What Shaped Transcendentalism?

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According to a professor at Stanford University, transcendentalism is an idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in and around New England during the 1830s, in reply to rationalism. The movement was influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, and taught others that divinity extends all nature and humanity. Followers of transcendentalism held progressive views on communal living and feminism. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were two of the many central figures, who were leaders of the transcendentalist movement.

Transcendentalism first started when a group of Christians separated from the church because they did not agree with the old puritan views. Some of the views included the inescapability of human evil and wickedness, and that one could not choose salvation. The Christians that left, believed more in the unity of God than the supposed Trinity of God. Those people became the Unitarians. The Unitarians integrated a thought that both David Hume, and John Locke believed in, and that thought was empiricism.

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Empiricism is a theory that knowledge comes only or primarily from experiences your senses have. Empiricism can be seen in Emerson’s essay titled Nature. To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. Emerson also goes on to say in his essay titled Self Reliance to Accept the place the divine providence1 has found for you, essentially stating that you as a person should accept nature for it is created and given to us by God.

Emerson and Thoreau were not the only people of the public who supported transcendentalism, and not all supporters were male. Margaret Fuller was one of the prominent unofficial female leaders of transcendentalism. Fuller wrote the essay titled Women In The Nineteenth Century bringing in the thought that for women, knowledge does not need to be taken from experiences your senses have in nature, but also indoors while reading books. In our own country, women are, in many respects, better situated than men. Good books are allowed, with more time to read them. While thinking about it, books and poetry were made by humans, who were made by God.

With the works of Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau, six main categories of transcendentalism were formed. Those categories are; simplicity, nonconformity, self-reliance, civil disobedience, connection to nature, and hard work. Now the question is, do we see transcendentalism and the six different categories in our daily lives? Yes, we do, even if we don’t know it. The Amish live simply, living off the land, not having a lot of materialistic items. Hipsters are nonconformists, going against the grain of others in their daily life. The Little Engine That Could is an example of self-reliance because he made it up the big mountain. Rosa Parks and MLK represent civil disobedience, for standing up against racism. Buddhism for a connection to nature, because they believe in surrounding themselves in nature when worshiping and meditating for a closer connection to Buddha. Finally Gabby Douglas for hard work, with her commitment to practicing to become an Olympic gold medalist.

What shaped transcendentalism? To put it simply, the essay writers, supporters, enthusiasts, the Unitarians, and wanting to believe in the goodness around them, despite the negativity, the wars, the destruction of our planet, and ourselves. Nevertheless, there might also be other categories and types of people we don’t know about. As the country changes, will transcendentalism be shaped even further, will it continue to grow, or will it crumble?

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