To me transcendentalism sounds a lot like what I hear from people who say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” In its most basic definition, transcendentalists avow personal connections with nature in order to obtain insight into one’s own mind and soul. These individuals believed that more knowledge (or rather wisdom) can be gained through introspection than science, and that reality is different in each person’s own mind. A rather progressive philosophical movement, transcendentalism open the discussion about organized religion’s place in society, providing an outlet for those disenchanted with the Church yet still interested in God.
Though no one identifies as a transcendentalist these days, modern culture has taken notes from the group’s ideas. Especially in music, one can see how individualism has permeated each artist’s worldview. For example, in his song “Church” rapper Macklemore explains that he does not feel a spiritual connection through Mass services, but rather in his individual relationship with God. Expressing a rather common sentiment of futility in organized religion, speaking, “Stand up, sit down, stand up again/ Morse Code sent to God, are you listening?/ He must have been too busy fixing other shit,/ No call, no response shows the opposite.” Later in the song, however, he explains that he “Got God in [his] Walkman”, showing that music was his connection to the spiritual part of his mind. Ironically, though his lyrics explicitly mention drug use as a way to ‘expand his mind’, Macklemore follows the same strain of logic that Thoreau and Emerson (and Whitman, that bum) described in their philosophy of Transcendentalism — one is one’s own connection to God and reality.