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An Introduction to Transcendentalism

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  1. 1. TranscendentalismTranscendentalism A literary, intellectual and artisticA literary, intellectual and artistic movement behind the Americanmovement behind the American RenaissanceRenaissance
  2. 2. OverviewOverview • What was Unitarianism? • How Unitarianism led to Transcendentalism • What Emerson believed • Influence of Transcendentalism
  3. 3. UnitarianismUnitarianism • Unitarianism emerged as an effect of Enlightenment philosophy on Christianity – Unitarians rejected doctrine of the Trinity • 1785 first Unitarian church in Boston • By 1815 majority of Congregational churches in Boston became Unitarian.
  4. 4. Unitarianism cont.Unitarianism cont. • Attempted to take a rational, scientific approach to religion, similar to Deism – Jesus was a man, not God – Christianity must be a way of life, not just abstract doctrines – 5 key statements of faith • Fatherhood of God, Brotherhood of man, leadership of Jesus, salvation by character, progress of mankind.
  5. 5. Unitarian beliefsUnitarian beliefs • Humans are brothers and should treat each other as such. Sins are offenses against human relationships. • Man is imperfect but should strive toward self- improvement. • Bible is only one source of truth and written by humans- tried to read it ethically • Church is a human institution and no one church is the only right one. • Baptism and communion are memorials to Jesus, not required sacraments to achieve salvation
  6. 6. Reaction to UnitarianismReaction to Unitarianism • Calvinists— Unitarians are too heretical to be considered Christian • Became popular in Boston among elite classes • Easier psychologically than Puritan soul- searching and threats of hell. • Ministers enjoyed textual criticism of the Bible
  7. 7. Second wave 1819-1865Second wave 1819-1865 • New movement led by William Ellery Channing • Considered old version too cold, wanted to add emotion, poetry etc. • Three key ideas – God is all loving and is everywhere – Presence of God in every man, so man is divine – True worship of God= good will to others
  8. 8. TranscendentalismTranscendentalism • 2nd wave of Unitarianism was related to literary, artistic and philosophical movement that was centered in New England • Transcendentalism can also be viewed as the American version of Romanticism
  9. 9. Transcendentalism andTranscendentalism and RomanticismRomanticism • Feeling is more important than reason • Individual more important than society • Overthrow custom—don’t be a slave to tradition • Delight in nature • Unlike British and German romanticism— transcendentalism had more of a moral, philosophical tone
  10. 10. What was Transcendentalism?What was Transcendentalism? • Not a fully articulated philosophical system – Relied on “fuzzy mysticism” – Emphasized presence of God in nature and divine potential in man – Called young to overthrow custom and live new lives – Some say it has some of the intensity of Calvinism except assumption is man is good
  11. 11. EmersonEmerson • Was a Unitarian minister—but resigned • Traveled to Europe—met romantic thinkers like Coleridge and Carlyle • In series of essays and lectures (Nature, “American Scholar,” “Divinity School Address” and “Self-Reliance”) he sketched out beliefs of Transcendentalism
  12. 12. OversoulOversoul • One of his key ideas is that there is an all pervading spiritual essence that animates all things= Oversoul • Oversoul is good, so universe is moral • Nature is a kind of Bible • Paradox harder we try to be individuals, closer we will all come to the same ideal point
  13. 13. Absence of EvilAbsence of Evil • Emerson argued evil did not exist • What appears to be evil is the absence of good • Doctrine of compensation—all apparent evil is balanced by some act of goodness. All gains are balanced by some kind of loss and vice versa • Looked to nature for example of unity-in dualism
  14. 14. Absence of evil?Absence of evil? • Emerson thought that if people were true to themselves they would inevitably do good. • Skeptics worried that many people would not choose to follow their consciences or lacked consciences. • Darker Transcendentalists like Hawthorne and Melville found Emerson too optimistic
  15. 15. Influence of TranscendentalismInfluence of Transcendentalism • Transcendentalism was belief of a small influential group—ridiculed in the mainstream press • Mainly stayed in Boston, but inspired some reformers • In distorted form, ideas could be used to justify greed, expansionism, lack of concern for the oppressed, justification for pursuing selfish interests