Some basic tenets of Transcendentalism are the inherent goodness of people and nature, the belief in the ability of people to connect to God on their own through experience such as being in nature, and a strong sense of the individual. Literally, people can transcend the human senses.  They also see divine energy in all things. Mystical experiences are important and discussing or writing about those experiences was an important part of Transcendentalism.  

RW Emerson: Essayist.  Wrote many works on Transcendentalism and the power of the individual. Other concepts included that there was no separation between God, nature, and man. Gave his famous Divinity School address in 1838 in what’s now known as the Emerson Chapel at Harvard.  In that address, he lifted up Transcendentalist ideals of the individual’s power to use their moral intuition and discounted the miracles of Jesus.

Theodore Parker: Minister. Strong abolitionist.  The quote, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice’ was taken from his writings.  This is inscribed in the Emerson chapel at Harvard. Also emphasized the natural world over a theology of miracles of Jesus.

Margaret Fuller: Women’s rights advocate and teacher. Editor of the Transcendentalist journal The Dial. She worked for reforms of all kinds including prisons, treatment of the homeless, and Native Americans. Also an abolitionist. Thoreau

HD Thoreau: Author of Walden.  “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.”  He emphasized connections with nature, self-reliance, and personal experiences.  He entertained several people including Louisa May Alcott at his cabin in the woods for discussions of ideas. 

The Alcott family.  Headed by Bronson Alcott who worked on education reform.  He practiced his ideas in his experimental schools and on his children, most famous Louisa May Alcott.  Their daily life was scheduled including time outdoors and writing about personal experiences, both very Transcendental.  He was also a strict vegetarian and wouldn’t even wear cotton as it was produced by slave labor.

Reflection  questions

What do you agree or disagree with about Transcendentalism?

Anything you’d like to explore from that school of thought?

Try one of the 5 practices – sauntering, contemplation, reading, writing, and conversation.

What is the connection to connecting with nature?

What is the connection to Unitarianism?