Today, EdwardsStudies.com chats with Sarah Boss, a second generation Edwards Scholar whose essay “Edwards and Thoreau: Typologies of Lakes” appears in the new JESociety publication A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards (2016).
Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me! I’m always happy to talk with other Edwards enthusiasts. In a nutshell, I’m a native Texan, a recent graduate of Wheaton College, where I studied English and history, and a current teacher in Fort Worth.
You teach ancient history at Covenant Classical School. What are some of your main foci in your curriculum and how is that going?
It’s going well, thanks! I attended Covenant myself, and it played a vital role in my development both spiritually and intellectually, so it has been a joy to be a part of giving what I received there. This year I’ve had the opportunity to teach a very bright, inquisitive class of seventh graders about Pre- and Early Dynasty Egypt and Sumer. A couple threads we’ve been following through these periods are rulers’ claims to divinity as a means of expressing or expanding their authority and how these claims and other technological or cultural developments enable empires to be born. (We also talk a lot about pyramids, of course!) A key emphasis of classical Christian education is training young minds to think critically and express themselves clearly, so our discussions are informed by the lens of biblical truth, beauty, and wisdom, especially as we think through age-old questions of humanity, divinity, and how they play out in society. So far I haven’t made any tangential references to Edwards in class, but the year isn’t over yet…
So, how did you become interested in a dead, wig-wearing Puritan (referring to Edwards of course!)?
Full credit goes to my dad, who introduced me to Edwards at a young age; this dead, wig-wearing Puritan was a household name for me growing up. I first read Edwards for myself as a ninth grader, beginning with “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” then dove in to his typological writings. I’ve read more broadly since then, but I still haven’t lost the fascination that I felt for Edwards’s “Images” as a fourteen year old. A year after discovering my interest in Edwards, I accompanied my dad to the Jonathan Edwards Society conference in Northampton, MA, where I got my first taste of the Edwards community in action. The summer before my senior year of high school I wrote a paper on Edwards that I was able to present at that year’s conference. I continued research afterwards and rewrote it as my high school senior thesis. The paper dealt with the connections between Edwards’s typological writings and the myth genre and sought to find an outlet for Edwards’s epic worldview in our contemporary society. I was out of my depth with such a colossal undertaking, and, as often happens, the more I read the less I felt I knew. But that first paper brought up questions I’m still wrestling with now and gave me a sense of how intricate and relevant Edwards’s thought remains today.
Tell us a little bit about your essay in the recent publication by JESociety and how it developed. It’s had a wider audience already, hasn’t it?
I originally wrote the essay for my college’s independent literary journal, The Wheaton Pub. The issue’s theme was “encounter,” and I knew I wanted to write about Edwards and his encounters with nature, but wasn’t sure what specifically. While reading Walden Pond for an American literature class, I was struck by how similar a certain passage was to an entry in Edwards’s “Images.” I decided to wrestle with these two passages in my essay, and teased out subtle differences that reveal opposing frameworks of thought. After being in The Pub, the essay appeared a few places online – including here on Edwards Studies – and I also had the opportunity to present a version of it at the Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media at Northern Illinois University this past spring. Now I am happy to have it included in JESociety’s latest publication.
You have the unique opportunity to work alongside your father in this publication. What’s that like?
My parents have always encouraged my interest in Edwards, and it has been special to present papers alongside my dad and now to be published with him. I feel very blessed to be part of a family that values education so much and to have a father who is intellectually creative and encourages me to be the same. With this publication in particular, as we wrote essays on related topics, I can see how much I have gained from his research and example and how that has influenced me as a thinker and writer. (Also, it’s pretty nice to have access to his library.)
What are your other research interests?
Most simply, I’m interested in nature. Nature as a universal symbol – how it manifests in literature, religion, and art and often serves as a muse or conduit for dialogues on life’s big questions. But also nature as a concrete, basic element of human life. Over the past couple years I’ve become more interested in the sciences, ecocriticism, and exploring how Christians do and should encounter nature and mediate a spiritual and scientific understanding of their environment. These questions have fed my interest in typology but also expanded it to engage issues of how to practically live out a biblical understanding of nature.
Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers?
A couple books that gave me a solid foundation when I first started researching Edwards are George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life and Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (which I loved in part for the really cool cover art). A couple that helped contextualize my thoughts when writing my essay on Edwards and Thoreau are Mason Lowance’s The Language of Canaan: Metaphor and Symbol in New England from the Puritans to the Transcendentalists and Perry Miller’s classic Errand into the Wilderness. A couple books on typology I am currently reading (or am excited to read over Christmas break) are Jennifer Leader’s Knowing, Seeing, Being: Jonathan Edwards, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and the American Typological Tradition and Tibor Fabiny’s Figura and Fulfillment: Typology in the Bible, Art and Literature. Lastly, for an in-depth study of Edwards’s typology and the tradition he drew from, I recommend Rob Boss’s God-Haunted World: The Elemental Theology of Jonathan Edwards.