Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian minister who devoted much of his life to his religion. The tragic death of his wife Ellen Tucker in 1831 led him to question Christian doctrines. He resigned from his pastorate at the Second Church of Boston, citing the fact that he did not believe in a special divinity in Christ. He then traveled through Europe, meeting literary luminaries, and returning to his ancestral home of Concord, Massachusetts.
Emerson’s first contact with the non-Western world was through the merchandise sold at India Wharf, a nexus for Indo-Chinese trade in Boston harbor. After the Revolutionary War, the trade boomed in New England. Emerson’s father was a Unitarian minister who had a genteel interest in learning.
Emerson’s most important writing came in the 1840s. In 1841, he and Margaret Fuller published The Dial, a magazine. The Dial’s first issue featured two of Emerson’s best-known works, Self-Reliance and Experience. Other notable essays include “The Poet” and “The Over-Soul.” These essays helped to establish the Transcendental Movement and gave voice to the American intellectualism of the day.
Emerson’s philosophy and writings were influenced by his own spirituality. He preached about personal spirituality and found kindred spirits in his Concord circle of writers and thinkers. The essays he wrote were published in essay form and embodied his philosophy. The essay “The American Scholar” was based on one of his lectures, and his teachings inspired American authors to write in their own style.