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Cross-Cultural Affinities

Emersonian Transcendentalism and Senghorian Negritude


Manyaka Toko Djockoua

The book, through textual analyses, brings concepts of Senghorian Negritude and Emersonian ideas into a cross-cultural dialogue, and thus opens up a completely new perspective in research on the history of ideas. It synthesizes the diverse cultural, literary, philosophical and religious trends which have impacted on the complex and elusive fields of Transcendentalism and Negritude. Focusing on the current debate on influences and affinities in literary and cultural studies, the book shows that African religions and philosophy have influenced the formation of American Transcendentalism.

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The comparative study of Emersonian Transcendentalism and Senghorian Negritude has demonstrated that African ontology has impacted on both philosophical and literary movements. It is therefore accurate to consider African mysticism one of the sources of American Transcendentalism. Likewise, it is necessary to acknowledge the affinities between American Transcendentalism and Negritude as literary trends.

There are similarities in the origins or sources of both movements, which have led to the conclusion that the African concept of life force and its corollary—the communion of the animate and inanimate, the living and the dead, the physical and the spiritual—is similar to the Romantic great chain of being and to the Transcendentalist Whole.

The analogous life experiences of both writers have shaped, in similar ways, their world views and consequently their writings. Emerson and Senghor have been in close contact with nature and religion: They have lived in rural areas and have communed with the natural environment. As far as religion is concerned, the former has adopted Unitarianism and the latter Catholicism. Emerson studied at Harvard Divinity College, where he became a Unitarian minister, although he later resigned. Similarly, Senghor was a student at the Ngasobil Catholic primary school and at the Libermann Seminary where he thought he would be ordained a priest. But, like his American counterpart, he left the Seminary. Both men were strong advocates of non-conformism and both could be called the disciples of Swedenborg and Goethe.

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