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{{About|the 19th-century American movement|other uses|Transcendence (disambiguation)}}{{Spirituality-sidebar}}Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the eastern United States.WEB, Russell, Goodman, 2015,weblink Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Transcendentalism, "Transcendentalism is an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century, centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson."BOOK, Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism, Tiffany K., Wayne, 2006, Facts On File's Literary Movements,weblink WEB, Transcendentalism, Merriam Webster, 2016,weblink "a philosophy which says that thought and spiritual things are more real than ordinary human experience and material things" It arose as a reaction, to protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality at the time.WEB, Finseth, Ian, American Transcendentalism,weblink Excerpted from "Liquid Fire Within Me": Language, Self and Society in Transcendentalism and Early Evangelicalism, 1820-1860, - M.A. Thesis, 1995., 18 April 2013, yes,weblink" title="">weblink 16 April 2013, The doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School was of particular interest.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.{{sfn|Miller|1950|p=49}}{{sfn|Versluis|2001|p=17}} It was also strongly influenced by Hindu texts on philosophy of the mind and spirituality, especially the Upanishads.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.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.


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.WEB, Finseth, Ian Frederick, The Emergence of Transcendentalism,weblink American Studies @ The University of Virginia, The University of Virginia, 9 November 2014,

Transcendental Club

File:Ralph Waldo Emerson ca1857.jpg|thumb|Ralph Waldo EmersonRalph Waldo EmersonTranscendentalism 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),{{Citation|url= |title=Heralds |contribution=George Putnam |publisher=Harvard Square Library |deadurl=yes |archiveurl= |archivedate=March 5, 2013 }} Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Frederic Henry Hedge. From 1840, the group frequently published in their journal The Dial, along with other venues.

Second wave of transcendentalists

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."{{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}}. There was, however, a second wave of transcendentalists, including Moncure Conway, Octavius Brooks Frothingham, Samuel Longfellow and Franklin Benjamin Sanborn.{{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}}. 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.Stevenson, Martin K. "Empirical Analysis of the American Transcendental movement". New York, NY: Penguin, 2012:303. 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.Wayne, Tiffany. Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism: The Essential Guide to the Lives and Works of Transcendentalist Writers. New York: Facts on File, 2006: 308. {{ISBN|0-8160-5626-9}}


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.

Transcendental knowledge

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. 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.WEB, Emerson, Ralph Waldo, The Over-Soul,weblink American Transcendentalism Web, 13 July 2015, {{Request quotation|date=July 2015}} 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."WEB,weblink EMERSON--"THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR",, 2017-10-14, 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.

Indian religions

Transcendentalism has been directly influenced by Indian 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 traditions I have no doubt."{{sfn|Versluis|2001|p=3}}}} Thoreau in Walden spoke of the Transcendentalists' debt to Indian religions directly:File:Henry David Thoreau 2.jpg|thumb|left|Henry David ThoreauHenry David ThoreauIn 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.JOURNAL, Lopez Jr., Donald S., The Life of the Lotus Sutra, Tricycle Magazine, 2016, Winter,weblink JOURNAL, The Preaching of Buddha, The Dial, 1844, 4, 391,weblink


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:

Importance of nature

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.WEB, Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Nature,weblink American Transcendentalism Web, 2019-04-15, 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.BOOK,weblink Nature's nation, Miller, Perry, 1905-1963., 1967, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 0674605500, Cambridge, MA, 6571892, 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,"WEB,weblink The Project Gutenberg eBook of Summer on the Lakes, by S. M. Fuller.,, 2019-04-15, 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."WEB,weblink Walden, by Henry David Thoreau,, 2019-04-15,

Influence on other movements

{{NewThought}}{{further information|History of New Thought}}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.Coviello, Peter. "Transcendentalism" The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Web. 23 Oct. 2011Transcendentalism 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.{{Citation | url =weblink | contribution = New Thought | title = MSN Encarta | accessdate = Nov 16, 2007 | publisher = Microsoft | deadurl = yes | archiveurl =weblink | archivedate = 2009-11-01 | df = }}. 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.{{Citation | url =weblink | archive-url =weblink" title="">weblink | dead-url = yes | archive-date = 2000-08-24 | title = INTA New Thought History Chart | publisher = Websyte }}.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" 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}}{{sfn|Sharf|2000}}

Major figures

File:Sarah Margaret Fuller engraving.jpg|thumb|Margaret FullerMargaret FullerMajor 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.Gura, Philip F. American Transcendentalism: A History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007: 7–8. {{ISBN|0-8090-3477-8}}


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.{{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}}.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.{{Citation | last = McFarland | first = Philip | title = Hawthorne in Concord | place = New York | publisher = Grove Press | year = 2004 | page = 149 | isbn = 0-8021-1776-7}}.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.{{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}}. The narrator ridiculed their writings by calling them "metaphor-run" lapsing into "mysticism for mysticism's sake",{{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}} 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.{{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}}. 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."{{Citation | title = The Norton Anthology of American Literature | volume = B | edition = 6th | editor1-first = Nina | editor1-last = Baym | place = New York | publisher = Norton | year = 2007|display-editors=etal}}.

See also






  • {{Citation | last =Harris | first =Mark W. | year =2009 | title =The A to Z of Unitarian Universalism | publisher =Scarecrow Press}}
  • {{Citation | last =King | first =Richard | authorlink =Richard E. King| 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}}
  • BOOK, Miller, Perry, ed., Perry Miller, The Transcendentalists: An Anthology,weblink 1950, Harvard University Press, 9780674903333,
  • {{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 | title =Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience | journal =Numen |volume=42 |pages=| url =,%20Buddhist%20Modernism.pdf}}
  • {{Citation | last =Sharf | first =Robert H. | year =2000 | title =The Rhetoric of Experience and the Study of Religion |journal=Journal of Consciousness Studies |volume=7 |issue=11-12 |pages=267–87 | url =,%20Religious%20Experience.pdf}}
  • {{Citation | last =Versluis | first =Arthur | authorlink = Arthur Versluis| 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}}

Further reading

  • Dillard, Daniel, “The American Transcendentalists: A Religious Historiography,” 49th Parallel (Birmingham, England), 28 (Spring 2012), online
  • Gura, Philip F. American Transcendentalism: A History (2007)
  • Harrison, C. G. The Transcendental Universe, six lectures delivered before the Berean Society (London, 1894) 1993 edition {{ISBN|0 940262 58 4}} (US), 0 904693 44 9 (UK)
  • Rose, Anne C. 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

{{wiktionary}}{{Americana Poster|Transcendental Philosophy|Transcendentalism}}Topic sites
  • {{Citation | url =weblink | title = The web of American transcendentalism | publisher = VCU}}
  • {{Citation | url =weblink | title = The Transcendentalists}}
  • {{Citation | url =weblink | contribution = What Is Transcendentalism? | title = Women’s History | publisher = About}}
  • {{Citation | url =weblink | title = The American Renaissance and Transcendentalism}}
  • IEP, am-trans, American Transcendentalism,
  • {{Citation | url =weblink | publisher = Stanford | title = Encyclopedia of Philosophy | contribution = Transcendentalism}}}

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