Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History



First Committee Member

David Wrobel, Chair

Second Committee Member

Sue Fawn Chung

Third Committee Member

David Holland

Graduate Faculty Representative

Aya McDonald

Number of Pages



This study examines the influence of Asian religions and thought on various reform movements in America, including anti-slavery, labor rights, the alleviation of poverty, women's rights, and the rights of immigrants. The interactions between these two forces will be uncovered and analyzed from 1836, the year Ralph Waldo Emerson's ground-breaking work Nature was published, until 1933, the year that Dyer Daniel Lum, the last individual discussed in this work, passed away. Previous studies have demonstrated that those who incorporated Asian religions and thought into their own lives and worldviews also affixed great importance on affecting society in a positive manner. This study continues that analysis and looks deeper in to the question of how effective these individuals were in their respective projects of reform and how those projects interrelated with their new found ideas garnered from Asia.

This history is as varied and diverse as the individuals that comprised it. Some used Asian religions and thought to support their views of the world and their philosophies, some turned their incorporation of Asian religions into "lifestyle enclaves," while others transformed their experiences into another consumptive experience, and some took what they absorbed from Asia and made significant short-term and long-term contributions to American history and to the history of the world. However, these individuals were all effective in using Asian religions to challenge the dominant discourse of the times and thereby provide later generations with a larger frame of reference. Through their insightful explorations and analyses of Asian religions, cultures, and ideas they laid the crucial groundwork for those who came after them. This influence expanded beyond specific reform movements themselves and radiated into other areas including art, literature, poetry, and the very cultural vocabulary that runs through America to this day. To understand the general receptivity of American culture today to Asian religions, we need to understand the intellectual foundations laid by previous generations of American reformers who embraced Asian religions as an intellectual foundation for positive social change during periods when entertaining such ideas was far less accepted.

The subjects of this study include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Percival Lowell, William Sturgis Bigelow, Paul Carus, and Dyer Daniel Lum to name a few. The many connections between Asian religions and the various reform movements and activities in America are focused on these particular individuals and utilize them as case studies in order to make a larger argument. Ultimately, this dissertation contends that the interaction between Asian religions and American reform did not begin, for example, in the 1960s with anti-war protesters, but, in fact, there was an adherent to or a sympathizer with Asian religions on the front lines of most of the major reform movements in America leading back to the early nineteenth century.


Asia – Religion; Asian religions; Carus; Paul; 1852-1919; Emerson; Ralph Waldo; 1803-1882; Lowell; Percival; 1855-1916; Lum; Dyer D. (Dyer Daniel); 1840-1893; Progressivism; Reform; Social problems; Social values; Thoreau; Henry David; 1817-1862; United States


American Studies | Cultural History | History | Intellectual History | Literature in English, North America | Social History | United States History

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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