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Transcendentalism is a conglomeration of similar, but diverse ideas about literature, religion, culture and philosophy. It has its roots in the Transcendental Club established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1836, by several prominent Americans including George Putnam, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Hedge. The club was a protest to the general state of culture and society at the time, and in particular, the state of intellectualism at Cambridge and Harvard.

Transcendentalism itself is difficult to define concisely, due to the diverse expressions of those involved in the movement. However, the main tenet of transcendentalists is the desire to go beyond (transcend) the prevailing literature and philosophies of the masses in order to improve society. One of the reasons that transcendentalism spans so many disciplines is due to this strength of this desire amongst those involved.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel, The Blithedale Romance, satirizing the movement, and based on his experiences at Brook Farm.

The term Transcendentalism was derived from the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who called "all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects." Ralph Waldo Emerson formulated and expressed the philosophy of Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay Nature. His stance was "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."

Other prominent Transcendentalists included Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Theodore Parker.

See also: Transcendental Generation, Transcendental meditation, Universism.