There was a resurgence of the Idealist Movement at the turn of the 19th century that took the name Transcendentalist Movement. During the first half of the 1800s, the Transcendentalist Movement unveiled its new name and has persisted, in some form, as one of the most important spiritual movements in the history of the United States.
Transcendentalism has been found using the name of theological liberal, idealist, or social progressive, and evolved over the decades to profoundly affect the issues of slavery, women's rights, and education. Its adherents have included Ralph Waldo Emerson, educator John Dewey, and Henry David Thoreau, who challenged religion to accept man and nature as finite and explainable entities. Emerson critiqued religion for dwelling "with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus", and treating God as if he were dead in the long ago written revelations of the bible" (Grodzins 114). Transcendentalists were men and women of science and philosophy, who had raised the bar in their demand for a religion that made sense, without the superstition of gender, the myth of race, and without the rigid conjecture of Calvinism. "Reason presents herself before nature, holding in one hand the principles which alone have power to bring into order and harmony the phenomena of nature; in the other hand grasping the results of experiment conducted according to those principles" (Frothington 8). Theodore Parker, a colleague of Emerson, was a Unitarian preacher who has been credited with giving "shape and meaning to the Transcendental Movement" (Gates 22). These men would bemoan the impoverished educational standards in the US, as well as the lack of a body of literature that we could call distinctly American.
The Transcendentalist movement was a rebirth and resurgence of the ancient thinking of the Roman and Greek beliefs in humanism, intuition, and Transcendental Knowledge "which is concerned, not with objects, but with our mode of knowing objects so far as this is possible a prioi (that is, independent of experience)" (Kant qtd. in Wilson). To a large extent this was an extension of the philosophy set down in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (Frothington 3-4). Theodore Parker would argue that "Religion was a simple thing -, a natural thing; a reasonable thing; that the only thing that God required was doing good and being good" (Grodzins 377). While its supporters attempted to simplify and streamline religion, they were often rebuffed because their doctrines varied so widely from the common belief (Grodzins 377). For example, Parker hesitated for more than a year before delivering the sermon Contradictions in Scripture, which illustrated the incongruities between the bible and the facts of the known universe, and argued that "a man never need try to believe a statement in the Bible which was at variance with his reason and conscience" (Littell and Littell 405). Transcendentalism was fuelling the fires of debate in regards to reason, science, intuition, and things that lay just beyond our experience.
Transcendentalism fell under considerable criticism during the 19th century for being what was generally known as Atheistic Idealism. David Nevens Lord, 19th century biblical scholar and author, criticized the philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge1 and noted its similarity to Kant "from whom he drew it, its atheistic character, and its incompatibility with a belief in the great