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Title: Thoreau's Political Asceticism: from Abolitionism to Environmental Justice
Authors: Balthrop-Lewis, Kathleen Alda
Advisors: Stout, Jeffrey
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Henry David Thoreau
Subjects: Religion
American studies
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation offers a new interpretation of _Walden_. Against caricatures of Thoreau as asocial, apolitical, and areligious, the dissertation argues that Thoreau's vision of good society, his intentions with respect to politics, and his understanding of religion are all central to understanding _Walden_ rightly. With respect to society, Thoreau did not merely depart society for the woods when he undertook the experiment at Walden; he also joined a new society, one that included beings and persons often overlooked by contemporary understandings of social life. With respect to politics, Thoreau sometimes dismissed politics as useless; but he also enacted a form of life that was a direct response to some of the most pressing political problems of his period. With respect to religion, Thoreau did leave the Unitarian church in which he was raised; but he did this for explicitly theological reasons and by drawing upon traditional religious sources, many of them focused on ascetic practice. All together, I call this understanding of Thoreau's effort at Walden "political asceticism" – a phrase that aims to acknowledge the contradictions Thoreau so loved, while also suggesting that viewing Thoreau either as a contemplative (with its positive valence) or a quietist (with its negative one) only tells half the story. The Thoreau I uncover viewed his retreat itself as an investment in just living, and thus a means of political resistance to injustice.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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