If you love nature, and would like to know why, you’ll benefit from these four discussions about American Animism.
We’ll explore the primary textual sources, and discover the basic concepts of, animism—the belief inherent in all religions that God is alive, in (and sometimes as) nature. My goal is to equip you with a historically-grounded understanding of what modern Western animism is, as nourishment for the growth of your own environmental philosophy.
When you sign up, you’ll receive readings and discussion questions. We meet on Sunday Sept. 25, Oct. 9, Oct. 16, & Oct. 23 from 3-5 pm at Grey Matter Books in Hadley.
#1) Animism in ancient Greece and Judea
This discussion focuses on myths that become the foundation for modern Western Animism. We investigate the Greek figures of the autochthon and genius loci, the Orphic Creation myth and the story of Persephone. Then, we investigate the Judaic stories of Adam and Eve, and of Moses.
#2) Animism in the English Enlightenment
This discussion focuses on how the “natural law” animism of Plato and Epicurus inspired John Locke and Isaac Newton. Locke’s theory of consciousness and Newton’s physics became the foundation for modern Western Animism—and politics, science and psychology. You’ll be amazed when you realize how much of your love of nature derives from these sources.
#3) The Animism of Jonathan Edwards
This discussion focuses on Northampton’s Jonathan Edwards, whose assertion that God is alive in nature begot evangelical Christianity and Transcendentalism. We’ll investigate selections from his sermons and his journal writings—and revel in the fact that his most interesting ideas were developed right here in the Nonotuck biome.
#4) American Animism
This discussion ties together our previous discussions, by focusing on the animism of Thomas Jefferson, who told John Adams:
To talk of immaterial existences, is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say, they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. … Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us, indeed, that ‘God is a spirit,’ but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the antient fathers generally, of the three first centuries, held it to be matter, light and thin, indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter.
Jefferson’s political theory, his Declaration of Independence, and his ghostwriting of the Bill of Rights, derive from his neo-classical and Newtonian animism. You’ll learn how his liberal concept of “equality” derived straight out of his definition of nature, and what meant when he said, “freedom is the gift of nature.”
His political influence is incalculable, and is matched by his influence in inspiring our love for nature in the area of aesthetics. In his description of the Natural Bridge of Virginia, he introduced American culture to the concept of the sublime:
The Natural Bridge, the most sublime of Nature’s works… must not be pretermitted. It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime, to be felt beyond what they are here: so beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light, and springing as it were up to heaven, the rapture of the spectator is really indescribable.
To hint at the extent of his influence, know that Melville used these words to describe the first appearance of Moby Dick:
“But soon the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia’s Natural Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight.”
We’ll investigate key selections from Jefferson’s writing together—and you will be amazed and inspired to know that you are not alone in your love for nature—this love has been shared by “westerners” since the Bronze Age, and is the source of what we most admire about our culture.
Sunday Sept. 25, Oct. 9, Oct. 16, & Oct. 23 from 3-5 pm at Grey Matter Books in Hadley.
Cost: $50.00 for 4, $15.00 per
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