Transcendentalism Representative Authors

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Writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson was born May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. Emerson is widely regarded as a key figure in transcendentalist thought and literature. After graduating from Harvard University in 1821, Emerson served as the pastor of the historic Old North Church (Second Unitarian) in Boston, but left after only three and one-half years. In an introduction to Emerson's essays, literary critic Edward Ericson sums up Emerson's philosophy of religion: "His Transcendentalist philosophy was a religion of the spiritually emancipated mind and heart, unbounded by church or party." Emerson came to believe that human beings had inherent wisdom in their souls and that worship should not be constrained to church or religious convention. His religious ideas were also deeply rooted in American democracy.

After leaving his appointment as a pastor, Emerson traveled widely in Europe. He was influenced by European philosophy, particularly the writings...

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