E-Mail Alert

Add your e-mail address to receive forthcoming issues of this journal:

Journal Browser

Journal Browser

Special Issue "Transcendentalism and the Religious Experience"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Historical Studies of Religions".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 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
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


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a 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). English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.



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

Published Papers

No papers have been published in this special issue yet, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: That Which Was Ecstasy Shall Become Daily Bread
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 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 and Leigh Eric Schmidt, 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. The paper will also describe the spiritual practice Emerson followed in an effort to make his ecstasies continuous.

Title: Transcendental Trinitarian: James Marsh, the Free Will Problem, and the Formulation of an American Romantic Christianity
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 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 that James Marsh engaged—including Unitarianism, Trinitarinism, Kant, Coleridge, Scottish Common Sense, and Cambridge Platonism—this article shows how James Marsh laid the groundwork for a new form of Romantic Christianity that was distinct from the Concord Transcendentalists, but nonetheless part of its historical lineage.
Keywords: James Marsh, Transcendental[*], Romantic, Christianity, American Religion, Free Will, Coleridge, Trinitarian, Unitarian, Scottish Common Sense, Kant


Journal Contact

Religions Editorial Office
St. Alban-Anlage 66, 4052 Basel, Switzerland
Tel. +41 61 683 77 34
Fax: +41 61 302 89 18
Editorial Board
Contact Details Submit to Special Issue Edit a special issue Review for Religions
Back to Top