A dramatic retelling of the story of the Transcendentalists, revealing them not as isolated authors but as a community of social activists who shaped progressive American values.
Conflagration illuminates the connections between key members of the Transcendentalist circle—including James Freeman Clarke, Elizabeth Peabody, Caroline Healey Dall, Elizabeth Stanton, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, and Margaret Fuller—who created a community dedicated to radical social activism. These authors and activists laid the groundwork for democratic and progressive religion in America.
In the tumultuous decades before and immediately after the Civil War, the Transcendentalists changed nineteenth-century America, leading what Theodore Parker called “a Second American Revolution.” They instigated lasting change in American society, not only through their literary achievements but also through their activism: transcendentalists fought for the abolition of slavery, democratically governed churches, equal rights for women, and against the dehumanizing effects of brutal economic competition and growing social inequality.
The Transcendentalists’ passion for social equality stemmed from their belief in spiritual friendship—transcending differences in social situation, gender, class, theology, and race. Together, their fight for justice changed the American sociopolitical landscape. They understood that none of us can ever fulfill our own moral and spiritual potential unless we care about the full spiritual and moral flourishing of others.
John Buehrens was the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations from 1993 to 2001. His previous books include Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals; with Forrest Church, A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism; and with Rebecca Ann Parker, A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-first Century.