America's Founding Seeker
On his 200th birthday, Ralph Waldo Emerson seems as modern as any bestselling New Age guru
He doesn't believe in the soul, but the Oversoul. What's the difference?
By putting "over" on it, he says it is not a personal thing. Rather we participate in a soul that is larger than we are. What he's trying to get away from is this idea that there is a core inside of me that is my soul, that I own. He's trying to say that insofar as you're connecting with the soul, you're connecting with something that is much bigger than you are. The Oversoul is a way to talk about God without getting into this anthropmorphic father figure.
What is his legacy?
I wouldn't limit it to one principle or one concept. He gave the culture a vision of religion as the solution or the working toward a solution of how we live our lives more meaningfully. You see that not only in the propositions he makes, but in his own personal difficulties and struggles. It's a mistake to see Emerson as the man who figured out all these answers and was very sure of everything. But here was a man whose vision enspirited his continuing studies, but who was never at rest in his attempt to live to the standard that he held up.