Du Bois and Dark, Wild Hope in an Age of Environmental and Political Catastrophe


  • Mark S. Cladis Brown University




Environmental Humanities, W.E.B. Du Bois, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, Hope


      The question of hope and its relation to despair looms all around us—in private conversation and in public discourse. In Environmental Humanities and the Literary Arts, one finds a pervasive pessimism as these fields grapple with such catastrophes as climate change and white nationalism. In this article, I investigate and critically appropriate W. E. B. Du Bois’ notion of a dark, wild hope, suggesting that this particular form of hope is needful as we confront various environmental and political crises. I begin the article by exploring a form of hope that sustained Du Bois in the face of persistent racism—including environmental racism. Next, I argue that Du Bois’ dark, wild hope can help us think about forms of hope appropriate for our own time. Du Bois’ response to the catastrophes that he faced is instructive as we attempt to respond robustly to our current catastrophes. Resilience and vulnerability, resistance and uncertainty, transformation and constraints—these aspects of the human drama informed Du Bois’ dark, wild hope. And this hope—not sunny and Pollyannaish, but rather rooted in suffering, trial, and grief—is a powerful resource for us today.


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Author Biography

Mark S. Cladis, Brown University

Mark S. Cladis is the Brooke Russell Astor Professor of the Humanities. His work often pertains to the intersection of modern Western religious, political, and environmental thought, and it is as likely to engage poetry and literature as it is philosophy and critical theory. He is the author of Public Vision, Private Lives; A Communitarian Defense of Liberalism; and over sixty articles and chapters in edited books. He is editor of Elementary Forms of the Religious Life and Education and Punishment: Durkheim and Foucault. He has recently completed the book, In Search of a Course, and he is currently working on the book, Radical Romanticism: Religion, Democracy, and the Environmental Imagination. For his latest book, see https://www.regalhousepublishing.com/mark-cladis/.  For more information on Mark Cladis, see his website, https://sites.brown.edu/markcladis/






Articles: New Ecocritical Practices