Ralph Waldo Emerson's The Divinity School Address

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, on July 15, 1838, delivered his acclaimed speech, “The Divinity School Address,” to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School. Desiring to leave a lasting impact on the students’ beliefs on what religion truly was, Emerson cunningly utilized the opportunity that arose out of addressing an easily influenced graduating class. A fervent transcendentalist who believed in the innate goodness of people, Emerson attempted to convey, in this message, what he believed the essence of true religion was: a divine worship of one’s self, a belief that is in direct opposition with what Christianity encourages: a devoted worship of Christ and a reckoning of one’s carnal self. In “The Divinity School Address”, not only did Emerson boldly define what he believed religion was, he also chastised Christianity for tarnishing the sacred concept of true religion and for openly proclaiming “errors” as truth, professing that Jesus was God instead of a mere mortal who understood the value of and practiced self-worship. Emerson, displeased with the current state of religion, offered the solution to the graduating class: themselves. Urging them to recognize and to preach the importance of self, Emerson believed that, to fix Christianity and religion as a whole, preachers must introduce religion as a fluid, equivocal concept that focuses around self. Although one should approach Emerson’s writings and beliefs with an open mind, I argue that Emerson’s opinions in “The Divinity

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