Social/Historical Influences
Role of Nature
Philosophical Influences
Organized Religion
Social Reformation
Social/Historical Influences
Spectacular unrestricted growth characterized
nearly every aspect of American life from 1829-1861:
– Geographical expansion westward
– Fur trade and gold rush
– Nations population doubled between 1790 and
1830, and doubled again before 1870
Changing face of America:
– Shift from rural, agricultural communities to
industrial and urban society
– Sudden mass in society barred by poverty or lack
of education from any possibility of selfdevelopment
Social/Historical Influences
Dissatisfaction with the present
and optimism about the future
– Dynamic progress in science
and technology
– Introduction of new farm
machines, roads, railroads,
communication (i.e.
– Social cost of progress: harsh
working conditions; ugly
mill towns; skilled craftsmen
were replaced by machines,
tended by lower paid women
and children
– Children were working 10-12
hours a day in factories and
no longer had freedom to
develop to their full potential
Social/Historical Influences
As basic American values were threatened by industrial forces,
reform groups sprang up:
– Utopian communities were founded/established
– Education was transformed with public schools
– Women’s rights movements
– Abolition
Criticism/Challenging Theology:
– Challenge to the dominance of Puritanism
– Quakers emphasized the direct relationship between God and
the individual without the mediation of minister
– Deist affirmed that Nature, not the Bible, was the principle
Revelation of God
– Unitarianism rejected Calvinistic notions of Original Sin and
Determinism in favor of beliefs in the basic goodness and
innate free will of the individual
A literary and philosophical
movement in America based on a
belief that the transcendent – or
spiritual – reality, rather than the
material world, is the ultimate reality
and that knowledge is not solely
derived from experience and
observation. Once must learn about
the world not only through reason,
but also intuition
– Reason: the independent and
intuitive capacity to know what is
absolutely true
– Intuition: direct perception of
truth, fact, etc., independent of
any reasoning process; a keen
and quick insight
Transcendentalists upheld the essential
goodness of humanity, the glories of nature, and
the importance of free individual expression.
 Also known as American Renaissance
 Emphasized the idea that individuals should act
according to their inner most personal beliefs, or
spiritual convictions, rather than the dictates of
 Closely related to this idea is that of the integrity
of the individual – the idea/belief that each
person is inherently good, capable of making
rational decisions, and worthy of respect from
every other human being
Role of Nature
Transcendentalists believed in
living close to nature and
taught the dignity of manual
They emphasized the
importance and beauty of the
natural world
By contemplating objects in
nature the individuals can
transcend this world and
discover union with God and
the Ideal
Fulfillment of human potential
is attainable through
mysticism and communion of
Free Write
 How
important is nature to you? How
often do you spend time in nature? Are
you conscious of the nature around you
on a regular basis? What role does
nature play in your life? What role does
nature play in your contemporary,
technology driven society? What would
the transcendentalists think of your
modern world?
Philosophical Influences
In opposition to the rationalistic tendencies of the age,
transcendentalism incorporated elements from many
philosophies and religions
Transcendentalism is closest to the philosophy of Idealism,
which held that material objects do not have a real
existence of their own. Rather, these objects are diffused
parts of aspect of God, the “over-soul” – a term coined by
-The over-soul is an ultimate spiritual
force that encompasses all existence
and reconciles all opposing forces in
the world
- Material objects therefore mirror or
reflect an ideal world
Philosophical Influences
Transcendentalism rose in reaction/opposition to Rationalism - a
theory that reason is in itself a source of knowledge superior to and
independent of sense perceptions
They believed that rationalism, from which modern science had sprung,
denied the profound sense of mystery found in nature and humanity
Transcendentalism was greatly influenced
by Romanticism
A movement in art, literature, and music
emphasizing passion rather than reason,
and imagination and intuition rather than
– Most Romantic writers favored full
expression of the emotions, as well as free,
spontaneous action rather than restraint
– Other Romantic writers stressed freedom of
the individual and rejecting restricting social
conventions and unjust political rule
Philosophical Influences
Deism - a movement advocating natural
religion, emphasizing morality, and in the
18th century denying the interference of
the Creator with the laws of the universe
Unitarianism - a member of a
denomination that stresses individual
freedom of belief, the free use of reason in
religion, a united world community, and
liberal social action
Other influences include the philosophies
of Greek philosopher Plato, who stated,
“Absolute goodness is knowable only
through intuition,” and the German
philosopher Emmanuel Kant, who stated,
“Man can neither prove nor disprove the
existence of God.”
Organized Religion
Although the major writers of this period came from
Protestant backgrounds, they found themselves at odds
with the dominant religions of the time
Though they strongly felt the need of intellectual
companionship and emphasized spiritual living, they felt
that every person’s relation to God was to be established
directly by the individual rather than through a ritualistic
or organized church
They held that human beings were divine in their own
right, an opinion opposed by the doctrines of the
Self-trust and reliance were to be practiced at all times,
because to trust the self was really to trust the voice of
God speaking intuitively within us
Organized Religion
They felt that current
thought had reduced God to
a watchmaker who, having
once built and wound up the
universe, now sat back and
observed it detachedly. The
individual is this scheme
was likewise reduced, as
Thoreau put it, “to a cog” or
wheel in this cosmic
Emerson believed that we
could find our spiritual
existence reflected in the
world of nature and that
individualism was a step
toward recognition of the
divine within the individual
Free Write
 What
are you reactions to the
transcendental views/philosophies on
religion and spirituality? Do you see
any flaws in these ideas? How have
the transcendentalists influenced our
contemporary society in terms of
spiritual philosophy?
Social Reformation
The transcendentalists
believe in democracy
Most of the
transcendentalists were by
nature reformers, but these
reforms were attempts to
regenerate the human spirit
rather than to prescribe
particular movements
Social conformity,
commercialism, and what
they believed to be a lack of
moral commitment angered
and frustrated the
Social Reform
Transcendentalists are known for their adherence to civil
– The refusal to obey certain governmental laws or
demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or
government policy, characterized by the employment of
such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing,
nonpayment of taxes, passive resistance
– Thoreau outlined his philosophy in an essay titled, “Civil
Disobedience,” in 1848
– The transcendentalists also supported women’s rights
and abolition
– Principle writers of this period include:
Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman
Free Write
are some examples of civil
disobedience in history and
contemporary society? How
effective of ineffective is civil