SPIRITUALITY & RELIGION

Conflagration: How the Transcendentalists Sparked the American Struggle for Racial, Gender, and Social Justice

Beacon. Jan. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780807024041. $32. REL
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Buehrens looks at American Transcendentalism.through the lives and perspectives of intellectuals, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and others who were in the vanguard of several 19th-century social reform movements. He studies the lives and deeds of the Bostonians associated with the movement and demonstrates their ongoing influence and involvement in abolitionism, gender equality, and more democratically-run churches, including the free church movement. The author also connects them to Unitarianism, Universalism, and the Disciples of Christ. Coming into their own in the decades leading up to the Civil War, the Transcendentalists garnered strength in their friendships, even if they didn’t agree on tactics or the nature of their religious beliefs. Unitarian Universalist minister Buehrens (past president, Christian Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; Understanding the Bible) studies the movement through a lens on the lives of its leaders, allowing for nuances that might otherwise be lost.
VERDICT A well-written introduction to the Transcendentalists and a complement to Philip Gura’s more idea-driven American Transcendentalism.

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