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The term transcendentalism (also American transcendentalism ) denotes one in the middle of the 19th century under the influence of Kant , Schelling and Coleridge in the United States by intellectuals around Ralph Waldo Emerson , George Ripley , Amos Bronson Alcott , Theodore Parker , Henry David Thoreau , Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Margaret Fuller founded the new idealist movement. Transcendentalism developed above all in the context of the movement of North American Unitarianism based on anti-trinitarianism and Christian rationalism , which it in turn was to strongly shape. The outsiders Transcendental Club called discussion group met initially at Emerson in Concord ( Massachusetts ), and later with Peabody in Boston .


American transcendentalism united - on the basis of the transcendental philosophy of German idealism - influences of English romanticism, mystical ideas and Indian philosophies. With his optimistic worldview he turned against dogmatic religions as well as against materialistic and overly rationalistic thinking. The transcendentalists advocated a free, self-reliant and nature-oriented lifestyle. They provided essential impulses for the liberation of slaves ( abolitionism ), the emergence of the women's movement and the nature conservation movement .

Transcendentalism had a formative influence on the development of an independent American national literature. Its main representatives were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau. Transcendentalism also had a significant impact on American Renaissance writers such as Walt Whitman , Emily Dickinson , Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville .

The designation as transcendentalists was initially used as a rather loose label for a heterogeneous and sometimes quite cosmopolitan group of writers and intellectuals, whose commonality consisted primarily in the fact that they saw themselves as a counter-movement to the prevailing religious, philosophical, political and literary views of their time . Mostly connected in different ways to the nearby Harvard College , which, with its 200-year history, was considered the center of awareness of tradition, the transcendentalists formed an intellectual and literary counterculture to the leading cultural class in Boston, including the Fireside Poets . Instead of looking back on nostalgia, they rely on criticism and change; the promise of a new historical beginning, which shaped the self-image of the young nation, had yet to be redeemed from their point of view.

In their attempt to transcend existing boundaries or conventions in thinking, they were primarily concerned with developing alternative ways of thinking, writing and living. In a mixture of euphoric optimism and indeterminacy in content, the new itself became the essential content and value of American Newness , which was to be explored and realized as a space of unlimited possibilities.

The apparently esoteric group of transcendentalists thus became one of the most powerful currents in American intellectual and cultural history, which significantly influenced the intellectual and literary self-interpretation of the United States in a field of tension between mainstream culture and counter culture well beyond the 19th century.

Important works of American transcendentalism

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: The American Scholar (1837), Nature (1836)
  • Margaret Fuller: Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1844) 
  • Henry David Thoreau: Walden (1854) - German Walden
  • Henry David Thoreau: From the diaries (1837–1861)  - German-language excerpts from the diaries, 1996


  • Dennis Sölch, Laura Wackers (ed.): The American Transcendentalism. An anthology . Peter Lang, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-631-72968-7 .
  • Anne C. Rose: Transcendentalism as a Social Movement, 1830-1850 . Yale University Press, New Haven 1986, ISBN 978-0-300-03757-9 .
  • Hubert Zapf (ed.): American literary history . JB Metzler, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-476-01203-4 , pp. 98-110.
  • Dieter Schulz: American transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1997, ISBN 3-534-09407-7 .
  • Dieter Schulz: Emerson and Thoreau or Steps Beyond Ourselves. Studies in Transcendentalism . Mattes, Heidelberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-86809-057-4 .
  • Barbara L. Packer: The Transcendentalists . The University of Georgia Press, Athens (Georgia) 2007, ISBN 978-0-8203-2958-1 .
  • Philip F. Gura: American Transcendentalism: A History . Hill and Wang, New York 2007, ISBN 0-8090-3477-8 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Brockhaus Encyclopedia. FA Brockhaus, Mannheim 1993, vol. 22, p. 327.
  2. Cf. Hubert Zapf : literary counterculture as an intellectual center: the transcendentalists . In: Hubert Zapf (ed.): American literary history . J. B. Metzler, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-476-01203-4 , pp. 98-110, here pp. 98f.