Did Jonathan Edwards Have Asperger’s?

In my latest reading of George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life, I wondered if Jonathan Edwards had Asperger’s Syndrome.  Marsden does not speculate about this issue, but, as a person with Asperger’s who has read some about the condition, I could identify with Edwards as Marsden was describing him.

Edwards essentially studied all day.  A lot of this took place in his personal study, but he also took solitary walks in nature.  And he was rather eccentric: whenever he had a thought while he was on one of his nature walks, he would pin a piece of paper to a specific part of his clothes, and he would associate that with his thought.  Then, when he got home, he would write the thought down.  In some cases, his clothes would be covered with a lot of these small pieces of paper.  Marsden wryly states that, for Edwards, “Fashionable appearance apparently was not a high priority” (page 136).

According to Marsden, Edwards did not make a lot of pastoral calls, for he was not adept at small talk and often was not in the mood to socialize, plus he wanted to devote more time to his studying and writing.  Edwards did, however, talk with parishioners in his study if they needed counsel.  Edwards also did not like to be distracted with the details of running his estate, and he left that job to his wife and servants.

Edwards was still able to make contacts, however.  Some of that appears to be because he had prominent relatives.  Edwards also impressed people, as when he gave a sermon defending human dependence on God against Arminianism (the view that people contribute something to their own salvation), which got some people’s attention and was published.  And Edwards could find common cause with notable people who, like Edwards, sought to defend Calvinism in a logical manner.

Maybe Edwards had Asperger’s.  Maybe he was simply an introvert, and one should remember that not all introverts have Asperger’s.  But I could still identify with Edwards.  I myself would love to have a job where I am paid to study all day.  I am not good at small talk, and there are many times when I’m not in the mood to socialize (though socializing can be fun).  I don’t like to be distracted by the details of everyday life—-if I had a wife, I would probably let her handle the finances.  I used to enjoy taking long walks in solitude.  I try not to be unfashionable in how I dress, but fashion is not something I obsess over.  And, while I struggle to make contacts—-even with people who share interests with me—-it’s a little easier for me to form contacts with people when I can find a common cause or interest with them (but that may be true of everyone).

What’s interesting is that Edwards, in his solitude and introversion, could arrive at nuggets of wisdom that he could share with his congregation.  For example, Edwards preached a sermon about how God’s people in the Bible often go through hard times before God delivers them, and, according to Edwards, that was to teach them to depend on God.  Have I, in my introversion, arrived at nuggets of wisdom?  Well, yes and no.  I feel that I can gain wisdom through interaction with people—-wisdom about the things that I can do and say to make contacts, to get a job, to keep a job, etc.  But there is also something to be said for thinking deeply in solitude.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Asperger's, Autism, Bible, George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards, Life, Religion, Social Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Did Jonathan Edwards Have Asperger’s?

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Hey, James, I just read this post of yours, and it reminded me of a book I recently read. It’s called “Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough” and it is written by John J. Ross, a medical doctor. It describes the medical conditions of famous writers and how it affected their work.

    Jonathan Edwards isn’t in the book, but Ross speculates that Emily Bronte may have had Asperger’s, and Jonathan Swift may also have had it. He cites research from a psychiatrist who has claimed that Asperger’s personalities have several traits favorable for successful writing, including a unique perspective and “lack of interest in other’s opinions” that leads the writer into original subject matter. (Much like Edwards coming to brilliant insights and nuggets of wisdom, I thought.) Like Edwards, Bronte was also an obsessive nature lover who roamed the outdoors (until it hastened her death from TB.) It’s a fascinating book. You may enjoy it.

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  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Laura! I’ll check it out.

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