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  • Cited by 5
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
January 2021
Print publication year:
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Book description

Thoreau's Religion presents a ground-breaking interpretation of Henry David Thoreau's most famous book, Walden. Rather than treating Walden Woods as a lonely wilderness, Balthrop-Lewis demonstrates that Thoreau's ascetic life was a form of religious practice dedicated to cultivating a just, multispecies community. The book makes an important contribution to scholarship in religious studies, political theory, English, environmental studies, and critical theory by offering the first sustained reading of Thoreau's religiously motivated politics. In Balthrop-Lewis's vision, practices of renunciation like Thoreau's can contribute to the reformation of social and political life. In this, the book transforms Thoreau's image, making him a vital source for a world beset by inequality and climate change. Balthrop-Lewis argues for an environmental politics in which ecological flourishing is impossible without economic and social justice.


‘This book is undoubtedly the best treatment of Thoreau in this generation. Alda Balthrop-Lewis is a profound philosopher-poet who captures the subtle and sublime genius of the great philosopher-poet like no other. And in these bleak times of ecological catastrophe we need them both!'

Cornel West - Harvard University

‘This beautifully written volume offers a wonderful depiction of Thoreau as a person and a thinker for this time and place; really, everyone who's interested in his story, and in the American story, should read it and reflect on it.'

Bill McKibben - Middlebury College

‘With extraordinary patience and clarity, Balthrop-Lewis guides well-meaning readers in appreciating Thoreau’s aesthetics and ethics, his ways of writing and his ways of living, as he himself understood them.’

Caleb Smith Source: Public Books

‘… the book is remarkably positive … I especially encourage young scholars to read this book as a goldmine of cutting-edge scholarly literatures and potential research topics. Space limits what I can share; go read this book!’

David M. Craig Source: Political Theology

‘Balthrop-Lewis has done exceptional work as a scholar with this successful articulation of Walden’s religious meanings, offering up insights that provide useful and genuine challenges to all of us 'readers' who seek to operate within what is called environmental or ecological ethics.’

Kent 'Kip' Curtis Source: The Review of Politics

'… this book makes complex philosophical ideas accessible to readers interested in Thoreau and social justice.'

Susan L. Roberson Source: Scottish Journal of Theology

‘… much more than just another historically situated study of Thoreau that embeds him in various streams of influence, Christian or otherwise. This is a book that cogently demonstrates why and how Thoreau (still) matters for the Anthropocene - that he remains a useful interlocutor in our present, someone who can speak to the twinned crises of climate calamity and our ongoing dysfunctional politics.’

Devin Zuber Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion

‘… a well-written, erudite study of Thoreau - the man and his philosophy.’

Jim Jose Source: Journal of Religious History

‘There is much in Balthrop-Lewis’ arguments, and her book is a pleasure to read - not least because it reengaged me with Walden and made me think again about its political background and entanglement with wider changes in a nascent modern America.'

Brett Gray Source: Modern Theology

‘… reading this book is a sheer delight. While pursuing her scholarly agenda, Balthrop-Lewis strengthens her portrait of Thoreau by weaving into it her own history, experience and ethical struggles. Effectively striking this balance is a difficult task, and Balthrop-Lewis manages it deftly. Her writing is at once intellectually complex and thoroughly accessible. In essence, she invites us to join her as she walks through both Thoreau’s world and our own, attending to the socio-political wounds of both and cogently articulating a compassionate, ethical response. Without question, this is a walk worth taking.’

Rebecca Kneale Gould Source: Marginalia (

‘… the book represents a profound, beautifully written, and bracingly independent reflection which, if we let it, might help us navigate the looming realities of a warming world and a disintegrating social fabric. In any event, it is an important book that has broad appeal to Thoreau scholars, ethicists, theologians, political activists, and any reader invested in social and climate justice.’

Nathan Betz Source: Louvain Studies

'Too often seen as a writer about nature and simple living, this book places Henry David Thoreau - still with those passions - squarely in the service of social justice.'

Source: Spirituality & Practice

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