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Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803–1882)

Subject Religion

People Emerson, Ralph Waldo

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


North American thinker and poet. A Unitarian minister, he resigned from his Boston church in 1832 because of his unorthodox theological views and devoted his life to writing and lecturing. In 1833 he met S.T. Coleridge and W. Wordsworth and became a close friend of Thomas Carlyle; other influences include E. Swedenborg and, through Coleridge, I. Kant and the German romantics. He was a major figure in the development of modern American literature; his works include Nature (1838), two series of Essays (1841 and 1844) and Representative Man (1850). His teaching, although unsystematic, combined rationalism and mysticism and had popular appeal. He was a transcendentalist (although he did not use the term) in holding that ‘the highest revelation of God is in every man’; to imitate Christ is to share ‘a faith like Christ's in the infinitude of man’. Redemption is not dependent on the events of traditional historical Christianity; rather each human carries within himself the capacity for his own redemption. His was an essentially optimistic doctrine of self-reliance, stressing ethical religion and calling for a break with cultural and religious tradition: ‘Imitation is suicide.’ 1981 : Waldo Emerson: A Biography . 1934: R.W. Emerson: Representative Selections . New York . 1971 : Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of R.W. Emerson . Philadelphia . ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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