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September 11, 2009


Transcendentalism is a 19th-century movement of writers and philosophers in New England who were loosely bound together by adherence to an idealistic system of thought based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of man, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths.

It began as a protest against the general state of culture and society at the time, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Harvard and the doctrine of the Unitarian church which was taught at Harvard Divinity School. It is an American version of English romanticism. It was influenced by German transcendentalism, Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Christian mysticism and English Romanticism. The transcendentalists stressed on the following factors:
  1. The transcendentalists believed that human beings find truth within themselves, and so they emphasized self-reliance and individual conscience.
  2. They believed that society is a necessary evil. They argued that to learn what is right, a person must ignore custom and social codes and rely on reason.
  3. The transcendentalists believed that the doctrines and organized churches of orthodox Christianity interfered with the personal relationship between a person and God. The transcendentalists said that individuals should reject the authority of Christianity and gain knowledge of God through reason.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American transcendentalist. The American transcendentalists never became numerous, but their writings greatly influenced American intellectual history and literature. Besides Emerson, the leading American transcendentalists included Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, and Henry David Thoreau.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the leading American transcendentalist

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