What are the differences between Transcendentalism and Puritanism (Transcendentalism vs. Puritanism)?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Puritanism and Transcendentalism have evolved from religious doctrine and pervaded the American culture, politics, and identity, becoming more secular in their visions. However, Puritanism possesses a darker perspective from that of Transcendentalism. Here are some of their differences.

  • Puritanism holds that there is salvation only for God's chosen, the elect; Transcendentalism maintains that every person can reach ultimate truths through spiritual intuition that transcends reason and sensory experience.
  • One of the proponents of Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson, based his philosophy partly on that of Idealism in which nature is a doorway to a mystical world holding important truths. Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of each individual, and his outlook was optimistic whereas the Puritans believed that human beings are sinful by nature.
  • Transcendentalism is a religion of revelation, not of history as is Puritanism. By going into nature, man feels the presence of the Sublime and is enlightened to truths, whereas in Puritanism, church doctrine is handed down in the form of covenants that parallel God's covenant with His people in the Bible.
  • In Puritan thought, hard work and worldly success are signs of God's grace. For the Transcendentalists, God is present in every aspect of Nature including every human being.
  • In Puritan thought, grace from God makes people "reborn" as a member of the community of saints; Transcendental thought holds that Nature is divine and symbolic of the spirit, so the human soul is inherently good and evil is virtually non-existent.
  • Puritanism is based upon practicality and industriousness; Transcendentalism is based upon idealism and self-reliance. 
  • Puritanism has greatly affected American culture whereas the affects of Transcendentalism have not been as widespread.

This Puritan notion of election, divine sanction, and high purpose has pervaded American identity, politics, and culture ever since [the Puritans arrived in America], although it has evolved over several centuries from a specifically religious vision into a much more secular one: rather than exemplifying a pure church, America's mission became exemplifying a free, egalitarian, democratic society. (Enotes) 

Over time, Puritanism came to value self-reliance, industriousness, temperance, and simplicity. Ironically, these are some of the same values of Transcendentalism.

rani16 | Student

Transcendentalism is a philosophical & literary movement centered in Concord & Boston, predominant in the intellectual & cultural life of New England, from 1836, just before the American Civil War. It is a pragmatic philosophy, a state of mind & a form of spirituality.


  • It is a form of idealism & a lot of emphasis is placed on human thinking.
  • The human is a part of the "over-soul" or "universal spirit" to which the other souls retured at death. It confirms belief in the after-life.
  • God is found in both nature and human nature.
  • Death is never to be feared, for at death, the soul passes to the over-soul.
  • The unity of life & universe must be realized & one must have faith in intuition.
  • Every human must be respected because everybody has a portion of that over-soul. One ray of light penetrates the dark, therefore every human is good. If a human commits an immoral act, he/she does so out of ignorance & not in purpose.

Puritanism: is a religious reform movement, that arose within the church of England, in the late 16th Century.

  • The doctrine believes in predestination, i.e. the idea that everything, including, whether they would achieve salvation, was predetermined. All events are foreknown & foreordained by god.
  • Strict adherence to god's will was central to Puritan belief.
  • Fate favors those, who lived according to the word of God, as revealed in the scripture, but believed that they had no control over God's decision.
  • They preached separation from Worldly Pleasures.

Hope this answer helps. All the best!

laurto | Student

Their transcendentalist principles were not based on physical experience, but deriving from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human. Puritans were a theological society meaning that the bible was also their rule book. The transcendentalist movement focused on the human itself but Puritanism focused on God and the Christian religion. Many consider transcendentalism to be not a religious movement but a philosophical one, while Puritanism was strictly religious. 

I hope this helped!