In Literature, Transcendentalism was considered as philosophical and literary movement that flourished in New England from about 1836 to 1860. It derived some of its basic idealistic concepts from romantic German philosophy, notably which of Immanuel Kant and from such English authors as Carlyle, Coleridge and Wordsworth. The beliefs that God is immanent in each person and in nature and that individual intuition is the highest source of knowledge led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and rejection of traditional authority.
: During the early to middle years of the nineteenth century, American transcendentalism was an important movement in philosophy and literature. It has begun as a reform movement in the Unitarian church, extending the views of William Ellery Canning on an indwelling God and the significance of spontaneous thought. It originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the Unitarian Church, developing instead their own faith centering on the divinity of humanity and the natural world. It was based on “a monism holding to the unity of the world and God, and the immanence of God in the world. The soul of each individual is identical with the soul of the world and contains what the world contains for the transcendentalists.
Transcendentalism is an American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century, centered on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Other important transcendentalists were Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Amos Bronson Alcott, Frederic Henry Hedge, and Theodore Parker. Stimulated by English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume, the transcendentalists operated with the sense that a new era was at hand. They were critics of their contemporary society for its unthinking conformity, and urged that each person find, in Emerson’s words, “an original relation to the universe” (O, 3). Emerson and Thoreau sought this relation in solitude amidst nature, and in their writing. By the 1840s they, along with other transcendentalists, were engaged in the social experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitland’s, and Walden; and, by the 1850s in an increasingly urgent critique of American slavery.
1. Origins and Character
New England Congregationalists believed in the importance and efficacy of human striving, as opposed to the bleaker Puritan picture of complete and inescapable human depravity; and they emphasized the unity rather than the “Trinity” of God. Most of the Unitarians held that Jesus was in some way inferior to God the Father but still greater than human beings; a few followed the English Unitarian Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) in holding that Jesus was thoroughly human, although endowed with special authority. The Unitarians’ leading preacher, William Ellery Channing (1780–1842), portrayed orthodox Congregationalism as a religion of fear, and maintained that Jesus saved human beings from sin, not just from punishment. The Unitarians were “modern.” They attempted to reconcile Locke’s empiricism with Christianity by maintaining that the accounts of miracles in the Bible provide overwhelming evidence for the truth of religion. It was precisely on this ground, however, that the transcendentalists found fault with Unitarianism. For although they admired Channing’s idea that human beings can become more like God, they were persuaded by Hume that no empirical proof of religion could be satisfactory
An important source for the transcendentalists’ knowledge of German philosophy was Frederic Henry Hedge. Hedge wrote a long review of the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the in 1833. Noting Coleridge’s fondness for “German metaphysics” and his immense gifts of erudition and expression, he laments that Coleridge had not made Kant and the post-Kantians more accessible to an English-speaking audience. Hedge organized what eventually became known as the Transcendental Club, by suggesting to Emerson in 1836 that they form a discussion group for disaffected young Unitarian clergy. The group included George Ripley and Bronson Alcott, had some 30 meetings in four years, and was a sponsor of and Brook Farm. Hedge was a vocal opponent of slavery in the 1830′s and a champion of women’s rights in the 1850′s, but he remained a Unitarian minister, and became a professor at theHarvardDivinitySchool.
German philosophy and literature were also championed by Thomas Carlyle, whom Emerson met on his first trip toEuropein 1831. Along with his countrymen Coleridge and Wordsworth, Carlyle embraced a “natural supernaturalism,” the view that nature, including human beings, has the power and authority traditionally attributed to an independent deity.
An earlier transcendentalist scandal surrounded the publication of Amos Bronson Alcott’s (1836). Alcott replaced the hard benches of the common schools with more comfortable furniture that he built himself, and left a central space in his classrooms for dancing.
2. High Tide: , Fuller, Thoreau
The transcendentalists had several publishing outlets: at first , then, after the furor over the “Divinity School Address,” (1835–41) in St Louis, then the (1838–44). (1840–4) was a special case, for it was planned and instituted by the members of the Transcendental Club, with Margaret Fuller (1810–50) as the first editor. After Emerson became editor in 1842 published a series of “Ethnical Scriptures,” translations from Chinese and Indian philosophical works.
Margaret Fuller was the daughter of a Massachusettscongressman who provided tutors for her in Latin, Greek, chemistry, philosophy and, later, German. Exercising what Barbara Packer calls “her peculiar powers of intrusion and caress”, Fuller became friends with many of the transcendentalists, including Emerson. She organized a series of popular “conversations” for women in Bostonin the winters of 1839–44, journeyed to the Midwestin the summer of 1843, and published her observations as . After this publishing success, Horace Greeley, a friend of Emerson’s and the editor of the , invited her to New York to write for the . (1845), a revision of her “Great Lawsuit” manifesto in , is Fuller’s major philosophical work. She holds that masculinity and femininity pass into one another, that there is “no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman” (T, 418). Women are treated as dependents, however, and their self-reliant impulses are often held against them.
Henry Thoreau studied Latin, Greek, Italian, French, German, and Spanish at Harvard, where he heard Emerson’s “The American Scholar” as the commencement address in 1837. He wrote a first draft of , which eventually appeared in 1854.
Nature comes to even more prominence in than in Emerson’s , which it followed by eighteen years. Nature now becomes particular: this tree, this bird, this state of the pond on a summer evening or winter morning becomes Thoreau’s subjects. Thoreau is receptive. He finds himself “suddenly neighbor to” rather than a hunter of birds (W, 85); and he learns to dwell in a house that is no more and no less than a place where he can properly sit. From the right perspective, Thoreau finds, he can possess and use a farm with more satisfaction than the farmer, who is preoccupied with feeding his family and expanding his operations.
3. Social and Political Critiques
The transcendentalists operated from the start with the sense that the society around them was seriously deficient: a “mass” of “bugs or spawn” as Emerson put it in “The American Scholar”; slave drivers of themselves, as Thoreau say in. As the nineteenth century came to its mid-point, the transcendentalists’ dissatisfaction with their society became focused on policies and actions of theUnited States government: the treatment of the Native Americans, the war withMexico, and, above all, the continuing and expanding practice of slavery.
They were one of the more assimilated tribes, who owned property, drove carriages, used plows and spinning wheels, and even owned slaves. Wealthy Cherokees sent their children to elite academies or seminaries. The Cherokee chief refused to sign a removal agreement with the government of Andrew Jackson, but the government found a minority faction to agree to removal of the tribe to territories west of theMississippi.
Slavery had existed in theUnited Statesfrom the beginnings of the country, but when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed by the United States Congress in 1850, it had dramatic and visible effects not only inGeorgiaorMississippibut inMassachusettsandNew York. For the law required all citizens of the country to assist in returning fugitive slaves to their owners. This extension of the slave-system to the north, the subject of Thoreau’s “Slavery in Massachusetts” (1854), was on public view when an escaped slave named Anthony Burns was captured in Boston, tried by a The distinction between morality and law is also the basis for Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849). The government, Thoreau argues, is but an expedient by which we succeed “in letting one another alone” (R, 64). The citizen has no duty to resign his conscience to the state, and may even have a duty to oppose immoral legislation such as that which supports slavery and the Mexican War.
Transcendentalism as a movement is rooted in the American past: To Puritanism it owed its pervasive morality and the “doctrine of divine light.” It is also similar to the Quaker “inner light.” However, both these concepts assume acts of God, whereas intuition is an act of an individual. In Unitarianism, deity was reduced to a kind of immanent principle in every person – an individual was the true source of moral light. To Romanticism it owed the concept of nature as a living mystery and not a clockwork universe which is fixed and permanent.
. Essentially, Transcendentalism is a form of idealism.
. The transcendentalist “transcends” or rises above the lower animalistic impulses of life (animal drives) and moves from the rational to a spiritual realm.
More important than a concern about the afterlife, should be a concern for this life – “the one thing in the world of value is the active soul.” – Emerson
. “Miracle is monster.” The miracles of the Bible are not to be regarded as important as they were to the people of the past. Miracles are all about us – the whole world is a miracle and the smallest creature is one. “A mouse is a miracle enough to stagger quintillions of infidels.” – Whitman
. Evil is a negative – merely an absence of good. Light is more powerful than darkness because one ray of light penetrates the dark. In other words, there is no belief in the existence of Satan as an active entity forcing humans to commit immorality. Humans are good and if they do immoral acts they do so out of ignorance and by not thinking.
. The human soul is part of the Oversoul or universal spirit (or “float” for Whitman) to which it and other souls return at death.
. It is foolish to worry about consistency, because what an intelligent person believes tomorrow, if he/she trusts oneself, tomorrow may be completely different from what that person thinks and believes today. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Emerson
. Jesus also had part of God in himself – he was divine as everyone is divine – except in that he lived an exemplary and transcendental life and made the best use of that Power which is within each one.
The transcendentalists see the necessity of examples of great leaders, writers, philosophers, and others, to show what an individual can become through thinking and action.
Therefore, every individual is to be respected because everyone has a portion of that Oversoul (God).
This Oversoul or Life Force or God can be found everywhere – travel to holy places is, therefore, not necessary.
Power is to be obtained by defying fate or predestination, which seem to work against humans, by exercising one’s own spiritual and moral strength. It emphasizes on self-reliance.
Hence, the emphasis is placed on a human thinking.
God can be found in both nature and human nature (Nature, Emerson stated, has spiritual manifestations).
Power is to be obtained by defying fate or predestination, which seem to work against humans, by exercising one’s own spiritual and moral strength. It emphasizes on self-reliance.
Death is never to be feared, for at death the soul merely passes to the Over soul.
Emphasis should be placed on the here and now. “Give me one world at a time.” – Thoreau
Reform must not be emphasized – true reform comes from within.
One must have faith in intuition, for no church or creed can communicate truth.
The unity of life and universe must be realized. There is a relationship between all things.
THE EMERGENCE OF the Transcendentalists as an identifiable movement took place during the late 1820s and 1830s, but the roots of their religious philosophy extended much farther back into American religious history. Transcendentalism and evangelical Protestantism followed separate evolutionary branches from American Puritanism, taking as their common ancestor the Calvinism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Transcendentalism cannot be properly understood outside the context of Unitarianism, the dominant religion inBoston during the early nineteenth century. Unitarianism had developed during the late eighteenth century as a branch of the liberal wing of Christianity, which had separated from Orthodox Christianity during the First Great Awakening of the 1740s. That Awakening, along with its successor, revolved around the questions of divine election and original sin, and saw a brief period of revivalism. The Liberals tended to reject both the persistent Orthodox belief in inherent depravity and the emotionalism of the revivalists; on one side stood dogma, on the other stood pernicious “enthusiasm.” The Liberals, in a kind of amalgamation of Enlightenment principles with American Christianity, began to stress the value of intellectual reason as the path to divine wisdom. The Unitarians descended as theBoston contingent of this tradition, while making their own unique theological contribution in rejecting the doctrine of divine trinity.
Unitarians placed a premium on stability, harmony, rational thought, progressive morality, classical learning, and other hallmarks of Enlightenment Christianity. Instead of the dogma of Calvinism intended to compel obedience, the Unitarians offered a philosophy stressing the importance of voluntary ethical conduct and the ability of the intellect to discern what constituted ethical conduct. Theirs was a “natural theology” in which the individual could, through empirical investigation or the exercise of reason, discover the ordered and benevolent nature of the universe and of God’s laws. Divine “revelation,” which took its highest form in the Bible, was an external event or process that would confirm the findings of reason. William Ellery Chaining, in his landmark sermon “Unitarian Christianity” (1819) sounded the characteristic theme of optimistic rationality:
Our leading principle in interpreting Scripture is this, that the Bible is a book written for men, in the language of men, and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books…. With these views of the Bible, we feel it our bounden duty to exercise our reason upon it perpetually, to compare, to infer, to look beyond the letter to the spirit, to seek in the nature of the subject, and the aim of the writer, his true meaning; and, in general, to make use of what is known, for explaining what is difficult, and for discovering new truths.
The intellectual marrow of Unitarianism had its counterbalance in a strain of sentimentalism: while the rational mind could light the way, the emotions provided the drive to translate ethical knowledge into ethical conduct. Still, the Unitarians deplored the kind of excessive emotionalism that took place at revivals, regarding it as a temporary burst of religious feeling that would soon dissipate. Since they conceived of revelation as an external favor granted by God to assure the mind of its spiritual progress, they doubted that inner “revelation” without prior conscious effort really represented a spiritual transformation.
Nonetheless, even inNew England Evangelical Protestants were making many converts through their revivalist activities, especially in the 1820s and 1830s. The accelerating diversification ofBoston increased the number of denominations that could compete for the loyalties of the population, even as urbanization and industrialization pushed many Bostonians in a secular direction. In an effort to become more relevant, and to instill their values of sobriety and order in a modernizing city, the Unitarians themselves adopted certain evangelical techniques. Through founding and participating in missionary and benevolent societies, they sought both to spread the Unitarian message and to bind people together in an increasingly fragmented social climate. Ezra Stiles Gannett, for example, a minister at theFederalStreetChurch, supplemented his regular pastoral duties with membership in the Colonization, Peace and Temperance societies, while Henry Ware Jr. helped found the Boston Philanthropic Society. The liberalism Unitarians displayed in their embrace of Enlightenment philosophy was stabilized by a solid conservatism they retained in matters of social conduct and status.
During the first decade of the nineteenth century, Unitarians effectively captured Harvard with the election of Rev. Henry Ware Sr. as Hollis Professor of Divinity in 1805 and of Rev. John Thornton Kirkland as President in 1810. It was at Harvard that most of the younger generation of Transcendentalists received their education, and it was here that their rebellion against Unitarianism began. It would be misleading, however, to say that Transcendentalism entailed a rejection of Unitarianism; rather, it evolved almost as an organic consequence of its parent religion. By opening the door wide to the exercise of the intellect and free conscience, and encouraging the individual in his quest for divine meaning, Unitarians had unwittingly sowed the seeds of the Transcendentalist “revolt.”
The Transcendentalists felt that something was lacking in Unitarianism. Sobriety, mildness and calm rationalism failed to satisfy that side of the Transcendentalists which yearned for a more intense spiritual experience. The source of the discontent that prompted Emerson to renounce the “corpse-cold Unitarianism of Brattle Street andHarvardCollege” is suggested by the bland job description that Harvard issued for the new Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Polity.
. Perry Miller has argued persuasively that the Transcendentalists still retained in their characters certain vestiges of New England Puritanism, and that in their reaction against the “pale negations” of Unitarianism, they tapped into the grittier pietistic side of Calvinism in whichNew England culture had been steeped. The Calvinists, after all, conceived of their religion in part as man’s quest to discover his place in the divine scheme and the possibility of spiritual regeneration, and though their view of humanity was pessimistic to a high degree, their pietism could give rise to such early, heretical expressions of inner spirituality as those of the Quakers and Anne Hutchinson. Miller saw that the Unitarians acted as crucial intermediaries between the Calvinists and the Transcendentalists by abandoning the notion of original sin and human imperfectability:
The ecstasy and the vision which Calvinists knew only in the moment of vocation, the passing of which left them agonizingly aware of depravity and sin, could become the permanent joy of those who had put aside the conception of depravity, and the moments between could be filled no longer with self-accusation but with praise and wonder.
For the Transcendentalists, then, the critical realization, or conviction, was that finding God depended on neither orthodox creedless nor the Unitarians’ sensible exercise of virtue, but on one’s inner striving toward spiritual communion with the divine spirit. From this wellspring of belief would flow all the rest of their religious philosophy.
Transcendentalism was not a purely native movement, however. The Transcendentalists received inspiration from overseas in the form of English and German romanticism, particularly the literature of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Goethe, and in the post-Kantian idealism of Thomas Carlyle and Victor Cousin. Under the influence of these writers, the Transcendentalists developed their ideas of human “Reason,” or what we today would call intuition. For the Transcendentalists, as for the Romantics, subjective intuition was at least as reliable a source of truth as empirical investigation, which underlay both deism and the natural theology of the Unitarians. Kant had written skeptically of the ability of scientific methods to discover the true nature of the universe; now the rebels atHarvardCollege would turn the ammunition against their elders. In an 1833 article in The Christian Examiner entitled simply “Coleridge,” Frederic Henry Hedge, once professor of logic at Harvard and now minister inWest Cambridge, explained and defended the Romantic/Kantian philosophy, positing a correspondence between internal human reality and external spiritual reality.
The method [of Kantian philosophy] is synthetically, proceeding from a given point, the lowest that can be found in our consciousness, and deducing from that point ‘the whole world of intelligences, with the whole system of their representations’ …. The last step in the process, the keystone of the fabric, is the deduction of time, space, and variety, or, in other words, the establishing of a coincidence between the facts of ordinary experience and those which we have discovered within ourselves.
Although written in a highly intellectual style, as many of the Transcendentalist tracts were, Hedge’s argument was typical of the movement’s philosophical emphasis on non-rational, intuitive feeling. The role of the Continental Romantics in this regard was to provide the sort of intellectual validation we may suppose a fledgling movement of comparative youngsters would want in their rebellion against the Harvard establishment.
. For Transcendentalism was entering theological realms which struck the elder generation of Unitarians as heretical apostasy or, at the very least, as ingratitude. The immediate controversy surrounded the question of miracles, or whether God communicated his existence to humanity through miracles as performed by Jesus Christ. The Transcendentalists thought, and declared, that this position alienated humanity from divinity. Emerson leveled the charge forcefully in his scandalous Divinity School Address (1838), asserting that “the word Miracle, as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”(6) The same year, in a bold critique of Harvard professor Andrews Norton’s magnum opus , Orestes Brownson identified what he regarded as the odious implications of the Unitarian position: “there is no revelation made from God to the human soul; we can know nothing of religion but what is taught us from abroad, by an individual raised up and specially endowed with wisdom from on high to be our instructor.” For Brownson and the other Transcendentalists, God displayed his presence in every aspect of the natural world, not just at isolated times. In a sharp rhetorical move, Brownson proceeded to identify the spirituality of the Transcendentalists with liberty and democracy:
. To Norton, such a rejection of the existence of divine miracles, and the assertion of an intuitive communion with God, amounted to a rejection of Christianity itself. In his reply to the Transcendentalists, “A Discourse on the Latest Form of Infidelity,” Norton wrote that their position “strikes at root of faith in Christianity,” and he reiterated the “orthodox” Unitarian belief that inner revelation was inherently unreliable and a potential lure away from the truths of religion.
The religion, of which they speak, therefore, exists merely, if it exists at all, in undefined and unintelligible feelings, having reference perhaps to certain imaginations, the result of impressions communicated in childhood, or produced by the visible signs of religious belief existing around us, or awakened by the beautiful and magnificent spectacles which nature presents.
Despite its dismissive intent and tone, Norton’s blast against Transcendentalism is an excellent recapitulation of their religious philosophy. The crucial difference consisted in the respect accorded to “undefined and unintelligible feelings.”
The miracles controversy revealed how far removed the Harvard rebels had grown from their theological upbringing. It opened a window onto the fundamental dispute between the Transcendentalists and the Unitarians, which centered on the relationship between God, nature and humanity. The heresy of the Transcendentalists was to countenance mysticism and pantheism, or the beliefs in the potential of the human mind to commune with God and in a God who is present in all of nature, rather than unequivocally distinct from it. Nevertheless, the Transcendentalists continued to think of themselves as Christians and to articulate their philosophy within a Christian theological framework, although some eventually moved past Christianity or abandoned organized religion altogether.
. Transcendentalists believed in a monistic universe, or one in which God is immanent in nature. The creation is an emanation of the creator; although a distinct entity, God is permanently and directly present in all things. Spirit and matter are perfectly fused, or “interpenetrate,” and differ not in essence but in degree. In such a pantheistic world, the objects of nature, including people, are all equally divine (hence Transcendentalism’s preoccupation with the details of nature, which seemed to encapsulate divine glory in microcosmic form). In a pantheistic and mystical world, one can experience direct contact with the divinity, then, during a walk in the woods, for instance, or through introspective contemplation. Similarly, one does not need to attribute the events of the natural world to “removed” spiritual causes because there is no such separation; all events are both material and spiritual; a miracle is indeed “one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”
The Transcendentalists can be exasperatingly vague in their prescriptions for spiritual transformation, a vagueness which derives principally from their distrust of all forms of ritual and inherited religious forms. The transcendent individual is often a solitary figure, contemplating his soul (and by analogy, the soul of all humanity), and contemplating other souls through the reading of serious literature. But the central recurring theme that emerges is a return to nature, where the artifice and depravity of society cannot reach.
Emerson, in “Nature,” tries to capture the feeling of conversion as experienced during his (or his narrator’s) sojourn in the woods. In a famous passage that has become a classic yet frequently parodied description of the “transcendent moment,” he writes:
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.
For the reading or listening audience of the Transcendentalists, however, the question remained whether this kind of spiritual experience was the inevitable result of a walk in the woods. It is a question that the Transcendentalists would have answered indirectly, implicitly, through the demonstration of spiritual transformation rather than instruction in its causative methods. That is, they were less interested in mapping out the precise route to conversion than in describing the general feeling of spiritual awakening. Experiencing nature was of critical importance because the natural world was the face and essence of God; becoming physically closer to nature, contemplating it, understanding it—these were the actions that brought man closer to his maker.
Transcendentalists, who never claimed enough members to become a significant religious movement, bequeathed an invaluable legacy to American literature and philosophy. As a distinct movement, Transcendentalism had disintegrated by the dawn of civil war; twenty years later its shining lights had all faded: George Ripley and Jones Very died in 1880, Emerson in 1882, Orestes Brownson in 1876, Bronson Alcott in 1888. The torch passed to those writers and thinkers who wrestled with the philosophy of their Transcendentalist forebears, keeping it alive in the mind more than in the church. At his one-hundredth lecture before the Concord Lyceum in 1880, Emerson looked back at the heyday of Transcendentalism and described it thus:
It seemed a war between intellect and affection; a crack in Nature, which split every church in Christendom into Papal and Protestant; Calvinism into Old and New schools; Quakerism into Old and New; brought new divisions in politics; as the new conscience touching temperance and slavery. The key to the period appeared to be that the mind had become aware of itself. Men grew reflective and intellectual. There was a new consciousness…. The modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man. This idea, roughly written in revolutions and national movements, in the mind of the philosopher had far more precision; the individual is the world.
t. The Transcendentalists had stood at the vanguard of the “new consciousness” Emerson recalled so fondly, and it is for their intellectual and moral fervor that we remember them now as much as for their religious philosophy; the light of Transcendentalism today burns strongest on the page and in the classroom, rather than from the pulpit.
There was no precise “cause” for the beginning of Transcendentalism. According to Paul Bowler, chance, coincidence and several independent events, thoughts and tendencies seemed to have converged in the 1830s inNew England. Some of those were:
a. The imperatives of logic itself for those who take ideas seriously – the impossibility, for instance, of accepting modern science without revising traditional religious views.
b. The steady erosion of Calvinism.
c. The intrusion of the machine into theNew Englandgarden and the disruption of the old order by the burgeoning industrialism.
d. The appearance of talented and energetic young people like Emerson, Fuller, and Thoreau on the scene.
e. The progressive secularization of modern thought under the impact of science and technology.
f. The emergence of a Unitarian intelligentsia with the means, leisure, and training to pursue literature and scholarship.
g. The increasing insipidity and irrelevance of liberal religion to questing young minds – lack of involvement in women’s rights and abolitionism.
h. The impact of European ideas on Americans traveling abroad.
In the traditional sense of the word, American Transcendentalism of Nineteenth Century is not a religion; it is a realistic philosophy, a state of mind, and a form of spirituality. It is not a religion because it does not adhere to the three concepts common in major religions:
. belief in a God;
. belief in an afterlife (dualism); and
. a belief that this life has consequences on the next (if you’re good in this life, you will go to heaven in the next, etc.).
Transcendentalism is monist; it does not reject an afterlife, but its emphasis is on this life.
Sources: (Internet, different writers' books and my own experience)