Transcendentalism Discussion Questions

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Centered around American transcendentalism and its effect on society, these questions delve into the complexity of the topic. Use these discussion questions to help your high school students engage in meaningful conversations about the topic.

Transcendentalism Discussion Questions

These questions center around American transcendentalism and its focus on the areas of individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature. They also contextualize transcendentalism within a framework of previous societal belief systems, such as rationalism and romanticism. The Age of Reason and rationalism are in direct opposition to the concepts of transcendentalism. In fact, transcendentalism is purposefully in sharp contrast to the rigidity of this time period. Romanticism carries with it a focus on imagination and creativity that forms a foundation for transcendentalism.

Helping students understand the complex concepts within this philosophical viewpoint can be difficult. The discussion questions below will help you guide high school students through this tricky terrain as they work to decipher and apply the concepts of transcendentalism to their own lives. Questions can be used to form the foundation of a group discussion or you can provide a list of questions to student teams.

Individualism

  • Transcendentalism focuses on the development of the individual. How do you express your individuality in thoughts and actions?
  • Transcendentalists are nonconformists. Therefore, they do not ascribe to religious, political, or social constructs to inform their behaviors and choices. Do you think it's good or bad to conform to these norms? Do you consider yourself a nonconformist? If so, how? If not, what constructs do you conform to and why?
  • Do you believe that people should free themselves from social constructs and live by their individual principles? What effect would this have on society?
  • What is the goal of individualism in the transcendental ideal society? Do you think that all people can follow their own standards and maintain a peaceful society? Why or why not?

Idealism

  • Idealism is the belief that there is an ideal world in which all can live in harmony. Do you think this is possible? Why or why not?
  • Creativity and imagination are at the foundation of transcendentalism. How are they related to idealism? Do you think our society focuses enough attention on these two traits?
  • What does the ideal society look like to you? How can an ideal society be created if people differ in their definition of one?
  • Idealism is in direct contrast to the restriction of the Age of Reason that preceded the transcendentalist movement. What is the goal of idealism? Is it freedom? Enjoyment? Creative flow? Harmony?

Divinity of Nature

  • Although transcendentalists do not ascribe to any organized religion, spirituality is a large part of the philosophy. How does spirituality differ from religion? Do you think one is better than the other?
  • Transcendentalists believe that nature is a sacred space. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Should humans have control over nature, or should it be left untouched? Is leaving nature untouched a realistic option? Why or why not? How would society be different if people did not interfere with nature?
  • Do you think it's important to connect with nature? Why or why not? What positive experiences have you had in nature? How does nature enhance our lives?

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