Professor considers ‘Faith of Emerson’

Jordan Alcasas
Staff Writer

Dan Campana, professor of philosophy and religion, discussed his book “The Faith of Emerson,” which is about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s views of faith and American individualism, on April 11 in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room before an audience of about 20.

Campana said that Emerson is a frequently misunderstood thinker, and most associate him with solely Puritan Christian ideas rather than a nuanced mix of those ideas among others. 

People also frequently associate Emerson with a loss of faith, Campana said, adding that there is a lack of evidence to support this notion. 

“He was, as we all are, a product of our context,” Campana said.

Campana said that Emerson’s ideas were founded on Puritan Christian ideas as well as from thinkers in other areas, including Immanual Kant, who insisted that humans are capable of understanding and reorganizing their reality, along with Greek philosophers.

Campana said that Emerson’s lack of alignment with one worldview was not indicative of a lack of faith. 

“Emerson picks up the notion that we are, in fact, active in constructing the truth of the world,” Campana said. “We’re always involved in an interpretive sense of reality.”

Campana said that through his education at Harvard among other influences, Emerson found that the Puritan Christian world was fundamentally at odds with other belief systems. 

During his life, Emerson had multiple experiences that caused him to doubt his own faith, Campana said. These included Germany’s calling the Bible’s textual integrity into question and the loss of his wife. 

Campana said that Emerson’s true view of faith was a more intuitive one, and was based on his unique experiences. 

“We know the ultimate truth about the universe and that there is a metaphysical trait behind our human experience, which is an idea Kant would have hated,” Camapana said. 

“Emerson was always looking for this faith, it just had to be expressed in this context,” Campana said.

Audience members found the presentation meaningful.

“I liked the connection between philosophy, thought, and nature, and the ethics of universalism in that we are all equal in this worldview,” said Jonathan Reed, professor of philosophy and religion. “I’ve never been a fan of the excess of American individualism and this resonates with me. Emerson resonates with me.” 

Jordan Alcasas can be reached at

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