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Sharpened by the controversy that erupted after Emerson’s Divinity School Address, theological and literary thinking among the transcendentalists developed in three interrelated directions in the late 1830s and 1840s.
Parker and Emerson continued to extend their theological explorations, with Parker calling in 1841 for a religion based on “permanent” rather than “transient” principles.
"Transcendentalism, in fact, really began as a religious movement, an attempt to substitute a Romanticized version of the mystical ideal that humankind is capable of direct experience of the holy for the Unitarian rationalist view that the truths of religion are arrived at by a process of empirical study and by rational inference from historical and natural evidence" (46)."Transcendentalism, as viewed by its disciples, was a pilgrimage from the idolatrous world of creeds and rituals to the temple of the Living God in the soul. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God" (996).
It was a putting to silence of tradition and formulas, that the Sacred Oracle might be heard through intuitions of the single-eyed and pure-hearted. See also Emerson's essay "The Transcendentalist."(1842) According to Emerson, reason is "the highest faculty of the soul--what we mean by the soul itself; it never reasons, never proves, it simply perceives; it is vision." By contrast, "The Understanding toils all the time, compares, contrives, adds, argues, near sighed but strong-sighted, dwelling in the present the expedient the customary" (L2-413).
With national tensions rising over slavery in the 1840s and 1850s, Parker became Boston’s great antislavery preacher, and both Emerson and Thoreau wrote ringing antislavery addresses.
By the early 1860s, following the outbreak of the Civil War, the transcendentalists had helped formulate the principles that would reshape American culture well into the 20th century.
It was based on "a monism holding to the unity of the world and God, and the immanence of God in the world" (Oxford Companion to American Literature 770).
For the transcendentalists, the soul of each individual is identical with the soul of the world and contains what the world contains.
An important expression of Romanticism in the United States, it is principally associated with the work of essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson; journalist and feminist theorist Margaret Fuller; Unitarian minister and antislavery advocate Theodore Parker; and essayist, naturalist, and political theorist Henry David Thoreau.
In their initial phase, the transcendentalists extended the Unitarian theological rebellion against Puritan Calvinism, moving toward a post-Christian spirituality that held each man and woman capable of spiritual development and fulfillment.