Heralds of a New Gospel: John Muir, San Francisco Swedenborgians, and the Establishment of the Sierra Club

Learning Hour
Sunday, April 25, 12:15 pm

Dr. Devin Zuber will draw from his recent book that traces how the Swedish scientist-turned-mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) has impacted American environmental activism and art at its beginnings with John Muir and the establishment of the Sierra Club. Muir’s wilderness spirituality has bequeathed us a beautiful legacy, protecting places like Yosemite and was at the same time entangled in colonial violence against indigenous Californians. We’ll look at how we might responsibly read these seminal moments in our history of modern environmental thought that are so caught up in the sanctification of landscape and at the same time a history of erasure and expropriation. Devin will be showing gorgeous images from the landscape painter, George Keith, who was an instrumental figure in the early Sierra Club and formation of the National Parks, a close friend of Muir, both with ties to Berkeley and the East Bay. For anyone interested, a chapter on John Muir and the establishment of the Sierra Club is available at to read here. You can read it in advance, or not at all, but please tune in to hear/watch on Sunday!

Devin Zuber is Associate Professor of American Studies, Religion, and Literature at the Graduate Theological Union, where he serves as chair of Historical and Cultural Studies and is Professor of Swedenborgian Studies. He has published widely on art, literature, and nineteenth-century America, including A Language of Things: Emanuel Swedenborg and the American Environmental Imagination (UVA Press), awarded the 2020 Borsch-Rast Prize in Religious Studies. Before moving to California, Devin taught in Germany, held fellowships at the British Library and the Rachel Carson Center for the Environment in Munich. He lives in Berkeley with his partner and two daughters and loves to surf the California coast.