American Romanticism

American Romanticism and Evolutionary Spirituality

3 Meetings, Tues. 11/2-11/16, 6 – 9pm

Berkshire Community College, Melville Hall, Room 104 (tuition, $89)

Have you ever felt trapped or haunted by an eerie feeling that you were somehow imprisoned in your own life? Have you ever felt constricted and limited as if the rules of school, career, family and society were conspiring to ensure that your destiny would never veer too far from the middle of the road? Have you ever felt passionately that you wanted to break free of something, but weren’t quite sure from what?

If so, you were probably feeling something very similar to the passion that was driving the great Romantic writers and thinkers of the 19th century. In America that means Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Peabody and Walt Whitman to name a few. These creative geniuses were forming a new vision of the universe and our place within it. They rebelled against the mechanistic view of science and saw a universe that was a living, growing, organic whole, fueled by a creative force that could be aligned with, but never fully controlled.

The Romantics were rational, spiritual and progressive, and at the same time cautious about what they saw as the folly of believing that the mysteries of the cosmos could ever be fully understood and tamed. They devoted their lives to the heroic effort of articulating in word and deed their vision of an evolving universe and the promise it held for a new future. They sacrificed for the most direct possible engagement with life, with nature, with spirit and with each other. They wanted to know, to touch, to live, and to explore reality for themselves. “Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” Emerson famously declared, because he knew that “The reality is more excellent than the report.”

In this class I will take you through some of the magnificent visions and thoughts of these courageous and inspired men and women. You will learn about ideas that have shaped American culture, and about the romantic lives of individuals that would not settle for less than everything.

The class will meet three times and each class will consist of two short lectures followed by class discussion.

Course Outline

Class 1: Tuesday November 2, 6-9pm

Lecture One: The Spirit of Romanticism

In this lecture we will investigate the spirit of creativity and exploration that the Romantics embodied in their work and their lives.

Lecture Two: Romanticism and Individuality

In this lecture we will discuss new ideas about the importance of individuality that the Romantics pioneered and that are still with us today. Source Reading will be drawn from Margaret Fuller and Walt Whitman.

Class 2: Tuesday November 9, 6-9pm

Lecture One: Romanticism and Culture

In this lecture we will learn that the Romantics were the first to recognize that our view of what is real depends on the culture that we are a part of. Source Reading will be drawn from Nathaniel Hawthorne and Elizabeth Peabody.

Lecture Two: Romanticism and Growth

In this lecture we will outline the Romantics’ understanding that the universe is a growing whole event in which both mind and matter develop together. Source Reading will be drawn from John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Class 3: Tuesday November 16, 6-9pm

Lecture One: Romanticism and Mystery

In this lecture we will investigate the way that the Romantics related to that which is mysterious and unknown. Source Reading will be drawn from Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe.

Lecture Two: Romanticism and Existentialism

In this lecture we will see how the Romanticism of the 19th century developed into the Existentialism of the 20th century. Source Reading will be drawn from William James.