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Title: Calvin's hermeneutics in the American Renaissance
Author: Slakey, Mark
ISNI:       0000 0001 3416 9216
Awarding Body: University of Wales, Bangor
Current Institution: Bangor University
Date of Award: 2001
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This thesis traces the development of Calvinist hermeneutic practices and their implications for social order as they relate to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The tension in Calvinist reform between its liberating, individualistic piety and its strict, pure social order carried over into hermeneutic practice, resulting in three distinct hermeneutic traditions: the dogmatism upheld by the ecclesiastical and political elite; the subjective dogmatism of "inspired" radicals; and an open hermeneutics which emphasized receptivity to new meaning but recognized the importance of community and community of meaning and aspired to a progressive harmony of ideas. Through Puritan covenant theology, Calvinist dogmatism was transformed into American nationalism, a mode of thought with protean powers of co-opting dissent. Calvinist subjective dogmatism influenced American radicalism through Puritan antinomians. While Calvin's open hermeneutics had some influence on the Puritans, it was especially important in the writing of Emerson and Hawthorne, who were especially influenced by its development in the work of seventeenth-century English divines and of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This development, paralleled in American thinkers such as Edwards, divorced dogmatic, traditional "Calvinism" from the Calvin who inspired personal experience and symbolic knowledge. In response to the authoritarian dogmatism of American nationalism, both Emerson and Hawthorne turned to the Calvinist tradition of openness to new meaning. For Emerson, this meant a continual quest for authenticity and the consequent rejection of comforting structures and habitual modes of thought. Such hermeneutics led Emerson toward relativism and pragmatism. Hawthorne too recognized in the dominant ideology a threat to the integrity of the individual, as evidenced in his early "rites of passage" stories. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne suggested the need for community as a support of meaning and a foundation for the individual in a process of long-term change.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ralph Waldo Emerson; Nathaniel Hawthorne