An important expression of Romanticism in the United States, it is principally associated with the work of essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson; journalist and feminist theorist Margaret Fuller; Unitarian minister and antislavery advocate Theodore Parker; and essayist, naturalist, and political theorist Henry David Thoreau.
In their initial phase, the transcendentalists extended the Unitarian theological rebellion against Puritan Calvinism, moving toward a post-Christian spirituality that held each man and woman capable of spiritual development and fulfillment.
Transcendentalists rejected Lockean empiricism, unlike the Unitarians: they wanted to rejuvenate the mystical aspects of New England Calvinism (although none of its dogma) and to go back to Jonathan Edwards' "divine and supernatural light," imparted immediately to the soul by the spirit of God.
For an excellent overview of American transcendentalism, go to Chapter Four of Paul Reuben's PAL site at California State University-Stanislaus and Ann Woodlief's Transcendentalism Web at Virginia Commonwealth University.
But "How shall we determine which are our higher instincts and which our lower instincts? Shall a man take himself as the center of the universe, and say all things are for his use, and count them of value only as they contribute something to his growth or well-being?