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The emergence of the Transcendentalists as an identifiable movement took place during the late 1820s and 1830s but the roots of their religious philosophyextended much farther back into American religious history Transcendentalism and evangelical Protestantism followed separate evolutionary branches fromAmerican Puritanism taking as their common ancestor the Calvinism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries In exploring their respective departures fromCalvinism we can begin to map out the common ground the two movements sharedTranscendentalism cannot be properly understood outside the context of Unitarianism the dominant religion in Boston during the early nineteenth centuryUnitarianism had developed during the late eighteenth century as a branch of the liberal wing of Christianity which had separated from Orthodox Christianity duringthe 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 briefperiod of revivalism The Liberals tended to reject both the persisent Orthodox belief in inherent depravity and the emotionalism of the revivalists on one side stooddogma on the other stood pernicious enthusiasm The Liberals in a kind of amalgamation of Enlightenment principles with American Christianity began to stressthe value of intellectual reason as the path to divine wisdom The Unitarians descended as the Boston contingent of this tradition while making their own uniquetheological contribution in rejecting the doctrine of divine trinityUnitarians placed a premium on stability harmony rational thought progressive morality classical learning and other hallmarks of Enlightenment Christianity Insteadof the dogma of Calvinism intended to compel obedience the Unitarians offered a philosophy stressing the importance of voluntary ethical conduct and the ability ofthe intellect to discern what constituted ethical conduct Theirs was a natural theology in which the individual could through empirical investigation or the exercise ofreason discover the ordered and benevolent nature of the universe and of Gods laws Divine revelation which took its highest form in the Bible was an externalevent or process that would confirm the findings of reason William Ellery
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