‘Religion Unbound’: Jeffrey Stout on Emersonian Democracy

This post is written in response to Jeffrey Stout’s fifth Gifford lecture for 2017, entitled ‘Slavishness, Democracy, and the Death of God.’ It is part of his larger series, Religion Unbound: Powers and Ideals from Cicero to King that has just been delivered at the University of Edinburgh (May 1-11, 2017). My colleague Andrew Johnson is hosting the Giffords blog, where he has posted summaries of the lectures as well as links to the lecture videos. 

Professor Jeffrey Stout has offered a compelling account of Emerson’s importance for the pursuit of ‘ethical religion’. Emerson’s worthy provocations include an incisive critique, later adopted by Nietzsche, of slavishness and the herd mentality. He therefore seeks to evoke others’ ‘self-reliance’, characterised by the expression of ‘unauthorised thoughts’. In Stout’s convincing portrayal, Emerson is not thereby calling for atomised self-assertion; rather, non-conformity is the necessary condition for a ‘sociality of reason’ (in Terry Pinkard’s phrase) that can alone support democracy.…
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When the Green Wood Turns: Jesus Speaks to his Mourners

Do not weep for me.

Jesus’ words are startling. He speaks them as the cross is on procession through the city streets, addressing a crowd of mourners he names the ‘daughters of Jerusalem.’ As such, the words carry over to us: Do not weep for me. But have we not come to do just that this Holy Week, to weep for him?…
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Intuiting the Wilderness: Jesus’ Route of Prayer

Lostness is a recent invention in the arctic wild. Inuit hunters in Igloolik, Nunavut have long made their way according to uqalurait, the shaping of snowdrifts by western winds. They also read directional signs in animal behaviour and water currents. As anthropologists have observed, theirs is a culture in which ‘the idea of being lost or unable to find one’s way is without basis in experience, language, or understanding—that is, until recently’.

Ironically, the introduction of GPS has brought about this new language of disorientation. The great benefit of GPS is that a snowmobile can be driven blindly through heavy fog when traditional routes are obscured. Elders worry, however, that reliance on a device leads to ambivalence about the traditional ways of navigation. As a result, younger navigators will newly become ‘lost’ when the screen freezes, batteries die, or a patch of thin ice is not taken into account. As Claudio Aporta observes, GPS is ‘the first technology in the history of navigation that gives you an answer to a spatial question without you needing to be engaged at all’ (See Alex Hutchinson, ‘Global Impositioning Systems’, The Walrus, November 2009).

The Lenten season confronts us with wilderness conditions, arctic or otherwise, patterned as it is on Jesus’ forty days of fasting. Without our usual bearings, will we immediately seek a technological way through, or have we cultivated a local’s sense for navigation?…
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© David Robinson, 2017