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A Language of Things

Emanuel Swedenborg and the American Environmental Imagination
Devin P. Zuber

BUY Cloth · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943503 · $59.50 · Dec 2019
BUY Ebook · 224 pp. · ISBN 9780813943527 · $59.50 · Dec 2019
BUY Paper · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813943510 · $29.50 · Dec 2019

Long overlooked, the natural philosophy and theosophy of the Scandinavian scientist-turned-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) made a surprising impact in America. Thomas Jefferson, while president, was so impressed with the message of a Baltimore Swedenborgian minister that he invited him to address both houses of Congress. But Swedenborgian thought also made its contribution to nineteenth-century American literature, particularly within the aesthetics of American Transcendentalism. Although various scholars have addressed how American Romanticism was affected by different currents of Continental thought and religious ideology, surprisingly no book has yet described the specific ways that American Romantics made persistent recourse to Swedenborg for their respective projects to re-enchant nature.

In A Language of Things, Devin Zuber offers a critical attempt to restore the fundamental role that religious experience could play in shaping nineteenth-century American approaches to natural space. By tracing the ways that Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Vachel Lindsay all variously responded to Swedenborgian thought, Zuber illuminates the complex dynamic that came to unfold between the religious, the literary, and the ecological.


A Language of Things represents an important contribution to our understanding of American culture, religious history, and environmental history. It offers a searching, thoroughly researched explanation of how and why Emanuel Swedenborg and his followers helped to spark that Romantic re-enchantment of the natural world championed by nineteenth-century figures such as John Chapman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, sustained as well by later figures such as John Muir and Sarah Orne Jewett.

John Gatta, Sewanee: The University of the South, author of Making Nature Sacred and Spirits of Place in American Literary Culture

About the Author: 

Devin P. Zuber is Associate Professor of American Studies, Religion, and Literature at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.

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