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What is Romanticism? How has Romanticism affected Christianity?

Romanticism was a cultural movement in in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that spanned Europe and the United States and impacted philosophy, art, and literature. Romanticism had very little to do with our modern understanding of the word romantic, which we associate with love or sexuality. Romanticism was a mindset, or a way of thinking that included many more concepts and issues than just romantic love. Because it is more of a style of living and thinking, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact beginning or end to the Romantic movement. Many writers, artists, and composers well past the Romantic Era can be called Romantic because the art they produce expresses the same values and ideas.

In its beginning Romanticism was largely a reaction to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The Enlightenment valued logic, reason, science, and mathematics to the exclusion of emotions and individualism. The Enlightened man was rational and self-retrained; his mind was the most important component of his being. The Romantics, however, valued what the Enlightened thinkers shunned or minimized, putting emotion and personal experience in the spotlight. Romanticism idealized the innocent, unrestrained child, unstained from the world and able to follow his passions and impulses. Romantic poetry shifted away from a focus on communicating ideas and towards expressing personal feelings of joy, sorrow, and wonder. Romantic poets magnified nature and innocence, as seen in the works of William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Walt Whitman. Similarly, artists like Caspar David Friedrich, J. M. W. Turner, and Thomas Cole depicted larger and more dramatic landscapes, making man appear miniscule or less important in comparison.

At this time the Industrial Revolution was taking off and changing the European landscape, putting large factories where there used to be countryside. The Romantics, who valued the wildness and innocence of unrestrained nature over the consumerism of big industry, saw this as a great evil. They wanted to connect to nature and would often go out into nature for some sort of emotional or spiritual experience. Not only that, to them it seemed as though man's natural and moral state belonged in nature, and so large, crowded, smoky cities were seen as unnatural.

Unlike the Enlightenment, Romanticism enjoyed the mystical and spiritual. Gothic writers in the Romantic Era had very spiritual aspects to their work, sometimes in the form of ghosts or supernatural happenings like in the writings of Charlotte Bronte and Edgar Allan Poe. The same could be said for artists like Samuel Palmer, Philipp Otto Runge, and Johan Christian Dahl.

Because Romanticism was very aware of man's spiritual component, it was friendly towards religion. Romanticism did not have any directly theological impact on Christianity, but it did change the way people thought about their faith and religious experience. There arose more of an emphasis on personal emotional experience in one's faith.

Romanticism did provide the environment for non-biblical spiritual movements. Transcendentalism, which sprang from Romanticism in the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, gave people a way to have spiritual experiences by uniting God with nature and humanity, giving no distinction to a truly divine being. Mormonism was also made possible as people believed the spiritual experience of Joseph Smith over the truth of the Bible.

Romanticism itself as a set of ideas and values is not necessarily biblical or non-biblical. It brought some good to Christianity by bringing genuine emotion and paying attention to one's experiences. However, one could easily take Romantic ideas too far, placing one's feelings or subjective point of view above what the Word of God says. As with anything, we must be careful to filter truth claims based on the standard of God's Word. We need to allow God to inform our view of the world, rather than allow our view of the world or our personal emotional experience to distort how we understand God.


Related Truth:

Christian worldview - What is it?

Rationalism vs. empiricism – What is a Christian view?

What is the definition of idealism?

What is realism? What is a Christian view of realism?

What is Scholasticism? How did it impact church history?


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