Transcendentalism was a 19th century American philosophical and religious movement that emerged out of Romanticism and was characterized by criticism of the perceived corruption of modernizing American society. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are the best-known literary figures of transcendentalism. Eventually, transcendentalism proved to be a major influence on American life and letters.
Transcendentalism - A Protest
Transcendentalism originally emerged as a protest movement among New England Congregationalists, merging ideas from Hinduism and German Romanticism. The 1836 publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Nature is largely considered to be the beginning of transcendentalism's influence on American popular culture. That same year three men formed what was known as the Transcendent Club which published the influential journal The Dial. These members were:
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- George Putnam
- Frederic Henry Hedge
Transcendentalists believed in the supremacy and purity of the individual. Organized religion and politics, they argued were corrupting influences. Transcendentalists tended to prefer inner spiritual experiences, and borrowed heavily from the Bhagavad Gita, a book Thoreau referenced in Walden.
Transcendentalism also had a large idealist streak. Many wanted to create Utopian communities, and many sough out perfection in nature. Other notable transcendentalists were John Muir, Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson.
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