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JESociety 2012: Call for Papers

John Mar­tin: The Last Judg­ment (1853)

“Jonathan Edwards: An American Apocalyptic Prophet”

Jonathan Edwards is an apoc­a­lyp­tic prophet, not so much as a prog­nos­ti­ca­tor but as a revealer of what lies hid­den.  Edwards dis­cerned the trends of events of his own time and place and viewed them sub specie aeter­ni­tatis.  Since then some of these trends have gath­ered momen­tum and come to fruition in our own day.  The frame­work of Edwards’ world-​​view is rad­i­cally escha­to­log­i­cal.  He inter­prets the course of human and nat­ural events as tend­ing inex­orably towards a future denoue­ment in the form of the estab­lish­ment of God’s post­mil­len­nial king­dom on earth.  His con­cep­tions of his­tory and nature are tele­o­log­i­cal.  Edwards con­ceives of his­tory as a divine com­edy.  Though his­tory has its peri­odic tragic regres­sions when its wheels seem to turn back­wards, its over­reach­ing arc is towards a post­mil­len­nial denoue­ment.  The locus clas­si­cus of Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy, together with its atten­dant phi­los­o­phy of his­tory, is his His­tory of the Work of Redemp­tion, an updat­ing of Augustine’s City of the God. This was to be a new kind of divin­ity writ­ten in an his­tor­i­cal key.  It would have been Edwards’ the­o­log­i­cal summa had it not remained unfin­ished at his death.  Edwards’ post­mil­len­ni­al­ism lodged in the Amer­i­can psy­che and took a sec­u­lar turn in the nine­teenth cen­tury when it gave rise to fic­tional utopias (Bellamy’s Look­ing Back­ward) and dystopias (Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance) as well as utopian social exper­i­ments like Brookfarm.

As might be expected of one who took the bird’s-eye view of his­tory and dis­cerned deeper his­tor­i­cal trends, Edwards pro­nounced jere­mi­ads on his own social-​​political milieu with its emer­gent mer­can­tile econ­omy based upon the unreg­u­lated pur­suit of self-​​interest.  He diag­nosed this cul­tural malaise as a symp­tom of Armini­an­ism which in all its forms he stren­u­ously opposed through­out his life.  He under­stood that forms of self-​​determination, indi­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, which were not con­so­nant with the will of God or an expres­sion of dis­in­ter­ested benev­o­lence to gen­eral being are noth­ing less than demonic and doomed.  On one read­ing (Alan Heimert’s) Edwards, as a fomenter of the Great Awak­en­ing that pre­pared the way for the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, is a prophet of the Amer­i­can capitalist-​​republican polity.  On an alter­na­tive read­ing he is more rightly regarded as an Amer­i­can Jonah who stands in stark judg­ment on the Amer­i­can cult of self-​​reliance (Armini­an­ism again) as rep­re­sented par­a­dig­mat­i­cally by Edwards’ con­tem­po­rary and neme­sis, Ben­jamin Franklin; indeed, Franklin had the vic­tory over the Amer­i­can mind.

The focus of this con­fer­ence is the light that Edwards sheds on con­tem­po­rary social, polit­i­cal and eco­nomic move­ments.  The con­fer­ence will con­sider which of these Edwards would have approved and those he would not have.  In brief, the pur­pose of this con­fer­ence hopes to bring an Edward­sean per­spec­tive on, among other things, the many con­flicts that have riven con­tem­po­rary soci­ety, the crises that seem endemic to it, but also those things bod­ing well for the future.  This per­spec­tive need not be nar­rowly sec­tar­ian.  The con­fer­ence encour­ages apply­ing the spirit, if not the let­ter, of Edwards to inter­pret­ing the present age.

Papers need not be con­fined to Edwards alone.  They may be con­cerned with other, later thinkers or even your own reflec­tions on these mat­ters.  The only cri­te­rion is that the papers be informed by an Edward­sean per­spec­tive broadly conceived.

– Richard A. S. Hall, Director

Some Sug­gested Topics

  • Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy of history
  • Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy in its his­tor­i­cal context
  • Armini­an­ism
  • Amer­i­can utopian and dystopian literature
  • Utopian social experiments
  • The social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nomic con­text of Edwards’ thought
  • Con­tem­po­rary cul­tural trends in light of Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy and ethics.


  • Abstracts: 200-​​word maximum
  • Papers: 3,000-word max­i­mum (designed for a read­ing time of 20 to 30 minutes)

Please include the fol­low­ing information:

  • Name
  • Aca­d­e­mic sta­tus and insti­tu­tional affil­i­a­tion (if any)
  • Mail­ing address, e-​​mail address, tele­phone number

Please sub­mit your abstracts or papers (Microsoft-​​Word For­mat) by Sep­tem­ber 1st, 2012.

The con­fer­ence reg­is­tra­tion fee is $50.00 for adults, $25.00 for col­lege stu­dents, and $10.00 for high school stu­dents. Please make your check payable to The Jonathan Edwards Soci­ety and mail it to the address below.

Richard Hall
Dept. of Gov­ern­ment & His­tory
Fayet­teville State Uni­ver­sity
1200 Murchi­son Road
Fayet­teville, NC 28301

DATE: Octo­ber 4th7th , 2012
LOCATION: The First Churches, Northamp­ton, Massachusetts

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