An American philosophical and literary movement originating in the New England area around 1830. It emerged in opposition to an increasingly materialistic and decreasingly spiritual society. Transcendentalism also emerges as a response to traditional American religious ideas. The main belief revolves around the power of the individual.
William Henry Channing(1810-1844)
"Transcendentalism, as viewed by its disciples, was a pilgrimage from the idolatrous world of creeds and rituals to the temple of the Living God in the soul. It was a putting to silence of tradition and formulas, that the Sacred Oracle might be heard through intuitions of the single-eyed and pure-hearted. Amidst materialists, zealots, and skeptics, the Transcendentalist believed in perpetual inspiration, the miraculous power of will, and a birthright to universal good. He sought to hold communion face to face with the unnameable Spirit of his spirit, and gave himself up to the embrace of nature's perfect joy, as a babe seeks the breast of a mother."
The image of an "single-eye" is used frequently in Transcendentalist thought. One must experience the world like a transparent eyeball, letting everything pass through naturally without altering it's perception or purpose. Intuition will allow for an accurate, meaningul interpretation of what that eyeball sees.
The image of a "babe" or child is also repeated. Children are good examples of human nature, too innocent and naive to be corrupted by larger societal pressures. They perceive the world in a manner Transcendentalists encourage- with wonder and a belief that everything is for good.
Power is to be obtained by defying fate or predestination, which seem to work against humans, by exercising one's own spiritual and moral strength. Emphasis on self-reliance.
Hence, the emphasis is placed on a human thinking.
The transcendentalists see the necessity of examples of great leaders, writers, philosophers, and others, to show what an individual can become through thinking and action.
In certain respects Transcendentalism was designed to be a sort of American-style natural religion. The Transcendentalists looked upon nature and the physical world as the manifestation of a divine, yet impersonal Power. Like the Deists of the Enlightenment and the Stoics of Roman antiquity, they did not worship the supernatural in a direct way, but rather admired and revered it via the natural, its visible image and shadow. Similarly, they viewed the cosmos as a vast, all-embracing whole--a true Universe (or oneness) in which every individual thing forms part of an intricate and larger harmony
The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization - this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies:
a. the expansive or self-transcending tendency - a desire to embrace the whole world - to know and become one with the world.
b. the contracting or self-asserting tendency - the desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate - an egotistical existence.
This dualism assumes our two psychological needs; the contracting: being unique, different, special, having a racial identity,ego-centered, selfish, and so on; the expansive: being the same as others, altruistic, be one of the human race, and so on.
The transcendentalist expectation is to move from the contracting to the expansive. This dualism has aspects of Freudian id and superego; the Jungian shadow and persona, the Chinese ying/yang, and the Hindu movement from Atman (egotistic existence) to Brahma (cosmic existence).
Writing in a time when globalization and industrialization were growing and combining at a faster rate than ever, an individual had greater contact with the world at large. No longer were people living in isolation of one another. Thus, a need to not only understand oneself but how the individual fits within a larger, complex system becomes increasingly important. Many politicians, writers, and thinkers today still rely on Transcendtalist thought because these trends have continued into today. With the internet, social media, anda greater diversity of people in the United States and other nations, a reconciliation between the individual and society remains as pertient if not mroe so.
Transcendentalism as a movement is rooted in the American past: To Puritanism it owed its pervasive morality and the "doctrine of divine light." It is also similar to the Quaker "inner light." However, both these concepts assume acts of God, whereas intuition is an act of an individual. In Unitarianism, deity was reduced to a kind of immanent principle in every person - an individual was the true source of moral light. To Romanticism it owed the concept of nature as a living mystery and not a clockwork universe (deism) which is fixed and permanent.
The humanistic focus of Transcendentalism arose partly as a reaction against the increasing dehumanization and materialism engendered by the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century. It was also a response to what Emerson and his educated contemporaries felt to be the spiritual inadequacy of established religion.
The Transcendental emphasis on the oneness of individual souls with nature and with God gave dignity and importance to human activity and made possible a belief in the power to effect social change in harmony with God's purposes.
Orthodox Christainity viewed human nature as wicked and flawed resulting from Original Sin. Additionally, human willpower was discounted in favor for a submissiveness to God's will and an attitude of endurance toward suffering. Transcendtaltism championing of self-reliance and the benevolence of man comes at a time where slavery and the subjugation of women, non-Whites, and non-Christains is a controversial social issue in America. Thus, many intrepreations of Transcendentalist thought centered around Americans changing a prejudiced system of society many originally believed to be just.
Transcendentalists believed in a monistic universe, or one in which God is immanent in nature. The creation is an emanation of the creator; although a distinct entity, God is permanently and directly present in all things. Spirit and matter are perfectly fused, or "interpenetrate," and differ not in essence but in degree. In such a pantheistic world, the objects of nature, including people, are all equally divine (hence Transcendentalism's preoccupation with the details of nature, which seemed to encapsulate divine glory in microcosmic form). In a pantheistic and mystical world, one can experience direct contact with the divinity, then, during a walk in the woods, for instance, or through introspective contemplation. Similarly, one does not need to attribute the events of the natural world to "removed" spiritual causes because there is no such separation; all events are both material and spiritual; a miracle is indeed "one with the blowing clover and the falling rain."
Nature and man's interaction with it is a reoccuring theme in Transcendtalist thinking. The double meaning of nature should also be considered. God is present in nature, meaning the physical world of trees, forests, ponds, etc., but also human nature- man's behavior, ideas, feelings, etc. are directly connected with a larger divine spirit. One's inner voice or intution can be understood as this connection to an immanent God.
For the Transcendentalists, then, the critical realization, or conviction, was that finding God depended on neither orthodox creedalism nor the Unitarians' sensible exercise of virtue, but on one's inner striving toward spiritual communion with the divine spirit. From this wellspring of belief would flow all the rest of their religious philosophy.
Transcendentalism emerged as a new set of ideas and philosophies during the 1820s and 1830s. At the time, Unitarianism was the most widely practiced religion in New England America. Unitarianism promotes the ability of the individual to rationally reason through and investigate into the nature of their universe. Transcendentalists built upon on these contemporary conceptions of the individual, as well as Calvinist ideas regarding a complex relationship between sinful man and an Almighty God that had been popular in the region in the centuries prior. What resulted was a new religious philosophy that embraced the impressive abilty of the human mind while placing the individual in a spiritually powerful, direct relationship with the divine.