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What We Will Cover in this Unit

TRANSCENDENTALISM

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Dare to love God without mediator or veil...”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Divinity School Address, 1838

Not even one generation passed before the young movement of Unitarians experienced a rebellion from within their own ranks.  Inspired by the thought of German Idealism (Kant, Hegel) and British Transcendentalism (Coleridge, Carlyle), a group of young Unitarian men and women began to preach a new religion of intuition and personal experience.  They called themselves the Transcendentalists.

Daniel Walker Howe’s article will provide an overview of the period we are covering in this unit, 1835–1865.  He will discuss the early development of Unitarianism, its role in social reform, and the Transcendentalist rebellion.  Next you will read two primary texts of the Transcendentalists, Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” and Parker’s “Transient and Permanent in Christianity.”  These documents will help you get a sense of the core values of Transcendentalism.

After the assigned readings, we ask that you do some research on one Transcendentalist of your choosing.  Read some biographical material as well as a primary text or two, and compose a one page response to what you’ve learned.  The “Explore More” section will provide you with a starting point for your research.

 

Assigned Readings

These are the required readings for this unit.

bullet“At Morning Blest and Golden-Browed:  Unitarians, Transcendentalists and Reformers, 1835–1865” by Daniel Walker Howe
bullet“The Divinity School Address” ** by Ralph Waldo Emerson
** Note:  Following this link will take you outside of the UU history website.   Use the “back” or “previous” buttons on your browser to navigate back when finished with the reading.
bullet“The Transient and Permanent in Christianity” by Theodore Parker

 

Questions to Consider

bulletWhat values did the Transcendentalists share?
bulletWhat was their critique of classical Unitarianism?
bulletWhat are the continuities between classical Unitarianism and Transcendentalism?
bulletHow did the Transcendentalists’ theology shape their attitudes toward justice issues?

 

Explore More

This section includes optional readings for this unit, links to resources on the World Wide Web, and a select bibliography.

Optional Readings

bullet“From Edwards to Emerson” by Perry Miller
In this essay, Miller articulates continuities between the Puritan revivalism of Jonathon Edwards and the  Transcendentalist intuitionalism of Emerson.   “What is persistent,” he argues, “from Edwards to Emerson is the Puritan’s effort to confront, face to face, the image of a blinding divinity in the physical universe, and to look upon that universe without the intermediacy of ritual, of the Mass and the confessional.”
bullet“The Oversoul,” ** by Ralph Waldo Emerson
**Note:  Following this link will take you outside of the UU History website.   Use “back or “previous” buttons on your browser to navigate back when finished with the reading.

Links to Internet Resources

The Web is filled with resources on the Transcendentalists.  Much of the information is scholarly and appropriate for use in a history course, while some falls under the category of “boosterism.”  We have tried to provide you with some of the best links to begin your searches (as of late 1999).

bulletClick here for brief Encyclopedia Articles on the Transcendentalists.
bulletA good starting point for information is the Transcendentalists home page, which provides links to bibliographies, and information on individual Transcendentalists.
bulletFor Information on Ralph Waldo Emerson, see the Emerson page for on-line texts of most of his essays and poems.
bulletThe The Margaret Fuller Society maintains a Web page with links to Fuller biographies and bibliographies, as well as on-line texts by Fuller, including the complete Women in the 19th Century (though it is difficult to read because of bad page design).
bulletThe Thoreau homepage provides links to Thoreau biographies, bibliographies, as well as readable on-line editions of many of his works.
bulletThe Theodore Parker website provides links to Parker biographies, bibliographies, as well as on-line texts by and about Parker.
bulletThe Nathaniel Hawthorne Society maintains a website with links to articles and books by and about Hawthorne.
bulletClick here for an exhaustive on-line Bibliography of Transcendentalism in general, as well as links to bibliographies for many individual Transcendentalists.

Bibliography

bulletBlanchard, Paula. Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution (New York: Delta-Seymour Lawrence, 1978).
    The MFC-required biography.
bulletCapper, Charles. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Vol 1: The Private Years (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).  
A recent biography of Fuller’s early years.
bulletCommager, Henry Steele.  Theodore Parker (Little, Brown:  Boston, 1946).
Commager presents a folksy narrative of Parker’s life.
bulletHutchison, William. The Transcendentalist Ministers: Church Reform in the New England Renaissance (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959).
Looks at the Transcendentalists as theological and ecclesial reformers, not just as literary figures.
bulletMiller, Perry. Margaret Fuller: American Romantic. A Selection From Her Writings and Correspondence (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1963).
bulletMiller, Perry.  The Transcendentalists: An Anthology (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1950).
This is widely considered the best resource on Transcendentalism.  It includes writings by virtually all the Transcendentalists.
bulletRichardson, Jr. Robert D. Emerson: Mind on Fire (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997).
An excellent recent biography of Emerson.
bulletRichardson, Jr. Robert D. Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: Univ. Of California Press, 1986).
bulletRusk, Ralph L. The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Scribner’s, 1949).
For fifty years the standard biography.
bulletTharp, Louise Hall. The Peabody Sisters of Salem (Boston: Little, Brown, 1950).
For information on Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.
bulletWest, Cornel.  The American Evasion of Philosophy (University of Wisconsin:  Madison, 1990).
West assesses Emerson’s legacy within the American philosophical school of pragmatism, as well as its implications for a progressive politics today.
bulletWilliams, George Hunston. Re-thinking the Unitarian Relationship with Protestantism: An Examination of the Thought of Frederic Henry Hedge (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949).
A good assessment of the thought of Hedge.

For more bibliographic information, pursue links on the Web, and see the various bibliographic essays in David Robinson’s The Unitarians and the Universalists (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985). 

 

 

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