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Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the eastern United States.It arose as a reaction, to protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality at the time. The doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School was of particular interest.
Intellectualism denotes the use, development, and exercise of the intellect; the practice of being an intellectual; and the Life of the Mind. In the field of philosophy, “intellectualism” occasionally is synonymous with “rationalism”, that is, knowledge mostly derived from reason and ratiocination. Socially, “intellectualism” negatively connotes: single-mindedness of purpose and emotional coldness.
The meaning of spirituality has developed and expanded over time, and various connotations can be found alongside each other.
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. As is typical of dissenters, Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.
Transcendentalism emerged from "English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Schleiermacher, the skepticism of David Hume",and the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and German Idealism. Miller and Versluis regard Emanuel Swedenborg as a pervasive influence on transcendentalism. It was also strongly influenced by Hindu texts on philosophy of the mind and spirituality, especially the Upanishads.
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.
Johann GottfriedHerder was a German philosopher, theologian, poet, and literary critic. He is associated with the Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, and Weimar Classicism.
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant Christianity. He also became influential in the evolution of higher criticism, and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics. Because of his profound effect on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the "Father of Modern Liberal Theology" and is considered an early leader in liberal Christianity. The neo-orthodoxy movement of the twentieth century, typically seen to be spearheaded by Karl Barth, was in many ways an attempt to challenge his influence.
A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature.Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent.
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social group, while opposing external interference upon one's own interests by society or institutions such as the government. Individualism is often defined in contrast to totalitarianism, collectivism, and more corporate social forms.
"Self-Reliance" is an 1841 essay written by American transcendentalist philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. It contains the most thorough statement of one of Emerson's recurrent themes: the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his own instincts and ideas. It is the source of one of Emerson's most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." This essay is an analysis into the nature of the “aboriginal self on which a universal reliance may be grounded.”
Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.
In philosophy, empiricism is a theory that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiricism emphasises the role of empirical evidence in the formation of ideas, rather than innate ideas or traditions. However, empiricists may argue that traditions arise due to relations of previous sense experiences.
Transcendentalism is closely related to Unitarianism, the dominant religious movement in Boston in the early nineteenth century. It started to develop after Unitarianism took hold at Harvard University, following the elections of Henry Ware as the Hollis Professor of Divinity in 1805 and of John Thornton Kirkland as President in 1810. Transcendentalism was not a rejection of Unitarianism; rather, it developed as an organic consequence of the Unitarian emphasis on free conscience and the value of intellectual reason. The transcendentalists were not content with the sobriety, mildness, and calm rationalism of Unitarianism. Instead, they longed for a more intense spiritual experience. Thus, transcendentalism was not born as a counter-movement to Unitarianism, but as a parallel movement to the very ideas introduced by the Unitarians.
Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
Henry Ware was a preacher and theologian influential in the formation of Unitarianism and the American Unitarian Association in the United States.
John Thornton Kirkland served as President of Harvard University from 1810 to 1828. As an undergraduate, he was a member of the Hasty Pudding. A religious minister like many of his predecessors, he is remembered chiefly for his lenient treatment of students. Kirkland House, one of Harvard's undergraduate "houses," or residence halls, was named in his honor and in recognition of his term at the school's helm.
Transcendentalism became a coherent movement and a sacred organization with the founding of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1836 by prominent New England intellectuals, including George Putnam (1807–78, the Unitarian minister in Roxbury),Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Frederic Henry Hedge. From 1840, the group frequently published in their journal The Dial , along with other venues.
The Transcendental Club was a group of New England intellectuals of the early-to-mid-19th century which gave rise to Transcendentalism.
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and part of the Boston metropolitan area.
Roxbury is a neighborhood within the city of Boston, Massachusetts.
By the late 1840s, Emerson believed that the movement was dying out, and even more so after the death of Margaret Fuller in 1850. "All that can be said," Emerson wrote, "is that she represents an interesting hour and group in American cultivation."There was, however, a second wave of transcendentalists, including Moncure Conway, Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Samuel Longfellow and Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. Notably, the transcendence of the spirit, most often evoked by the poet's prosaic voice, is said to endow in the reader a sense of purposefulness. This is the underlying theme in the majority of transcendentalist essays and papers—all of which are centered on subjects which assert a love for individual expression. Though the group was mostly made up of struggling aesthetes, the wealthiest among them was Samuel Gray Ward, who, after a few contributions to The Dial, focused on his banking career.
Transcendentalists are strong believers in the power of the individual. It is primarily concerned with personal freedom. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the Romantics, but differ by an attempt to embrace or, at least, to not oppose the empiricism of science.
Transcendentalists desire to ground their religion and philosophy in principles based upon the German Romanticism of Herder and Schleiermacher. Transcendentalism merged "English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume",and the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant (and of German Idealism more generally), interpreting Kant's a priori categories as a priori knowledge. Early transcendentalists were largely unacquainted with German philosophy in the original and relied primarily on the writings of Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Victor Cousin, Germaine de Staël, and other English and French commentators for their knowledge of it. The transcendental movement can be described as an American outgrowth of English Romanticism.
Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—corrupt the purity of the individual. [ need quotation to verify ] Emerson alludes to this concept in the introduction of the American Scholar address, "that there is One Man, - present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man." Such an ideal is in harmony with Transcendentalist individualism, as each person is empowered to behold within him or herself a piece of the divine Over-soul.They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community can form. Even with this necessary individuality, transcendentalists also believe that all people are outlets for the "Over-soul." Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being.
Transcendentalism has been directly influenced by Indian religions.Thoreau in Walden spoke of the Transcendentalists' debt to Indian religions directly:
In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma, and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water-jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.
In 1844, the first English translation of the Lotus Sutra was included in The Dial , a publication of the New England Transcendentalists, translated from French by Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.
Transcendentalists differ in their interpretations of the practical aims of will. Some adherents link it with utopian social change; Brownson, for example, connected it with early socialism, but others consider it an exclusively individualist and idealist project. Emerson believed the latter; in his 1842 lecture "The Transcendentalist", he suggested that the goal of a purely transcendental outlook on life was impossible to attain in practice:
You will see by this sketch that there is no such thing as a transcendental party; that there is no pure transcendentalist; that we know of no one but prophets and heralds of such a philosophy; that all who by strong bias of nature have leaned to the spiritual side in doctrine, have stopped short of their goal. We have had many harbingers and forerunners; but of a purely spiritual life, history has afforded no example. I mean, we have yet no man who has leaned entirely on his character, and eaten angels' food; who, trusting to his sentiments, found life made of miracles; who, working for universal aims, found himself fed, he knew not how; clothed, sheltered, and weaponed, he knew not how, and yet it was done by his own hands. ...Shall we say, then, that transcendentalism is the Saturnalia or excess of Faith; the presentiment of a faith proper to man in his integrity, excessive only when his imperfect obedience hinders the satisfaction of his wish.
Transcendentalists have a deep gratitude and appreciation for nature, not only for aesthetic purposes, but also as a tool to observe and understand the structured inner workings of the natural world.Emerson emphasizes the Transcendental beliefs in the holistic power of the natural landscape in Nature:
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
The conservation of an undisturbed natural world is also extremely important to the Transcendentalists. The idealism that is a core belief of Transcendentalism results in an inherent skepticism of capitalism, westward expansion, and industrialization.As early as 1843, in Summer on the Lakes, Margaret Fuller noted that "the noble trees are gone already from this island to feed this caldron," and in 1854, in Walden, Thoreau regards the trains which are beginning to spread across America's landscape as a "winged horse or fiery dragon" that "sprinkle[s] all the restless men and floating merchandise in the country for seed."
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Transcendentalism is, in many aspects, the first notable American intellectual movement. It has inspired succeeding generations of American intellectuals, as well as some literary movements.
Transcendentalism influenced the growing movement of "Mental Sciences" of the mid-19th century, which would later become known as the New Thought movement. New Thought considers Emerson its intellectual father.Emma Curtis Hopkins "the teacher of teachers", Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science, the Fillmores, founders of Unity, and Malinda Cramer and Nona L. Brooks, the founders of Divine Science, were all greatly influenced by Transcendentalism.
Transcendentalism also influenced Hinduism. Ram Mohan Roy (1772–1833), the founder of the Brahmo Samaj, rejected Hindu mythology, but also the Christian trinity.He found that Unitarianism came closest to true Christianity, and had a strong sympathy for the Unitarians, who were closely connected to the Transcendentalists. Ram Mohan Roy founded a missionary committee in Calcutta, and in 1828 asked for support for missionary activities from the American Unitarians. By 1829, Roy had abandoned the Unitarian Committee, but after Roy's death, the Brahmo Samaj kept close ties to the Unitarian Church, who strived towards a rational faith, social reform, and the joining of these two in a renewed religion. Its theology was called "neo-Vedanta" by Christian commentators, and has been highly influential in the modern popular understanding of Hinduism, but also of modern western spirituality, which re-imported the Unitarian influences in the disguise of the seemingly age-old Neo-Vedanta.
Major figures in the transcendentalist movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Some other prominent transcendentalists included Louisa May Alcott, Charles Timothy Brooks, Orestes Brownson, William Ellery Channing, William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clarke, Christopher Pearse Cranch, John Sullivan Dwight, Convers Francis, William Henry Furness, Frederic Henry Hedge, Sylvester Judd, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, George Ripley, Thomas Treadwell Stone, Jones Very, and Walt Whitman.
Early in the movement's history, the term "Transcendentalists" was used as a pejorative term by critics, who were suggesting their position was beyond sanity and reason.
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel, The Blithedale Romance (1852), satirizing the movement, and based it on his experiences at Brook Farm, a short-lived utopian community founded on transcendental principles.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story, "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" (1841), in which he embedded elements of deep dislike for transcendentalism, calling its followers "Frogpondians" after the pond on Boston Common.The narrator ridiculed their writings by calling them "metaphor-run" lapsing into "mysticism for mysticism's sake", and called it a "disease." The story specifically mentions the movement and its flagship journal The Dial, though Poe denied that he had any specific targets. In Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846), he offers criticism denouncing "the excess of the suggested meaning... which turns into prose (and that of the very flattest kind) the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists."
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.
Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience", an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.
Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, commonly known as Margaret Fuller, was an American journalist, editor, critic, and women's rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States.
Nature is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and published by James Munroe and Company in 1836. In the essay Emerson put forth the foundation of transcendentalism, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and suggests that reality can be understood by studying nature. Emerson's visit to the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris inspired a set of lectures he later delivered in Boston which were then published.
Christopher Pearse Cranch was an American writer and artist.
William Henry Channing was an American Unitarian clergyman, writer and philosopher.
Romantic poetry is the poetry of the Romantic era, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. It involved a reaction against prevailing Enlightenment ideas of the 18th century, and lasted from 1800 to 1850, approximately.
George Ripley was an American social reformer, Unitarian minister, and journalist associated with Transcendentalism. He was the founder of the short-lived Utopian community Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.
William Ellery Channing was an American Transcendentalist poet, nephew of the Unitarian preacher Dr. William Ellery Channing. The younger Ellery Channing was thought brilliant but undisciplined by many of his contemporaries. Amos Bronson Alcott famously said of him in 1871, "Whim, thy name is Channing." Nevertheless, the Transcendentalists thought his poetry among the best of their group's literary products.
Frederic Henry Hedge was a New England Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist. He was a founder of the Transcendental Club, originally called Hedge's Club, and active in the development of Transcendentalism. He was one of the foremost scholars of German literature in the United States.
The Transcendentalist is a lecture and essay by American writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is one of the essays he wrote while establishing the doctrine of American Transcendentalism. The lecture was read at the Masonic Temple in Boston, Massachusetts in January 1842.
Higher consciousness is the consciousness of a higher Self, transcendental reality, or God. It is "the part of the human being that is capable of transcending animal instincts". The concept was significantly developed in German Idealism, and is a central notion in contemporary popular spirituality. However, it has ancient roots, dating back to the Bhagavad Gita and Indian Vedas.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson House is a house museum located at 18 Cambridge Turnpike, Concord, Massachusetts, and a National Historic Landmark for its associations with American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He and his family named the home Bush. The museum is open mid-April to mid-October; an admission fee is charged.
"Brahma" is a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, written in 1856. It is named for Brahman, the universal principle of the Vedas.
Albena Bakratcheva born in Sofia on July 3, 1961 is Bulgarian Americanist, best known for her work on American Transcendentalism.
Albena Bakratcheva, D.Litt., is Professor of American Studies at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, New Bulgarian University, Sofia.
Ellen Sturgis Hooper was an American poet. A member of the Transcendental Club, she was widely regarded as one of the most gifted poets among the New England Transcendentalists. Her work is occasionally reprinted in anthologies.
Arthur Versluis is a professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University.
Samuel Gray Ward was an American poet, author, and minor member of the Transcendentalism movement. He was also a banker and a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among his circle of contemporaries were poets and writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller who were deeply disappointed when Ward gave up a career in writing for business just before he married.
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