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Article:Transcendentalism
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{{About|the 19th-century American movement|other uses|Transcendence (disambiguation)}}
 
{{About|the 19th-century American movement|other uses|Transcendence (disambiguation)}}
 
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{{Spirituality-sidebar}}
'''Transcendentalism''' was a religious and philosophical movement that was developed during the late 1820s and 1830s<ref>{{cite web|last=Finseth|first=Ian|title=American Transcendentalism|url=http://thoreau.eserver.org/amertran.html|publisher=Excerpted from "Liquid Fire Within Me": Language, Self and Society in Transcendentalism and Early Evangelicalism, 1820-1860, - M.A. Thesis, 1995.|accessdate=18 April 2013}}</ref> in the Eastern region of the [[United States]] as a protest against the general state of culture and society, and in particular, the state of [[intellectualism]] at [[Harvard University]] and the doctrine of the [[Unitarianism|Unitarian]] church taught at [[Harvard Divinity School]]. Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature.
 
 
Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions&mdash;particularly organized religion and political parties&mdash;ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.
 
 
==History==
 
 
===Origins===
 
Transcendentalism first arose among [[New England]] [[Congregational church|congregationalists]],<ref name="Stanford" /> who differed from [[Calvinism|orthodox Calvinism]] on two issues.<ref name="Stanford" /> They rejected [[Predestination (Calvinism)|predestination]], and they emphasized the [[Unitarianism|unity]] instead of the [[trinity]] of God.<ref name="Stanford" /> Following the skepticism of [[David Hume]], the transcendentalists took the stance that empirical proofs of religion were not possible.<ref name="Stanford" />
 
 
Transcendentalism developed as a reaction against 18th century rationalism, [[John Locke]]'s philosophy of [[Sensualism]], and the predestinationism of New England Calvinism. It is fundamentally composed of a variety of diverse sources, including Hindu texts like the [[Vedas]], the [[Upanishads]] and the [[Bhagavad Gita]],{{sfn|Versluis|2001|p=3}} various religions, and [[German idealism]].<ref>"Transcendentalism".''The Oxford Companion to American Literature''. James D. Hart ed.Oxford University Press, 1995. ''Oxford Reference Online''. Web. 24 Oct.2011</ref>
 
 
===Emerson's ''Nature''===
 
The publication of [[Ralph Waldo Emerson]]'s 1836 essay ''[[Nature (essay)|Nature]]'' is usually considered the watershed moment at which transcendentalism became a major cultural movement. Emerson wrote in his 1837 speech "[[The American Scholar]]": "We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds... A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men." Emerson closed the essay by calling for a revolution in human consciousness to emerge from the brand new idealist philosophy:
 
{{quote|So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect,&nbsp;— What is truth? and of the affections,&nbsp;— What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. ...Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.}}
 
 
===The Transcendental Club===
 
In the same year, transcendentalism became a coherent movement with the founding of the [[Transcendental Club]] in [[Cambridge, Massachusetts]], on September 8, 1836, by prominent New England intellectuals including [[George Putnam (minister)|George Putnam]] (1807–78; the Unitarian minister in [[Roxbury, Boston|Roxbury]]),<ref>{{Citation | url = http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/Heralds/George-Putnam.php | title = Heralds | contribution = George Putnam | publisher = Harvard square library}}.</ref> Ralph Waldo Emerson, and [[Frederick Henry Hedge]]. From 1840, the group published frequently in their journal ''[[The Dial]]'', along with other venues.
 
 
===Second wave of transcendentalists===
 
By the late 1840s, Emerson believed 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".<ref>{{Citation | last = Rose | first = Anne C | title = Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830–1850 | place = New Haven, CT | publisher = Yale University Press | year = 1981 | page = 208 | isbn = 0-300-02587-4}}.</ref> There was, however, a second wave of transcendentalists, including [[Moncure Conway]], [[Octavius Brooks Frothingham]], [[Samuel Longfellow]] and [[Franklin Benjamin Sanborn]].<ref>{{Citation | last = Gura | first = Philip F | title = American Transcendentalism: A History | place = New York | publisher = Hill and Wang | year = 2007 | page = 8 | isbn = 0-8090-3477-8}}.</ref> Notably, the transgression 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.<ref>Stevenson,Martin K. "Empirical Analysis of the American Transcendental movement". New York, NY: Penguin, 2012:303.</ref>
 
 
==Beliefs==
 
Transcendentalists were strong believers in the power of the individual and divine messages. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the [[Romantics]].
 
 
===Transcendental knowledge===
 
The transcendentalists desired to ground their religion and philosophy in transcendental principles: principles not based on, or falsifiable by, physical experience, but deriving from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human.{{citation needed|date=April 2013}}
 
 
It was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume,<ref name="Stanford">[http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transcendentalism/ Stanford Encyclopdeia of Philosophy, ''Transcendentalism'']</ref> and the [[Transcendence (philosophy)|transcendental]] philosophy of [[Immanuel Kant]] (and of [[German Idealism]] more generally), interpreting Kant's a priori categories as a priori knowledge.{{citation needed|date=April 2013}} The 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.
 
 
In contrast, they were intimately familiar with the English [[Romanticism|Romantics]], and the transcendental movement may be partially described as a slightly later American outgrowth of Romanticism. Another major influence was the mystical spiritualism of [[Emanuel Swedenborg]].
 
 
===Individualism===
 
Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions&mdash;particularly organized religion and political parties&mdash;ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.
 
 
===Asian religions===
 
Transcendentalism has been influenced by [[Asian religions]].{{sfn|Versluis|1993}}{{sfn|Versluis|2001|p=3}}{{refn|group=note|Versluis: "In ''American Transcendentalism and Asian religions'', I detailed the immense impact that the Euro-American discovery of Asian religions had not only on European Romanticism, but above all, on American Transcendentalism. There I argued that the Transcendentalists' discovery of the [[Bhagavad Gita]], the [[Vedas]], the [[Upanishads]], and other world scriptures was critical in the entire movement, pivotal not only for the well-known figures like Emerson and Thoreau, but also for lesser known figures like Samuel Johnson and William Rounsville Alger. That Transcendentalism emerged out of this new knowledge of the world's religious tarditions I have no doubt."{{sfn|Versluis|2001|p=3}}}} Thoreau in ''[[Walden]]'' spoke of the Transcendentalists' debt to Indian religions directly:
 
{{quote|In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the [[Bhagavad Gita|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 River|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.<ref>Thoreau, Henry David. ''[[Walden]]''. Boston: Ticknor&Fields, 1854.p.279. Print.</ref>}}
 
 
===Idealism===
 
The transcendentalists varied in their interpretations of the practical aims of will. Some among the group linked it with utopian social change; [[Orestes Brownson|Brownson]] connected it with early [[socialism]], while others considered it an exclusively individualist and idealist project. Emerson believed the latter. In his 1842 lecture "[[The Transcendentalist]]", Emerson suggested that the goal of a purely transcendental outlook on life was impossible to attain in practice:
 
{{quote|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.}}
 
 
==Influence on other movements==
 
{{NewThought}}
 
{{further|History of New Thought}}
 
 
Transcendentalism was in many aspects the first notable American intellectual movement. It certainly was the first to inspire succeeding generations of American intellectuals, as well as a number of literary monuments.<ref>Coviello, Peter. "Transcendentalism" ''The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature''. Oxford University Press, 2004. ''Oxford Reference Online''. Web. 23 Oct. 2011</ref>
 
 
The movement directly 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.<ref>{{Citation | url = http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761571544/New_Thought.html | contribution = New Thought | title = MSN Encarta | accessdate = Nov. 16, 2007 | publisher = Microsoft}}.</ref> [[Emma Curtis Hopkins]] "the teacher of teachers", [[Ernest Holmes]], founder of [[Religious Science]], the Fillmores, founders of [[Unity Church|Unity]], and [[Malinda Cramer]] and [[Nona L. Brooks]], the founders of [[Divine Science]], were all greatly influenced by Transcendentalism.<ref>{{Citation | url = http://www.websyte.com/alan/intachrt.htm | title = INTA New Thought History Chart | publisher = Websyte}}.</ref>
 
 
In the 19th century, under the influence of [[Ralph Waldo Emerson]] (who had been a Unitarian minister)<ref>[http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/UIA%20Online/97emerson.html Ralph Waldo Emerson]. Harvardsquarelibrary.org. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.</ref> and other [[transcendentalists]], Unitarianism began its long journey from [[Liberal Christianity|liberal Protestantism]] to its present more pluralist form.{{Citation needed|date=February 2012}}
 
 
Transcendentalism also influenced [[Hinduism]]. [[Ram Mohan Roy]] (1772-1833), the founder of the [[Brahmo Samaj]], rejected Hindu mythology, but also the Christian trinity.{{sfn|Harris|2009|p=268}} He found that [[Unitarianism]] came closest to true Christianity,{{sfn|Harris|2009|p=268}} and had a strong sympathy for the Unitarians,{{sfn|Kipf|1979|p=3}} who were closely connected to the [[Transcendentalists]].{{sfn|Versluis|1993}} Ram Mohan Roy founded a missionary committee in Calcutta, and in 1828 asked for support for missionary activities from the American Unitarians.{{sfn|Kipf|1979|p=7-8}} By 1829, Roy had abandoned the Unitarian Committee,{{sfn|Kipf|1979|p=15}} but after Roy's death, the Brahmo Samaj kept close ties to the Unitarian Church,{{sfn|Harris|2009|p=268-269}} who strived towards a rational faith, social reform, and the joining of these two in a renewed religion.{{sfn|Kipf|1979|p=3}} Its theology was called [[Neo-Vedanta|"neo-Vedanta"]] by Christian commentators,{{sfn|Halbfass|1995|p=9}}{{sfn|Rinehart|2004|p=192}} and has been highly influential in the modern popular understanding of Hinduism,{{sfn|King|2002}} but also of modern western [[spirituality]], which re-imported the Unitarian influences in the disguise of the seemingly age-old Neo-Vedanta.{{sfn|King|2002}}{{sfn|Sharf|1995-B}}{{sfn|Sharf|2000}}
 
 
==Major figures==
 
The major figures in the movement were [[Ralph Waldo Emerson]], [[Henry David Thoreau]], [[John Muir]], [[Margaret Fuller]] and [[Amos Bronson Alcott]]. Other prominent transcendentalists included [[Louisa May Alcott]], [[Charles Timothy Brooks]], [[Orestes Brownson]], [[William Ellery Channing (poet)|William Ellery Channing]], [[William Henry Channing]], [[James Freeman Clarke]], [[Christopher Pearse Cranch]], [[Walt Whitman]], [[John Sullivan Dwight]], [[Convers Francis]], [[William Henry Furness]], [[Frederic Henry Hedge]], [[Sylvester Judd]], [[Theodore Parker]], [[Elizabeth Palmer Peabody]], [[George Ripley (transcendentalist)|George Ripley]], [[Thomas Treadwell Stone]], [[Emily Dickinson]], and [[Jones Very]].<ref>Gura, Philip F. ''American Transcendentalism: A History''. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007: 7–8. ISBN 0-8090-3477-8</ref>
 
 
==Criticism==
 
Early in the movement's history, the term "Transcendentalists" was used as a [[wikt:pejorative|pejorative]] term by critics, who were suggesting their position was beyond sanity and reason.<ref>{{Citation | last = Loving | first = Jerome | title = Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself | publisher = University of California Press | year = 1999 | isbn = 0-520-22687-9 | page = 185}}.</ref>
 
 
[[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.<ref>{{Citation | last = McFarland | first = Philip | title = Hawthorne in Concord | place = New York | publisher = Grove Press | year = 2004 | page = 149 | isbn = 0-8021-1776-7}}.</ref> [[Edgar Allan Poe]] wrote a story, "[[Never Bet the Devil Your Head]]", in which he embedded elements of deep dislike for transcendentalism, calling its followers "Frogpondians" after the pond on [[Boston Common]].<ref>{{Citation | last = Royot | first = Daniel | contribution = Poe's humor | title = The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe | editor-first = Kevin J | editor-last = Hayes | publisher = Cambridge University Press | year = 2002 | pages = 61–2 | isbn = 0-521-79727-6}}.</ref> The narrator ridiculed their writings by calling them "metaphor-run" lapsing into "mysticism for mysticism's sake".<ref>{{Citation | last = Ljunquist | first = Kent | contribution = The poet as critic | title = The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe | editor-first = Kevin J | editor-last = Hayes | publisher = Cambridge University Press | year = 2002 | page = 15 | isbn = 0-521-79727-6}}</ref> 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.<ref>{{Citation | last = Sova | first = Dawn B | title = Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z | place = New York | publisher = Checkmark Books | year = 2001 | page = 170 | isbn = 0-8160-4161-X}}.</ref>
 
 
In Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" 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."<ref>{{Citation | title = The Norton Anthology of American Literature | volume = B | edition = 6th | editor1-first = Nina | editor1-last = Baym | editor3 = et al | place = New York | publisher = Norton | year = 2007}}.</ref>
 
 
==Other meanings==
 
 
===Transcendental idealism===
 
The term "transcendentalism" sometimes serves as shorthand for [[transcendental idealism]], which is the philosophy of [[Immanuel Kant]] and later Kantian and German Idealist philosophers. Immanuel Kant had called "all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects."<ref>Kant, Immanual. ''Critique of practical reason''. Trans. T.K. Abbott. Amherst, N.Y:Prometheus, 1996, p.25.Print.</ref>
 
 
===Transcendental theology===
 
{{Further|Transcendence (religion)}}
 
 
Another alternative meaning for "transcendentalism" is the classical philosophy that God transcends the manifest world. As [[Johannes Scotus Eriugena|John Scotus Erigena]] put it to [[Franks|Frankish]] king [[Charles the Bald]] in the year 840 AD, {{quote|We know not what God is. God himself doesn't know what He is because He is not anything. Literally God is not, because He transcends being.}}
 
 
==See also==
 
*[[Dark romanticism]]
 
*[[Transcendental Generation]]
 
 
==Notes==
 
{{reflist|group=note}}
 
 
==References==
 
{{Reflist|2}}
 
 
==Sources==
 
{{refbegin}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Harris | first =Mark W. | year =2009 | title =The A to Z of Unitarian Universalism | publisher =Scarecrow Press}}
 
* {{Citation | last =King | first =Richard | year =2002 | title =Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and "The Mystic East" | publisher =Routledge}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Kipf | first =David | year =1979 | title =The Brahmo Samaj and the shaping of the modern Indian mind | publisher =Atlantic Publishers & Distri}}
 
* {{cite book|author=Miller, Perry, ed.|title=The Transcendentalists: An Anthology|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=vhPUUOh5NgYC|year=1950|publisher=Harvard University Press}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Rinehart | first =Robin | year =2004 | title =Contemporary Hinduism: ritual, culture, and practice | publisher =ABC-CLIO}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Sharf | first =Robert H. | year =1995-B | title =Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience | journal =NUMEN, vol.42 (1995) | url =http://buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/sharf/documents/Sharf1995,%20Buddhist%20Modernism.pdf}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Sharf | first =Robert H. | year =2000 | title =The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion. In: Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7, No. 11-12, 2000, pp. 267-87 | url =http://buddhiststudies.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/sharf/documents/Sharf1998,%20Religious%20Experience.pdf}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Versluis | first =Arthur | year =1993 | title =American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions | publisher =Oxford University Press}}
 
* {{Citation | last =Versluis | first =Arthur | year =2001 | title =The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance | publisher =Oxford University Press}}
 
{{refend}}
 
 
==Further reading==
 
* Dillard, Daniel, “The American Transcendentalists: A Religious Historiography,” ''49th Parallel'' (Birmingham, England), 28 (Spring 2012), [http://www.49thparallel.bham.ac.uk online]
 
* Gura, Philip F. ''American Transcendentalism: A History'' (2007)
 
* Rose, Anne C. ''Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830–1850'' (Yale University Press, 1981)
 
* {{Citation | last =Versluis | first =Arthur | year =2001 | title =The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance | publisher =Oxford University Press}}
 
 
==External links==
 
{{Americana Poster|Transcendental Philosophy|Transcendentalism}}
 
'''Topic sites'''
 
* {{Citation | url = http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/ | title = The web of American transcendentalism | publisher = VCU}}
 
* {{Citation | url = http://www.transcendentalists.com/ | title = The Transcendentalists}}
 
* {{Citation | url = http://womenshistory.about.com/bltranscend.htm | contribution = What Is Transcendentalism? | title = Women’s History | publisher = About}}
 
* {{Citation | url = http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/icon/transcend.html | title = The American Renaissance and Transcendentalism}}
 
'''Encyclopediae'''
 
* {{IEP|am-trans|American Transcendentalism}}
 
* {{Citation | url = http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transcendentalism/ | publisher = Stanford | title = Encyclopedia of Philosophy | contribution = Transcendentalism}}}
 
 
{{United States topics}}
 
{{philosophy of religion}}
 
{{Philosophy topics}}
 
 
[[Category:Transcendentalism| ]]
 
[[Category:New Thought]]
 
[[Category:History of New England]]
 
[[Category:Concord, Massachusetts]]
 
[[Category:Unitarianism]]
 
[[Category:Metatheory of religion]]
 
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