Transcendentalism (often called American Transcendentalism) is a philosophical movement centred in the New England region of the United States during the mid-19th Century, grounded in the claim that divine truth could be known intuitively. Its ideas were applied to literature, religion and culture in general, as well as philosophy. It is unconnected with Transcendentalism in classical philosophy, which is the idea that God transcends the manifest world and surpasses physical existence.
American Transcendentalism began as a protest against the general state of American culture and society at the time, and in particular the state of intellectualism at Harvard University and the doctrines of the influential Unitarian Church. To some extent, it can also be seen as a nationalistic movement in the wake of American independence from Britain, and it is sometime referred to as the American Renaissance.
It built on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the German Idealists and the Romanticists, as well as on ancient Indian Vedic thought. At its core is the belief in an ideal spiritual state that "transcends" the physical and empirical, and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. It specifically rejected the British Empiricism of the Age of Reason.
Prominent Transcendentalists include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller (1810 - 1850), Bronson Alcott (1799 - 1888), Orestes Brownson (1803 - 1876), William Ellery Channing (1818 - 1901), Frederick Henry Hedge (1805 - 1890), Theodore Parker (1810 - 1860), George Palmer Putnam (1814 - 1872), Elizabeth Peabody (1804 - 1894) and Sophia Peabody (1809 - 1871). For some of these, Transcendentalism was a purely individual and (likely unattainable) idealist project, while for some it was a way towards utopian social change or Socialism.
Transcendentalism first became a major movement in 1836 with the publication of Emerson's essay "Nature" and the founding of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts by prominent New England intellectuals including Emerson, Putnam and Hedge. The American Transcendentalists were largely unacquainted with the German philosophy in the original, relying primarily on the writings of English and French commentators like Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834), Victor Cousin (1792 - 1867) and Germaine de StaŽl (1766 - 1817) for their knowledge of it. The mystical spiritualism of the 18th Century Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 -1772) was another major influence.