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Transcendentalism. What does “transcendentalism” mean?. There is an ideal spiritual state which “transcends” the physical and empirical. A loose collection of eclectic ideas about literature, philosophy, religion, social reform, and the general state of American culture.

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What does transcendentalism mean l.jpg
What does “transcendentalism” mean?

  • There is an ideal spiritual state which “transcends” the physical and empirical.

  • A loose collection of eclectic ideas about literature, philosophy, religion, social reform, and the general state of American culture.

  • Transcendentalism had different meanings for each person involved in the movement.


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Where did it come from?

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson gave German philosopher Immanuel Kant credit for popularizing the term “transcendentalism.”

  • It began as a reform movement in the Unitarian church.

  • It is not a religion—more accurately, it is a philosophy or form of spirituality.

  • It centered around Boston and Concord, MA. in the mid-1800’s.

  • Emerson first expressed his philosophy of transcendentalism in his essay Nature.


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What did Transcendentalists believe?

The intuitive faculty, instead of the rational or sensical, became the means for a conscious union of the individual psyche (known in Sanskrit as Atman) with the world psyche also known as the Oversoul, life-force, prime mover and G-d (known in Sanskrit as Brahma).


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Basic Premise #1

An individual is the spiritual center of the universe, and in an individual can be found the clue to nature, history and, ultimately, the cosmos itself. It is not a rejection of the existence of G-d, but a preference to explain an individual and the world in terms of an individual.


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Basic Premise #2

The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self—all knowledge, therefore, begins with self-knowledge. This is similar to Aristotle's dictum "know thyself."


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Basic Premise #3

Transcendentalists accepted the concept of nature as a living mystery, full of signs; nature is symbolic.


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Basic Premise #4

The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization—this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies:

  • The desire to embrace the whole world—to know and become one with the world.

  • The desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate—an egotistical existence.


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Who were the Transcendentalists?

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Henry David Thoreau

  • Amos Bronson Alcott

  • Margaret Fuller

  • Ellery Channing


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • 1803-1882

  • Unitarian minister

  • Poet and essayist

  • Founded the Transcendental Club

  • Popular lecturer

  • Banned from Harvard for 40 years following his Divinity School address

  • Supporter of abolitionism


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Henry David Thoreau

  • 1817-1862

  • Schoolteacher, essayist, poet

  • Most famous for Walden and Civil Disobedience

  • Influenced environmental movement

  • Supporter of abolitionism


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Amos Bronson Alcott

  • 1799-1888

  • Teacher and writer

  • Founder of Temple School and Fruitlands

  • Introduced art, music, P.E., nature study, and field trips; banished corporal punishment

  • Father of novelist Louisa May Alcott


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Margaret Fuller

  • 1810-1850

  • Journalist, critic, women’s rights activist

  • First editor of The Dial, a transcendental journal

  • First female journalist to work on a major newspaper—The New York Tribune

  • Taught at Alcott’s Temple School


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Ellery Channing

  • 1818-1901

  • Poet and especially close friend of Thoreau

  • Published the first biography of Thoreau in 1873—Thoreau, The Poet-Naturalist


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Resources

  • American Transcendental Web: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/index.html

  • American Transcendentalism: http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm

  • PAL: Chapter Four http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap4/4intro.html


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