Transcendentalism refers to a spiritual philosophy that transcends the realm of rationality and the material world. It sees ‘Transcendentalists’, people who follow transcendentalism, being of the belief that; the human soul and spirit ‘transcends’ physical reality (hence the name, ‘TRANSCENDentalism’)…
‘People have knowledge about themselves and the world around them that goes beyond what they can see, hear, taste, touch or feel.’
Perceiving all humans to be fundamentally good, but corrupted by society, transcendentalists emphasise our need to strive for individualism over conformity.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), leading figure in the Transcendentalist movement, reminded everyone that life is wasted pursuing wealth and following social customs, this being in direct antithesis to the materialistic life and all of its emphasis on acquisitions (i.e., capitalism)…
‘That government is best which governs least.’
Nature can show that ‘all good things are wild and free.’
Now, as religion, like politics, is very much centered on conformity, most transcendentalists, much like anarchists, are against organised religion (not to be confused with spirituality*).
*Although spirituality and religion often get thrown around together, as though they’re ‘one and the same’, they are, in fact, polar opposites. Whilst it’s true that both are centered on having a sense of connection to something greater than oneself, the difference lies in what that ‘something’ is…
Whereas in religion ‘something greater’ is an external entity, something, or rather someone, who tells us how to live our lives, centered on control whereby ‘he’, a judgemental, ‘all seeing’ figurehead is God, in spirituality, ‘something greater’ is internal– our inner consciousness- ‘I‘ am God.
More on the differences between spirituality and religion HERE.
Now, at first glance, transcendentalism could be deemed to have largely ‘faded out’ today- very few people are referring to themselves as ‘transcendentalists’ these days- upon closer inspection, one realises that its influence can still be seen across much of todays society…
With close parallels to socialism and anarchism, both of which, like transcendentalism, are anti-capitalist and pro individual freedom (and going nowhere, thankfully), transcendentalism is an ever present force, an arguably complicated term for a really simple concept that we are still using today-