Multiculturalism and Transcendentalism
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American Transcendentalism, a signature American movement of the nineteenth century, might superficially seem to be an early form of late-twentieth and twenty-first-century multiculturalism. As I demonstrated in American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions (1993), the main figures in the movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, were among the first to draw on a newly global perspective on world religions. Emerson’s and Thoreau’s works are peppered with references to Hinduism, as well as Islam, Christianity, and Christian and Islamic mysticism. One could argue that the Transcendentalists were the first multiculturalists. But in the contemporary university curriculum, the Transcendentalists are, like Platonists, seldom found. That’s because the Transcendentalists were not today’s multiculturalists. They were introducing instead a multitude of complex and salient religious philosophies they believed could be adapted to American life.
In this sense, Emerson, Thoreau, and...