Transcendentalism is a far-reaching American religious movement spawned off the words and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson in the early to mid 1800’s. Influential works such as “Nature”, “The American Scholar” and “Harvard Divinity School Address” established both Emerson and the movement as radical, particularly in the eyes of Old Guard Puritans. Transcendentalist beliefs are rooted in a deep sense of the worth of the individual. To Emerson and those he inspired, one could find meaning within oneself. One did not need society or scripture in order to find truth. Just like Unitarians they rejected creed, tradition, and religious rites. This fierce need to establish your own path developed Transcendentalism into a belief seeped in non-conformity. These are expressed in critiques ranging from the hypocrisy of the religious elite as expressed in “Harvard Divinity School Address”, all the way to the greed fostered by capitalism and competition in Thoreau’s “Walden”. Thoreau’s writings and...
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...ican writers such as Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson draw inspiration from them, along with the Christian Science and Natural Thought Movements. It is an odd case in that tenants of American culture can be both at odds, and directly influenced by their work. While Transcendentalist thinkers promoted the empowerment of the individual and cast off European religious traditions and dogma, they rallied against American ideas of capitalism and competition. Transcendentalism as a whole was not an overly unified movement (“The Transcendentalist Club” was the closest to an organization it got), but it helped shape American religion and culture, the effects of which are still relevant today. It is remarkable that one can find Transcendentalist writings in history, religion, and literature classes, no doubt the mark of a meaningful, enduring movement worthy of our attention.
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