I had to add to the list of questions, question 4 would be, besides Christian influence could you identify other religions and explain how the fit into the stories?

  4. I’m sorry my question is labeled as question 4. When I started writing my question the other two comments did not appear. Therefore my question should be labeled as 6.

  5. Posted by bhough on October 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I think your paper topic has great potential. The question of yours which I liked most is:

    3. How does “human nature” play a role in the authors’ interpretation of morality?

    Going off this idea, I think it might be beneficial to look further into both authors’ audiences. The question I pose, then, is this:

    With the high level at which both men were writing, which has sometime been seen as exclusionary, does this have implications for their readership? Does writing about nature as religion for a primarily educated, Christian audience really prove the point they are trying to make (that is, if you decide they had a point to make in the first place)?

  6. Posted by al002 on October 27, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    I think this is a very interesting topic and the question I found most appealing is “1. How do the authors combine aspects of Christianity with their perspective of nature?” And going along with this perhaps a question about:

    8. What is origin of Christianity’s definition of ‘nature’? Is it just the Bible or has religious movements shaped and redefined it? And if so how is it viewed in the present?

  7. This will make for a great paper. I like question 3 and if it were me i would work with this idea more
    4. Is human nature more directed by nature or their belief in a higher power?

  8. Posted by lmc908 on October 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I like that you are comparing Emerson and Thoreau. I feel like Emerson is a little ambiguous on his idea of Nature as God, though. It might be a good idea to look at some of his other chapters, specifically Nature.

    8. Would some one who does not believe in God or has any religious affiliation still be able to find meaning or value these works?

  9. I found your first question particularly interesting, since I think it’s interesting the way each author invokes Christianity in their arguments, though they are rather ambiguous and rarely cite specific Bible passages.

    9. How does Christianity affect each author’s spirituality, and in their descriptions of nature do they ever invoke other religions or go against Christian teachings?

  10. Posted by michaelmichaelsmith on October 28, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I think its an excellent idea to examine these works with Christianity in mind. It surprising how much of the world is shaped by religion, for better or worse. I think your first question has a lot of juice and thought of a question almost immediately.

    Q10 – What specific actions or practices do the authors cite as harmful to the environment and how does Christian values support or oppose these designations? Would there be a human offense towards nature that would be considered a “sin” in a Christian context?

  11. This is a great topic, and I find question #3 the most intriguing so far. In order to examine your paper topic closely, you’ll need to do some research on Christianity at that time and what Emerson and Thoreau were both reacting against and proposing. This might be a good place to start.


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