What We Will Cover in this Unit
“Dare to love God without mediator or veil...”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Divinity School Address, 1838
Not even one generation passed before the young movement of Unitarians experienced a
rebellion from within their own ranks. Inspired by the thought of German Idealism
(Kant, Hegel) and British Transcendentalism (Coleridge, Carlyle), a group of young
Unitarian men and women began to preach a new religion of intuition and personal
experience. They called themselves the Transcendentalists.
Daniel Walker Howe’s article will provide an overview of the period we are covering in
this unit, 1835–1865. He will discuss the early development of Unitarianism, its
role in social reform, and the Transcendentalist rebellion. Next you will read two
primary texts of the Transcendentalists, Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” and
Parker’s “Transient and Permanent in Christianity.” These documents will
help you get a sense of the core values of Transcendentalism.
After the assigned readings, we ask that you do some research on one Transcendentalist
of your choosing. Read some biographical material as well as a primary text or two,
and compose a one page response to what you’ve learned. The “Explore More”
section will provide you with a starting point for your research.
These are the required readings for this unit.
Questions to Consider
|What values did the Transcendentalists share?|
|What was their critique of classical Unitarianism?|
|What are the continuities between classical Unitarianism and Transcendentalism?|
|How did the Transcendentalists’ theology shape their attitudes toward justice issues?|
This section includes optional readings for this unit, links to resources on the World
Wide Web, and a select bibliography.
|“From Edwards to Emerson” by Perry Miller|
In this essay, Miller articulates continuities between the Puritan revivalism of
Jonathon Edwards and the Transcendentalist intuitionalism of Emerson.
“What is persistent,” he argues, “from Edwards to Emerson is the
effort to confront, face to face, the image of a blinding divinity in the physical
universe, and to look upon that universe without the intermediacy of ritual, of the Mass
and the confessional.”
|“The Oversoul,” ** by
Ralph Waldo Emerson|
**Note: Following this link will take you outside of the UU
Use “back or “previous” buttons on your browser to navigate back
when finished with the reading.
Links to Internet Resources
The Web is filled with resources on the Transcendentalists. Much of the
information is scholarly and appropriate for use in a history course, while some falls
under the category of “boosterism.” We have tried to provide you with some
of the best links to begin your searches (as of late 1999).
|Click here for brief
Articles on the Transcendentalists.|
|A good starting point for information is the
Transcendentalists home page, which
provides links to bibliographies, and information on individual Transcendentalists.|
|For Information on
Waldo Emerson, see the Emerson page for on-line texts of most of his essays and poems.|
|The The Margaret Fuller Society maintains
a Web page with links to Fuller biographies and bibliographies, as well as on-line texts by
Fuller, including the complete Women in the 19th Century (though it is difficult
to read because of bad page design).|
provides links to Thoreau biographies, bibliographies, as well as readable on-line
editions of many of his works.|
website provides links to Parker biographies, bibliographies, as well as on-line texts by
and about Parker.|
Nathaniel Hawthorne Society
maintains a website with links to articles and books by and about Hawthorne.|
|Click here for an exhaustive on-line
Transcendentalism in general, as well as links to bibliographies for many individual
|Blanchard, Paula. Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution (New
York: Delta-Seymour Lawrence, 1978).|
The MFC-required biography.
|Capper, Charles. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Vol 1: The Private Years
(New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1992). |
A recent biography of Fuller’s early years.
|Commager, Henry Steele. Theodore Parker (Little, Brown:
Commager presents a folksy narrative of Parker’s life.
|Hutchison, William. The Transcendentalist Ministers: Church Reform in the New
England Renaissance (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959).|
Looks at the Transcendentalists as theological and ecclesial reformers, not just as
|Miller, Perry. Margaret Fuller: American Romantic. A Selection From Her Writings and
Correspondence (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1963).|
|Miller, Perry. The Transcendentalists: An Anthology (Cambridge: Harvard
Univ. Press, 1950).|
This is widely considered the best resource on Transcendentalism. It includes
writings by virtually all the Transcendentalists.
|Richardson, Jr. Robert D. Emerson: Mind on Fire (Berkeley: Univ. of California
An excellent recent biography of Emerson.
|Richardson, Jr. Robert D. Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: Univ. Of
California Press, 1986).|
|Rusk, Ralph L. The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York:
For fifty years the standard biography.
|Tharp, Louise Hall. The Peabody Sisters of Salem (Boston: Little, Brown, 1950).|
For information on Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.
|West, Cornel. The American Evasion of Philosophy (University of
Wisconsin: Madison, 1990).|
West assesses Emerson’s legacy within the American philosophical school of pragmatism,
as well as its implications for a progressive politics today.
|Williams, George Hunston. Re-thinking the Unitarian Relationship with Protestantism:
An Examination of the Thought of Frederic Henry Hedge (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949).|
A good assessment of the thought of Hedge.
For more bibliographic information, pursue links on the Web, and see the various
bibliographic essays in David Robinson’s The Unitarians and the Universalists
(Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985).