American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions

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Transcendentalism is well-known as a peculiarly American philosophical and religious movement. Less well-known is the extent to which such famous Transcendentalists as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau drew on religions of Asia for their inspiration. Arthur Versluis offers a comprehensive study of the relationship between the American Transcendentalists and Asian religions. He argues that an influx of new information about these religions shook nineteenth-century American religious consciousness to the core. With the publication of ever more material on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, the Judeo-Christian tradition was inevitably placed as just one among a number of religious traditions. Fundamentalists and conservatives denounced this influx as a threat, but the Transcendentalists embraced it, poring over the sacred books of Asia to extract ethical injunctions, admonitions to self-transcendence, myths taken to support Christian doctrines, and manifestations of a supposed coming universal religion. The first major study of this relationship since the 1930s, American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions is also the first to consider the post-Civil War Transcendentalists, such as Samuel Johnson and William Rounseville Alger. Examining the entire range of American Transcendentalism, Versluis's study extends from the beginnings of Transcendentalist Orientalism in Europe to its continuing impact on twentieth-century American culture. This exhaustive and enlightening work sheds important new light on the history of religion in America, comparative religion, and nineteenth-century American literature and popular culture.

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Transcendentalism and the Orient
The First Meetings of East and West
3 Emerson Thoreau Alcott and the Orient
Melville and Brownson
Orientalism in GeneralInterest American Magazines
6 Ambience and Embodiment of Transcendental Dreams
7 Transcendentalist Periodicals and the Orient
The Orient and the Second Cycle of Transcendentalism
9 Conclusion

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About the author (1993)

Arthur Versluis is at Washburn University.

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