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American Transcendentalism: A History Paperback – September 2, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
Phil Gura has made our lives much easier by publishing this history of the American transcendentalist movement. Now all the loose ends are tied up in this one, valuable volume. He traces those European ideas back to their sources, then shows how they surfaced in America. Those were the days when folks read pieces of literature and philosophy in their original languages, and aspiring scholars took the time to translate those works into English. Those were the days when religious debate was a common occurrence, and men of the cloth published opinionated pamphlets that others vocally supported or viciously denigrated in the popular press or in their own esoteric periodicals. American religions were still in a period of evolution and transition, and the Transcendentalists emerged as a result. You'll have to read this book to find out how that happened.
And while you're poring over it, you should also have one of the published compendiums by your side: either Lawrence Buell's "The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings" or Joel Myerson's "Transcendentalism: A Reader.Read more ›
Many readers have only a vague notion of what the Transcendentalist movement was about together with a notion that Emerson and Thoreau were at its center. Gura shows that the movement was, indeed, quite loose, with many people finding many different meanings and goals in Transcendentalism. He also shows that Emerson was, at least initially, not at the center of the movement and that he differed from many of his fellow Transcendentalists in key ways. The movement flourished from the 1830s to the 1850s, was basically subsumed by the Civil War, and then reappeared in several modified forms in post-War American. Ultimately, it was largely replaced (or modified) as the paradigmatic American philosophy by William James and his fellow pragmatists.
Transcendentalism was a form of philosophical idealism which stressed the immediacy of individual consciousness as a means of understanding what was valuable in experience. In addition to its subjectivism, transcendentalism had a strong universalist component as it found that every person would share essentially the same intuitions of value and meaning if they looked inside themselves. Transcendentalists opposed the empiricism of John Locke, which they found despiritualized people and reality, and they opposed as well conservative Calvinist theology. Broadly speaking, the movement sought a spirituality not tied to the teachings of a specific organized religion or to a claimed revelation.Read more ›
The American Transcendentalist Movement was quite small. It was limited almost entirely to a handful of liberal Unitarian clergyman. But the movement also included a couple of remarkable women, Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Peabody. Geographically it was principally confined to Massachusetts and to a lesser extent New England. Its most active period was from the early 1830's through 1850. Finally it was a religious not a philosophical movement. Its core premise was perhaps best expressed by George Ripley (1802-1880) when he argued that: man was..."conscious of an inward nature, which is the source of more important and comprehensive ideas than any which the external senses suggest." As applied to religion this concept give individual conscious precedence over everything else in matters of religion. This individualism gave the transcendentalist movement its unique character, but also prevented it from becoming a cohesive philosophy. Ralph Waldo Emerson its most famous member also presented the most radical ideas on the importance of the individual and inward revelation.
It has been argued by some scholars that the American Transcendental Movement was founded on a third hand misunderstanding of German idealism. This does not do justice to the movement.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not as comprehensive or insightful as I'd hoped. You can safely skip this and concentrate on Thoreau and Emerson since their work is still widely read today and critical books... Read morePublished 1 month ago by thirdtwin
Gura doesn't seem to be up on the theological currents of the time, though as an undergraduate he was exposed, supposedly, to Alan Heimert. Read morePublished 16 months ago by The Multimedia Kid
American Transcendentalism flourished in the New England area of the United States from 1830 to 1850. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Sam Adams
This is in many ways an excellent book, really the best on the detailed background of many of the founders of Transcendentalism, putting them in their institutional settings... Read morePublished on April 10, 2014 by toronto
The people in this book about Americans trying to decide what to study spent a lot of time on books and sermons. Read morePublished on December 4, 2013 by no chit
A little more than a decade ago, professor Louis Menand gave us his brilliant history of American pragmatism, The Metaphysical Club. Read morePublished on March 29, 2013 by Jon L Albee
This may be a great book for a literature or theology course (which is why I gave it three stars instead of two), but if you are expecting inspirational prose - look elsewhere. Read morePublished on February 25, 2013 by Off Grid Ebert