Homes for Herons

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The Bryn Athyn Community is invited to the colloquium, “Homes for Herons: on Birds, Swedenborg, and Ecopoetics,” presented by Dr. Devin Zuber on Thursday, April 24, at 4:00 pm in the Doering Science Center. Swedenborg’s influence on 19th century American thought was widespread. “The Age is Swedenborg’s,” marveled Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal in 1854, as he observed the ubiquity of Swedenborg’s name within various spiritualist and pseudo-scientific currents. This talk explores one unexamined corner of Swedenborg’s impact on 19th century cultural poetics: namely, his signal contribution to new ways of representing nature as a place for encountering the Divine. The adaptation of Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences into a spiritualized “language of nature” produced aesthetic innovation in both the visual arts and literature, often in ways that deliberately engaged with emergent environmental concerns. Using an approach of “ecocriticism,” or ecological literary criticism, this lecture unpacks the intersections and convergences between the appearance of ornithological conservation at the end of the 19th century—particularly in the establishment of the Audubon Society—and two figures who were simultaneously engaged with Swedenborgian theology: the regionalist writer Sarah Orne Jewett and the Tonalist painterGeorge Inness. The title paraphrases an important painting by Inness—“Home of the Heron” (1893)—which will be explored alongside Jewett’s famous short story, “The White Heron” (1886).

Devin Zuber is an assistant professor for American Studies, Literature and Swedenborgian Studies at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California, where he serves as core doctoral faculty member for PhD programs in Art & Religion and Interdisciplinary Studies. A graduate of Bryn Athyn College’s B.A. program (2000), Dr. Zuber completed his PhD, M.A., and M.Phil. at the City University of New York, where he was awarded the alumni and faculty award for most distinguished dissertation for 2009-2010. Before coming to Berkeley, Devin was the in-residence Eccles fellow for American Studies at the British Library in London, and taught for three years as an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Osnabrueck in northern Germany. His scholarship has appeared in American Quarterly, Religion and the Arts, and Variations, and he is presently working on two book projects related to Swedenborg’s reception in various 19th century contexts.