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A discussion on transcendentalism in todays world

Postal Service stamp honoring Ralph Waldo Emerson issued in 1940. He founded a new religious, philosophical, and literary movement called Transcendentalism. They also rejected the Puritan belief that God had already decided who was predestined for heaven and hell.

The Unitarians believed that individuals had the free will to work for their salvation. Three decades later, religious division erupted within the Unitarian Church of Boston. Different factions disagreed over the divinity of Jesus. Some leading Unitarian ministers, like A discussion on transcendentalism in todays world Waldo Emerson, finally left the church to seek a more meaningful religious experience.

After resigning his Boston ministry in 1832, Emerson moved to nearby Concord and began to lecture and write about religion and the individual. In 1836, he formed a discussion group with dissenting Unitarians and others. These men and a few women debated topics of the day. Emerson attacked the Unitarian Church for promoting a lifeless form of Christianity. Emerson argued that individuals could discover truth and God within themselves without belonging to a church or holding a particular set of religious beliefs.

The Unitarian establishment in Boston reacted with horror and accused Emerson of blasphemy and atheism. Harvard banned him from making any more speeches to its students. By 1840, he had developed the main ideas that defined Transcendentalism. Emerson found divine energy in all living things. At different times, he called this energy the universal spirit, universal consciousness, over-soul, or God.

In his way of thinking, this universal spirit gave all life meaning and purpose. From it came all truth, beauty, and goodness.

Transcendentalism Discussion Questions

Emerson counseled his followers to seek God by looking inward. Emerson rejected the old Puritan doctrine that humans were born as sinful creatures.

He held a much more optimistic view that all men and women possessed a natural capacity to do good and for society to progress. Emerson taught, however, that individuals would first have to reform themselves before they could change society. The Transcendentalists disagreed over this. Some argued that persons of conscience had an immediate moral duty to improve society and fight injustice.

The Transcendental Movement

These were the Transcendentalist reformers. His daughter was the writer Louisa May Alcott. In 1834, Alcott opened a school for 30 boys and girls in a Boston Masonic Temple.

He discarded memorization and appealed to the interests of children. He and his teachers read aloud stories and poems and discussed their meaning with the students. Alcott involved the children themselves in maintaining classroom discipline and provided time for physical exercise. The Temple School lasted only a few years and closed after Boston ministers condemned Alcott for teaching Christianity from a Transcendentalist point of view.

She believed women should discover themselves through learning and reflection. How shall we do it?

American Transcendentalism

She argued that women should be involved in any activity they were capable of performing. Above all, Fuller insisted, women should have ways to exercise their minds.

He called for the full equality of women in education, employment, the professions, the ownership of property, and marriage. He also argued for women to have the right to vote and run for public office.

If the government denied women these rights, he said, they should not have to pay any taxes. These were radical ideas. A year later, in 1841, he formed a company to finance a Transcendentalist utopian settlement a few miles from Boston. They all labored on the farm, including author Nathaniel Hawthorne who later wrote a novel, The Blithedale Romance, satirizing the experiment.

The members set up schools for the children, ate in a communal dining hall, and participated in discussions on social reform. Ripley organized all workers into numerous agricultural, domestic, and mechanical job groups. Things ran smoothly for a while. But an influx of poorly educated workers led to social conflict with the more intellectual Transcendentalists.

Quotes By Topic

Even with new blood, Brook Farm never included more than 150 adults. Fourier had envisioned 2,000 people for his Phalanx. Finally, after the Phalanstery burned down in 1846, Ripley abandoned his Brook Farm experiment.

He worked a short while as a schoolmaster, but then began writing poetry. In 1845, he built a hut at Walden Pond on property owned by Emerson. For the next few years, Thoreau lived simply off the land, meditated, and wrote about nature. In 1846, the United States declared war against Mexico. Thoreau and other Northern critics of the war viewed it as a plot by Southerners to expand slavery into the Southwest. Thoreau had already stopped paying his taxes in protest against slavery.

The local tax collector had ignored his tax evasion, but decided to act when Thoreau publicly condemned the U. In July 1846, the sheriff arrested and jailed Thoreau for his tax delinquency. A person of conscience had to act. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation, which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty, are slaves, and a whole country [Mexico] is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.

Thoreau argued that a discussion on transcendentalism in todays world government must end its unjust actions to earn the right to collect taxes from its citizens. As long as the government commits unjust actions, he continued, conscientious individuals must choose whether to pay their taxes or to refuse to pay them and defy the government.

Parker and Abolitionism While Thoreau set an example for political action, the Fugitive Slave Act turned many Transcendentalists into active abolitionists. Passed by Congress, this act was part of the Compromise of 1850, which delayed the Civil War for a decade. The Fugitive Slave Act exacted fines and imprisonment from anyone caught aiding escaped slaves. In effect, this law forced Northern states to enforce slavery by returning runaway slaves to their owners in the South.

The law enraged many, including the Boston and Concord Transcendentalists. Even the inward-looking Emerson seemed to agree that civil disobedience was necessary to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act. During the 1850s, Northern social reformers viewed the abolition of slavery as their most important cause.

Theodore Parker, a Boston Unitarian minister who had remained in the pulpit, was probably the most radical abolitionist among the Transcendentalists. He preached that, like all human beings, black slaves possessed the universal spirit. He thought that their enslavement was a monstrous violation of their God-given right to freedom and self-development. Parker called for civil disobedience against the Fugitive Slave Act. When the Civil War finally began in 1861, Parker and many other Transcendentalists viewed it as a great conflict between good and evil.

It deeply affected American literature. For example, in Leaves of Grass, Whitman celebrated the power of self and its connection a discussion on transcendentalism in todays world the spirit driving America. Theodore Parker helped push open the door for abolitionism in the years leading up to the Civil War. After the war, Susan B. For Discussion and Writing 1. Do you agree with him? Which one of the Transcendentalists discussed in the article do you admire the most?

The list below includes some general problem areas.