Devin Zuber - Tuesday Night Talk: Sermons in Stones: American Environmental Thought and Swedenborgian Nature-Mysticism

August 7, 2012

While many know of John Muir and his iconic battle to preserve the Yosemite wilderness, few recall how Muir's Sierra Club—that seminal forerunner of modern-day environmentalism--began in the art studio of William Keith, a Swedenborgian landscape painter. This talk excavates the hidden presence of Swedenborgian thought behind the history of American environmentalism, from Johnny Appleseed's early proto-conservation on the Ohio frontier to the circle of Swedenborgian artists and writers in the background of the Sierra Club at the close of the 19th century. Muir's tendency to view nature as a sacred script -- "sermons in stones," as he ecstatically wrote about the Sierra Nevada mountains—will be situated in relation to Swedenborgian concepts of "correspondence" that were part of the aesthetic vocabularies of Muir's Swedenborgian friends in Berkeley and San Francisco. Exploring these ideas can help us better understand the ways we continue to locate spirituality and authenticity in our contemporary experiences of the wild.