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What Is the Connection between Romanticism and Transcendentalism?

By Bobby R. Goldsmith
Updated May 23, 2024
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The connection between romanticism and transcendentalism exists in the confluence of several elements. Both movements were a philosophical and artistic response to the reason-based Enlightenment ideals that preceded each. Where the Enlightenment focused on intellectual, concrete meditations on the human condition, both romanticism and transcendentalism formed an epistemological framework devoted to the pursuit of emotional and spiritual exploration. Both movements focus on the state of the human condition, treating the emotional and spiritual not as obstacles to be overcome, but as fundamental traits of humanity that should be embraced. romanticism and transcendentalism influenced the philosophic schools of existentialism, post-modernism, and post-structuralism that flourished in the post-WWII era.

The Enlightenment, fascinated with logical and empirical progress, created a strong back-lash by those who sought a more instinctual, spiritual, and ephemeral methodology for intellectual endeavors. It is important to understand the movement that directly proceeded romanticism to establish the link between romanticism and transcendentalism. Both schools created an aesthetic model focused on imagery based on natural elements and processes in contrast to the Enlightenment's art and literature, which focused on human achievement in a cold, tactical way. romanticism and transcendentalism were, essentially, intellectual protest movements.

Romanticism focused on the exaltation of the natural order to separate aesthetic ideals from the force of human civilization. One of the primary concerns for romantic expressionists was the idea that social forces are not the distillation of a human ideal but a corruption of it. A babbling brook, a rolling meadow, and a sunset lazily descending into the horizon behind a shimmering lake are all examples of uncorrupted inspiration, engendering awe in the human soul.

Transcendentalism took a slightly modified path in comparison to romanticism. While the Romantic Movement produced a large number of poets and artists, transcendentalism produced a similarly large number of epistemological theorists, notably Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The foundation of transcendentalism is the idea that emotion, awe, and spirituality can transcend the constraints of logic and empiricism within the human consciousness.

In this way, transcendentalism transcends romanticism, creating of a clear hierarchy of human experience that Romantics do not explicitly articulate. transcendentalism emphasizes the ascent of consciousness beyond a base, rational understanding to a more pure understanding. Romanticism, on the other hand, takes the natural world for what it is — not something to aspire to but something to appreciate as it already is.

Both romanticism and transcendentalism inspired later movements, with existentialist scholars especially focused on exploring the emotional and spiritual state of human consciousness. Existentialism, though, differs in that existential scholars possessed a resigned, detached view of the human condition compared with romantics and transcendentalists. All three movements used the foundation of emotion and inspiration to reach greatly differing conclusions.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Feb 11, 2015

@ZipLine-- Yes, but if we describe these two movements this way without giving information about the time and the other movements, I think we will get the wrong idea about them.

This time in history marked the popularity of strict religious laws and rulings where tradition and doctrine was considered very important. Romanticism and transcendentalism weren't just movements against empirical logic movements, but also against religious dogma that did not allow people to consider and discover spiritual realities on their own.

So these two movements, even if they were slightly different, aimed to encourage people to find truths about existence, religion and God through their intuitions and inspirations. In this sense, both were very empowering movements that challenged the common ideas about religion at the time.

By ZipLine — On Feb 10, 2015

@serenesurface-- They are indeed very similar, drawing from the same origin and sharing many common ideas. I'm definitely not an expert on this topic and I hope that an expert will reply to you and explain more accurately. As far as I know, the major difference between these two appears to be the importance of religion, spirituality and God in transcendentalism that isn't really emphasized in romanticism.

Transcendentalists put strong emphasis on God and religion and the need to follow these in order to achieve self-realization and wisdom.

If I'm wrong, please correct me.

By serenesurface — On Feb 10, 2015

So is there any concrete difference between romanticism and transcendentalism?

I understand that both of these developed as a response to Enlightenment and both were interested in human emotions, instincts, awe. But I don't see really how they differed from one another. They sound very similar to me, practically the same.

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