Emerson, Ralph Waldo
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Time Period
5/25/1803  - 4/27/1882
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism was a variation of European Romanticism and a response to both Unitarianism and declining Calvinism. Initially, he was a young Unitarian minister for three years until he became disenchanted with the "cold" and "unenthusiastic" mindset of Unitarianism. Likewise, he found Calvinism too exclusivist and overly focused on abstract doctrines like original sin. Inspired by the powerful language of Romanticism, he espoused embracing the Spirit without the rigidity of law beginning with his sermon, "[Harvard] Divinity School Address" in 1836. Rejecting Christ’s miracles and the "myths" of Christianity, he believed that life was a miracle and that God dwelled in all things. This way of thinking made Emerson an important figure in Transcendentalist thought.

Emerson’s work influenced both churched and unchurched Americans, including poet Walt Whitman, clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, and prominent businessman John D. Rockefeller, who embraced Emerson’s call for self-reliance.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson portrait- Internet Archive- from Ralph Waldo Emmerson, John Lothrop Motley, Two Memoirs by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ralph Waldo Emerson reading- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Ralph Waldo Emerson study- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-92337

Wife and son of Ralph Waldo Emerson- Internet Archive- from Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson statue- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-132129
Book/Journal Source(s)
Reid, Daniel, Robert Linder, Bruce Shelley, and Harry Stout, 1990. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL.
Web Page Contributor
Benjamin T. Gurrentz
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in Sociology

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