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An Intellectual History
Gratitude is often understood as etiquette rather than ethics, an emotion rather than politics. It was not always so. From Seneca to Shakespeare, gratitude was a public virtue. The circle of benefaction and return of service worked to make society strong. But at the beginning of the modern era, European thinkers began to imagine a political economy freed from the burdens of gratitude. Though this rethinking was part of a larger process of secularization, it was also a distorted byproduct of an impulse ultimately rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul. Christians believed that God stood at the center of the circle of gratitude. God was the object of thanksgiving and God gave graciously. Thus, Christians taught that grace cancelled the oppressive debts of a purely political gratitude. Gratitude: An Intellectual History examines changing conceptions of gratitude from Homer to the present. In so doing, Peter J. Leithart highlights the profound cultural impact of early Christian “ingratitude,” the release of humankind from the bonds of social and political reciprocity by a benevolent God who gave—and who continues to give—graciously.
Of Circles, Lines, and Soup Tureens
1 Circles of Honor
2 Benefits and Good Offices
3 Ingrates and the Infinite Circle
4 Patron Saints and the Poor
5 Monster Ingratitude
6 The Circle and the Line
7 Methodological Ingratitude
III—Reciprocity Rediscovered, Reciprocity Suspected
8 Primitive Circles
9 Denken ist Danken
10 Gifts Without Gratitude
A Theistic Modernity
“One of the distinct pleasures of a new Leithart book is the opportunity it gives us to watch a smart, unpredictable mind sharing his reactions to the books he's worked through. This new work deepens that pleasure.”
—Wesley Hill, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Trinity School for Ministry, Christianity Today
“Leithart’s masterful, commanding narrative takes several surprising turns, teasing out the revolutionary disruption of Christian ingratitude in social and political life—a refusal to bargain and grovel precisely because we are fundamentally grateful to the Creator and risen King.”
—James K.A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College, and Editor, Comment magazine
"Clear and cogent, Gratitude provides an opportunity for faculty and students alike to rethink issues that are both intellectual and practical."
—L. J. Alderink, Concordia College, Choice
“This is no ‘gratitude lite’ approach with its blending of philosophical, theological, political, and social sciences perspectives. Leithart persuasively makes a case for why gratitude is intrinsically interesting.”
—Robert Emmons, co-editor of The Psychology of Gratitude, and author of Thanks! and Gratitude Works!
“From Homer to the present, poets, theologians, and thinkers have struggled to find a proper place for this all-important, yet potentially toxic virtue. In a masterpiece of exposition, Peter Leithart tells the story of their efforts. To read this book is to listen in on the debate of an entire civilization, across the ages, over the nature of its own cohesion.”
—Peter Brown, Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, Emeritus, Princeton University
Peter J. Leithart is Adjunct Senior Fellow in Theology at New Saint Andrews College and President of Trinity House Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, and Cultural Studies. He is the author of more than twenty books, including, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Baylor University Press, 2009).