Cautious Romantics: Trinitarian Transcendentalists and the emergence of a conservative religious tradition in America
Koefoed, Jonathan George
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The American Transcendentalists are often equated with Romanticism in nineteenth-century America. This dissertation thoroughly complicates that equation, arguing that a group of "Cautious Romantics" emerged as an alternative and conservative Romantic religious tradition. Drawing on history, art history, philosophy, literature, and theology, this dissertation provides a much fuller picture of the way European Romantic texts and authors functioned in American intellectual, cultural, and religious history by highlighting the contribution of these Cautious Romantics. Taken together, the Cautious Romantics represented a distinct religious discourse. They were American Romantics: relentless and introspective questers who emphasized epistemological intuition, artistic inspiration, and spiritual experience. In fact, some of them were the first Americans to promote European Romantic influences. Nevertheless, the Cautious Romantics continued to embrace Trinitarian Christianity, and they celebrated institutions--colleges and churches--in contrast to the often anti-institutional temperament of the Transcendentalists. Moreover, the Cautious Romantics defied religious categorization among standard antebellum groups. They were neither evangelicals, nor traditional Congregationalists, nor Unitarians. Although many became Episcopalians or Catholics, their Romantic intellectual lineage and historical relationships with one another distinguished them from their denominational kindred. Functioning on two levels, this dissertation resituates several well-known American artists and intellectuals such as Washington Allston, Orestes Brownson, Richard Henry Dana Jr., and Harriet Beecher Stowe by connecting them historically and intellectually with a wider discourse. This dissertation also unearths or re-contextualizes numerous lesser-known religious intellectuals such as Richard Henry Dana Sr., James Marsh, Sophia Dana Ripley, George Allen, Henry Hope Reed, Gulian Verplanck, Leonard Woods Jr., and Isaac Hecker. While conservative, these intellectuals were neither committed to the antebellum American South's unique conservative vision nor did they celebrate the free-market conservatism common in twentieth-century America. Thus, in addition to its contribution to intellectual and religious history, this dissertation contributes to a growing body of literature on cultural conservatism in America. Moreover, although the Cautious Romantics were American, this dissertation highlights the important historical relationships between the Cautious Romantics and Coleridge, Wordsworth, the Roman Catholic Church, and, in Harriet Beecher Stowe's case, transatlantic social reform, thereby demonstrating the transatlantic nature of Romanticism in the nineteenth century.