"We believe that we have a right to revelations, visions, and dreams from God"
Joseph Smith, Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transformation of Religious Authority in the Antebellum Period
This essay compares Joseph Smith Jr.'s and Ralph Waldo Emerson's diverging responses to the crisis of religious authority in early nineteenth-century American Christianity. The writings of both men are interpreted as different, but structurally related, attempts at restituting what Weber calls charismatic authority grounded in an immediate experience of the divine. They did so by various performative practices and through distinct forms of prophetic communication. While Smith and Emerson each emphasized the possibility of continuing revelation in the modern age, they significantly differed on how they understood revelatory communication and prophecy and, more profoundly, the very nature of religion.