Henry James Sr.: Nineteenth Century Theologian


  • Luke Norman Wichita State University


American Classical Pragmatist movement, religious experimentation, Calvinism, religious conversion, Dark Years, Burned-Over District (BOD), Second Great Awakening, evangelicalism, New Light movement


High praise for Henry James Sr. came only from the few that understood his philosophy and theology. James was more often described as an undisciplined, radical, iconoclastic, new age nabob, or as the poet Ellery Channing imparted, "a little fat, rosy Swedenborgian amateur with the look of a broker, & the brains & heart of a Pascal." Thoreau, although a visitor to James's home, barely elevated the discussion, chronicling James as a man who "utters quasi philanthropic dogmas in metaphysical dress." Looking through the inerrant eyes of history, and understanding the enormous social and religious changes that James participated in during the 1830-50s, it is easier to recognize James as the enigmatic genius worthy of his small renaissance. Once credited only for being the father of two of America's great minds at the tum of the twentieth century, there is now an effort among scholarly circles to reassess James's work as a theologian and writer. James the theologian was prototypical of much religious thought in America today, as his son's work as a philosopher was prototypical of much philosophical thought in America today.2