Welcome to our transcendentalism section. American transcendentalism was a wave of spirituality that swept across the world in the 1800s, as famous authors such as Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau led the way.
Ralph Waldo Emerson - Transcendentalism
American transcendentalism took rise in the 1800s, having begun as a religion and transcended into what today many call spirituality. Authors worked to create writings that were new teachings, essentially, redefining religion and spirituality.
Transcendentalism thus has a somewhat close association with spiritualism of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both movements fed the need for people to believe in the existence of spirit. Started in America, the Spiritualist Movement actually began in the mid-1800s, and was a rise in psychic mediums that would purportedly communicate with the dead. Transcendentalism, on the other hand, taught that we are spirit and part of God...that all existed within...a place to become one with nature and come to know one's true self. Interested in the Spiritualist Movement? Then see: Spirit Photography
Transcendentalism centered around the Boston area, especially in Concord, Massachusetts. Transcendentalists wrote to create a unique body of literature that differed from European roots. One could call transcendentalism literary and spiritual independence. This new thought sought to transcend society through essays, poetry, novels, and philosophy. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a former Unitarian minister turned essayist, identified religion as being "corpse cold." This spiritual hunger led many transcendentalists into studying Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, comparing their own spiritual insights with what they read from the Middle and Far East.
Transcendentalism taught that a humane and loving God would not lead so many people into destruction as traditional Christian religion professed. Truth would be sought in transcendentalism, truth that exists within the very being of all.
Emerson wrote, "We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds...A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men." Thus, Emerson led the charge for social reform.
Transcendentalism also became a movement for social reform, as most of these authors were staunch advocates for women's right and the abolition of slavery. Transcendentalism not only sought to remove the fear created from religion, it sought to transform society by teaching all are equal, spirit and a part of God. Transcendentalists, such as Thoreau, through their writings, also spoke out against the rat race, fast pace that the Industrial Revolution was bringing to their lives.
Transcendentalism sought to teach that inspiration should come from within, where the Divine dwelled. It was a movement for freedom, knowledge and truth. Transcendentalism was a protest of the day, against society and culture, the core belief being that there exists an ideal spiritual state that transcends the physical world and is found through an individual's intuition, rather than through established Christian religious doctrines of men.
Emerson is often thought to be the father of American Transcendentalism, as his essay Nature published in 1836 became the basis for the cultural movement.
"So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, What is truth? and of the affections, What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
We have included this section on transcendentalism, though difficult to define, as it certainly taught some great ideas of seeking the truth within one's self, instead of outwardly seeking truth through written doctrines taught by others. All of us need to seek to know truth...truth about who we are within the whole, our world, if you will. Let us find our own peace and joy, being free from fear and full of love from within.
Some of the more important authors of the Transcendentalist movement (from left to right): Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Sarah Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau.
Most would consider Emerson, Thoreau's mentor, to be the " Father of Transcendentalism.
Both men, were very influential in the movement and stand as worthy bookends in our photo selection!
Spirit Photography - Spiritualism was on the rise at the same time as transcendentalism.