Oxford English Dictionary:
The endeavour to equal or surpass others in any achievement or quality; also, the desire or ambition to equal or excel.
1. Effort or ambition to equal or surpass another.
2. Imitation of another.
1. obsolete: ambitious or envious
rivalry (e.g., William Law (1686-1761) in A Serious Guide to a Devout and
Holy Life (1728) cites and disapproves emulation as a pedagogical technique
by which models of success are described as objects against which students
2. ambition or endeavor to equal or excel others (as in achievement)
Utopias often premise emulation, or imitation of a worthy example, as a motivation for outsiders to share a community's values.
John Winthrop's "city on a hill" description of Boston settlement by Puritans
In New England in the 1640s-50s the Puritan minister John Eliot (1604-90) established "Praying Towns" for converted Indians whose utopian government was to be modeled on principles from the book of Exodus as proposed by Jethro, father-in-law to Moses. Accounting for why few efforts were made to convert and organize the Indians earlier (in the 1630s), one scholar has suggested that the Puritans expected the Indians to emulate the Puritans. That is, the Indians simply by observing the Puritans would want to become like the Puritans--a faith in the power of emulation.
The idea of improvement by imitation is related to the aesthetic principle of mimesis but may also derive from theological or religious disciplines, as with Thomas A Kempis (c. 1380-1471), Of the Imitation of Christ (c. 1418).