Special Issue "Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2017)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Kenneth S. Sacks

History Department, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: intellectual history; ancient and modern; reception theory
Guest Editor
Dr. Daniel Koch

University of Oxford, OX1 3PA, UK
E-Mail
Phone: 44 7891 942540
Interests: education; history; languages and cultures

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Perry Miller’s great anthology, The Transcendentalists (1950), refocused Transcendentalism as a religious phenomenon. But he looked mainly at doctrinal issues, arguing that in many ways Transcendentalism was a reaction against Unitarianism and a return to Puritan beliefs. Our issue, however, is particularly interested in expanding the range of what constituted the religious and spiritual “experience” (a term emphasized by William James) while including articles on both the more famous Transcendentalists and the lesser known ones. We also believe that the spiritual beliefs and voyages of those with whom Transcendentalists were in contact (most obviously, but certainly not exclusively Unitarians) would enrich the collection, as well as the inspiration of non-Western texts on key Transcendentalist intellectuals.

Focus: it will be in seeing the religious/spiritual component to Transcendentalism, which was a broad social and intellectual movement, encompassing not only religion, but social thought and activism, politics, experiments of communal living, and aesthetic interpretations.

Scope: it will welcome papers over the entire expanse of Transcendentalism, from the early 1830s to the 1870s. We encourage papers that broadly define “religion” and widen the canvas to include all spiritual experiences that may have influenced Transcendentalists or which help us contemporary readers appreciate Transcendentalism.

Purpose: to expand on the current interest in Transcendentalist religion as a diverse effort, including strong compatibility with many non-supernatural Eastern religions and with William James’s notion of the spiritual “experience.”

Since the 1980s, the emphasis in Transcendentalist studies has been on social history (especially on Transcendentalist participation in abolition and the women’s movement). More recently, there has been a recognition of the individual spiritual struggles of its members, and this collection would both enforce and enlarge the scope of that investigation.

Prof. Dr. Kenneth S. Sacks
Dr. Daniel Koch
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 350 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

 

Keywords

  • Transcendentalism
  • religion
  • spiritual
  • experience
  • idealism
  • natural religion
  • supernaturalism

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle “A Religious Recognition of Equality”: Liberal Spirituality and the Marriage Question in America, 1835–1850
Religions 2017, 8(9), 183; doi:10.3390/rel8090183
Received: 16 July 2017 / Revised: 4 August 2017 / Accepted: 10 August 2017 / Published: 8 September 2017
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Abstract
Studying texts by Lydia Maria Child, Sarah Grimke, and Margaret Fuller, this article seeks to recover the early phases of a dialogue that moved marriage away from an institution grounded in ideas of unification and toward a concept of marriage grounded in liberal
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Studying texts by Lydia Maria Child, Sarah Grimke, and Margaret Fuller, this article seeks to recover the early phases of a dialogue that moved marriage away from an institution grounded in ideas of unification and toward a concept of marriage grounded in liberal ideas about equality. It seeks to situate the “marriage question” within both the rhetoric of American antebellum reform and of liberal religious thought. Rather than concluding that these early texts facilitated a movement toward a contractarian ideal of marriage this article concludes that Child, Grimke, and Fuller, sought to discredit unification as an organizing idea for marriage and replace it with a definition that placed a spiritual commitment to equality between the partners as the animating core of the idea of marriage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle Transcendental Trinitarian: James Marsh, the Free Will Problem, and the American Intellectual Context of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection
Religions 2017, 8(9), 172; doi:10.3390/rel8090172
Received: 19 July 2017 / Accepted: 8 August 2017 / Published: 30 August 2017
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Abstract
Historians of American religion and Transcendentalism have long known of James Marsh as a catalyst for the Concord Transcendentalist movement. The standard narrative suggests that the Congregationalist Marsh naively imported Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Aids to Reflection (Am. ed. 1829) hoping to revivify orthodoxy
[...] Read more.
Historians of American religion and Transcendentalism have long known of James Marsh as a catalyst for the Concord Transcendentalist movement. The standard narrative suggests that the Congregationalist Marsh naively imported Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Aids to Reflection (Am. ed. 1829) hoping to revivify orthodoxy in America. By providing a “Preliminary Essay” to explain Coleridge’s abstruse theology, Marsh injected Coleridge’s hijacked Kantian epistemology—with its distinction between Reason and Understanding—into American discourse. This epistemology inspired Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott, and it helped spark the Transcendentalists’ largely post-Christian religious convictions. This article provides a re-evaluation of Marsh’s philosophical theology by attending to the precise historical moment that Marsh chose to publish the Aids to Reflection and his “Preliminary Essay.” By the late 1820s, the philosophical problem of free will lurked in American religious discourse—Unitarian as well as Trinitarian—and Marsh sought to exploit the problem as a way to explain how aspects of Trinitarian Christianity might be rational and yet unexplainable. Attending carefully to the numerous philosophical and religious discourses of the moment—including Unitarianism, Trinitarianism, Kant, Coleridge, and Scottish Common Sense—and providing close readings of the historical philosophers Marsh engaged, this article shows how James Marsh laid the epistemological groundwork for a new romanticized Christianity that was distinct from the Concord Transcendentalists, but nonetheless part of its historical lineage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle Sovereignty of the Living Individual: Emerson and James on Politics and Religion
Religions 2017, 8(9), 164; doi:10.3390/rel8090164
Received: 20 July 2017 / Revised: 20 August 2017 / Accepted: 20 August 2017 / Published: 25 August 2017
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Abstract
William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson are both committed individualists. However, in what do their individualisms consist and to what degree do they resemble each other? This essay demonstrates that James’s individualism is strikingly similar to Emerson’s. By taking James’s own understanding of
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William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson are both committed individualists. However, in what do their individualisms consist and to what degree do they resemble each other? This essay demonstrates that James’s individualism is strikingly similar to Emerson’s. By taking James’s own understanding of Emerson’s philosophy as a touchstone, I argue that both see individualism to consist principally in self-reliance, receptivity, and vocation. Putting these two figures’ understandings of individualism in comparison illuminates under-appreciated aspects of each figure, for example, the political implications of their individualism, the way that their religious individuality is politically engaged, and the importance of exemplarity to the politics and ethics of both of them. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle Christian Conversion, the Double Consciousness, and Transcendentalist Religious Rhetoric
Religions 2017, 8(9), 163; doi:10.3390/rel8090163
Received: 13 June 2017 / Revised: 17 August 2017 / Accepted: 18 August 2017 / Published: 24 August 2017
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Abstract
Despite the theological gulf that separated the Transcendentalists from their Puritan predecessors, certain leading Transcendentalists—Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau among them—often punctuated their writings, published and private, with literary representations of dramatic episodes of spiritual awakening whose rhetorical structure sometimes betrays suggestive parallels with
[...] Read more.
Despite the theological gulf that separated the Transcendentalists from their Puritan predecessors, certain leading Transcendentalists—Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau among them—often punctuated their writings, published and private, with literary representations of dramatic episodes of spiritual awakening whose rhetorical structure sometimes betrays suggestive parallels with traditional, recognizably Christian, forms of conversion rhetoric. While all of these Transcendentalists clearly showcase representations of dramatic religious experience in their work, this reliance on Christian rhetorical patterns is most obvious in the early writings of Emerson and Fuller. Thoreau’s constructions reflect little ostensible Christian influence, yet even here, thematic continuities with earlier forms of religious self-expression are discernible. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle Transcendentalism and Chinese Perceptions of Western Individualism and Spirituality
Religions 2017, 8(8), 159; doi:10.3390/rel8080159
Received: 3 July 2017 / Revised: 16 August 2017 / Accepted: 16 August 2017 / Published: 22 August 2017
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Abstract
The article presents essential aspects of the intellectual debates in China over the theoretical achievement of Transcendentalism to generate a conception of individualism that bears the mark of Confucian and Daoist influences. The peculiar profile of the Transcendentalist individual avoids western dimensions that
[...] Read more.
The article presents essential aspects of the intellectual debates in China over the theoretical achievement of Transcendentalism to generate a conception of individualism that bears the mark of Confucian and Daoist influences. The peculiar profile of the Transcendentalist individual avoids western dimensions that have been perceived in China as overindividualistic. Therefore, the inquiry over Transcendentalism opens up the intellectual debates on how traditional Confucian and Daoist teachings may be used also in China to bring about a renewed conception of the self and the individual’s life in social relationships that would be closer to a modern understanding of individualism. The Chinese problematization of the value of the individual in Chinese traditional culture sheds light on the non-western debates regarding cultural renewal. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Auguste Comte and Consensus Formation in American Religious Thought—Part 2: Twilight of New England Comtism
Religions 2017, 8(8), 151; doi:10.3390/rel8080151
Received: 19 June 2017 / Revised: 31 July 2017 / Accepted: 9 August 2017 / Published: 15 August 2017
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Abstract
Auguste Comte was the most influential sociologist and philosopher of science in the Nineteenth Century. Part 1 summarized his works and analyzed reactions to them by Transcendentalists and Unitarians from 1837 until just after the Civil War. Part 2 examines in detail the
[...] Read more.
Auguste Comte was the most influential sociologist and philosopher of science in the Nineteenth Century. Part 1 summarized his works and analyzed reactions to them by Transcendentalists and Unitarians from 1837 until just after the Civil War. Part 2 examines in detail the post-war Transcendentalist and liberal Unitarian institutions of the Free Religious Association and the Radical Club and their different approaches to spiritual faith based on intuitionalism and reliance on scientific proof. In the background to their disputes is the positivism of Auguste Comte, who served as an easy source of common criticism. But at the same time as they wrote against positivism, both intuitionalists and those who relied on science were significantly influenced by Comte. Once again, as in part 1, a community of discourse was formed through the need to create social bonds at the expense of careful evaluation of the philosophy they criticized. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Translating Carlyle: Ruminating on the Models of Metafiction at the Emergence of an Emersonian Vernacular
Religions 2017, 8(8), 152; doi:10.3390/rel8080152
Received: 1 June 2017 / Revised: 25 July 2017 / Accepted: 28 July 2017 / Published: 15 August 2017
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Abstract
Given the exemplary studies of Thomas Carlyle’s influence on the Boston intelligentsia of the 1830s and 1840s, for instance by Robert D. Richardson and Barbara L. Packer, we may wonder if there are other questions to ask on the subject—and then, not so
[...] Read more.
Given the exemplary studies of Thomas Carlyle’s influence on the Boston intelligentsia of the 1830s and 1840s, for instance by Robert D. Richardson and Barbara L. Packer, we may wonder if there are other questions to ask on the subject—and then, not so much as a point of disagreement or divergence, but rather in a spirit of seeking what may come to light given that so many elemental aspects have been so well digested by others. Avoiding a rehearsal of expert observations, much less a rote re-treading of key insights, I wish to focalize the present investigation by asking how, in particular, a single book—Sartor Resartus—affected Emerson’s conception of what might be possible for him to think about literary, religious, and philosophical expression in terms of humor, satire, genre, and translation (specifically cultural translation); thus, I am asking about the interaction between form and content, and specifically how the form and content of Sartor Resartus makes itself known and available to Emerson. Borrowing from George Eliot, the foregoing notes resolve themselves into the query that guides the present investigation: how was reading Sartor Resartus an “epoch in the history of” Emerson’s mind? Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle Auguste Comte and Consensus Formation in American Religious Thought—Part 1: The Creation of Consensus
Religions 2017, 8(8), 147; doi:10.3390/rel8080147
Received: 19 June 2017 / Revised: 31 July 2017 / Accepted: 4 August 2017 / Published: 10 August 2017
PDF Full-text (271 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
French intellectual Auguste Comte was the most influential sociologist and philosopher of science in the Nineteenth Century. This first of two articles summarizes his complex life’s works and details reactions to them by Transcendentalists and Unitarians, from its American introduction in 1837 until
[...] Read more.
French intellectual Auguste Comte was the most influential sociologist and philosopher of science in the Nineteenth Century. This first of two articles summarizes his complex life’s works and details reactions to them by Transcendentalists and Unitarians, from its American introduction in 1837 until just after the Civil War. Using public speeches and published essays, the article analyzes the ways in which intellectuals supported and criticized Comte’s theories. Because he wrote in such abstract and difficult French, criticisms centered not on the nuances of his work, but more superficially on his alleged atheism. These attacks occur because of a variety of consequences of the Civil War that had little to do directly with Comte’s philosophy. Instead, Comte was a convenient vehicle for expressing anxiety over a modernism that included an accelerated threat against religion posed by technology and science and the emerging dominance of that secular knowledge in universities. The second article will analyze Comte’s influence on later Transcendentalists and other post-Unitarian thinkers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle A Transcendentalist Nature Religion
Religions 2017, 8(8), 130; doi:10.3390/rel8080130
Received: 28 June 2017 / Revised: 17 July 2017 / Accepted: 20 July 2017 / Published: 26 July 2017
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Abstract
Scholars of religion have often pointed to the Transcendentalists as progenitors of a distinct tradition of nature religion in the United States. Nevertheless, this work has not fully dealt with the problematic qualities of “nature” in light of growing concerns about the ethical
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Scholars of religion have often pointed to the Transcendentalists as progenitors of a distinct tradition of nature religion in the United States. Nevertheless, this work has not fully dealt with the problematic qualities of “nature” in light of growing concerns about the ethical and socio-political implications of human powers in the Anthropocene. This paper presents a brief overview of “nature religion” while focusing on the often uneasy way that Ralph Waldo Emerson is treated in this work. By looking at how Emerson is viewed as a stepping stone to Henry David Thoreau, I argue that it is precisely what the tradition of nature religion finds problematic in Emerson—his strains of recurrent idealism—that allows him to have a more expansive notion of nature as the environments in which we live, while preserving the importance of human moral agency. What follows, then, is a more nuanced position in environmental ethics that is informed by an Emersonian sense of the irreducible tension between being created and being a creator. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)
Open AccessArticle That Which Was Ecstasy Shall Become Daily Bread
Religions 2017, 8(4), 75; doi:10.3390/rel8040075
Received: 26 January 2017 / Revised: 31 March 2017 / Accepted: 12 April 2017 / Published: 24 April 2017
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Abstract
This paper attempts to answer three questions: (1) Was Emerson a mystic? (2) If so, what is the nature of his mysticism? (3) How has his understanding of mysticism influenced by Unitarian theology and spiritual practice? In doing so, it draws upon historical
[...] Read more.
This paper attempts to answer three questions: (1) Was Emerson a mystic? (2) If so, what is the nature of his mysticism? (3) How has his understanding of mysticism influenced by Unitarian theology and spiritual practice? In doing so, it draws upon historical and contemporary studies of mysticism and mystical experience, including those of William James, Leigh Eric Schmidt, and Bernard McGinn among others; the writings of Emerson, including his essays, lectures, and journals, and, finally, the testimonies of his contemporaries and succeeding generations of Unitarian religious leaders. Answering the first question in the affirmative, the paper examines Emerson’s understanding of mysticism as a departure from a devotional form of mysticism focused on relationship with a personalized deity and toward a naturalistic, transpersonal type of mysticism, and traces its influence within the context of Unitarian history. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience)

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