The Age of Reflection (Romanticism)

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Age of Reflection (Romanticism) was an intellectual movement which lasted roughly half a century from the beginning of 1800 until 1840/50.

The movement grew in significant leaps and bounds within England and Germany, and through art, politics, philosophy, and science attempted to counter the influences of Enlightenment period, particularly the likes of its emphasis on reductionism, rationalism, and empiricism. It moved away from a sense of objectivity, which Romantics believed posited the world as being merely consisting of lifeless matter, to the subjective by putting emphasis on human emotion, freedom, creativity, imagination, and individualism.

Emphasis was placed on the natural world and how human beings were connected to it. Romanticism thus influenced the arts, music, and literature, all of which allowed for the free expression of the subjective feelings of artists, musicians, and writers. In Germany, Romantic authors had a fascination with the mystical and the supernatural as shown in their writings. Where science was concerned, Romanticism highlighted the importance of the individual scientist as a person, and argued that scientific endeavor not only helped people to learn about the world but also taught us about human beings. Romantics opposed the idea that science was separate from man, and that through science man could dispassionately control and manipulate the natural world. The Romantics weren’t against scientific endeavor but rather the idea that man should manipulate nature through science. Rather, man and the natural world should co-exist in unity and harmony, and Romantic scientists emphasized a respect for nature in their work.

In the development of the study of religion, some theorists posited the essence (the essential core) of religion to found in feeling and aesthetics. Friedrich Schleiermacher, for example, attempted to separate religion’s fundamental core from rationality by identifying it with something non- or extra-rational. Schleiermacher proposed aesthetics as the primary, fundamental category of religion. He saw feeling as being an expansive and inclusive reality, something similar to deep sensitivity perhaps in the way of how something beautiful can move one on a very deep level. Schleiermacher did elsewhere attempt to ground religion in the rational and empirical, but he emphasized the need to understand the nature of religion not merely from a rationalistic point of view.

Romanticism ultimately gave way to positivism, a philosophical movement which begun with August Comte (1798 – 1857) and ended around 1880. Important Romantic thinkers and writers of this period were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859), Sir Humphry Davy (1778 – 1829), and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1 February 1851).


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