Category:Working Within the New Thought Tradition

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The Church of Religious Science in Asheville, North Carolina

New Thought, also known as the New Thought Movement, consists of a number of loosely linked religious and secular groups and individuals who adhere to the principle that thought can influence outcomes.

The earliest proponent of what was originally called Mental Science and later came to be known as New Thought was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802 - 1866), an American philosopher, mesmerist, healer, and inventor. Quimby cured himself of chronic illnesses through thought alone and in doing so he came to believe that illness originates in the mind as a consequence of erroneous thoughts and that a mind open to Truth can overcome illness and achieve renewed health. Generally described as a theist, Quimby was not himself the leader of a religious movement, but his teachings led to the development of the New Thought Movement within Protestant Christianity.

During the latter half of the 19th century, New Thought came to resemble a twin-trunked tree. one trunk housing an array of philosophical, metaphysical, secular, magical, and non-theological authors, and the other trunk inhabited by religious and clerical adherents of New Thought. The theological trunk was further subdivided into two main branches, The Church of Christ Scientist (also known as the Christian Science church) on the one hand, and, on the other, three major religious groups that identified as New Thought denominations, namely Religious Science, Unity Church, and the Church of Divine Science.


Secular and Metaphysical New Thought

From 1893 - 1953, The Nautilus magazine, edited and published by Elizabeth Towne, was one of the premier journals of the New Thought Movement; this issue is from 1909
The Secret of Mental Magic is an early 20th century book by the New Thought author William Walker Atkinson that describes how to blend spirituality and psychism with techniques of telepathic mental influence
The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston Massachusetts, generally known as "The Christian Science Mother Church," was built in several sections, with varied architectural styles, from 1894 through 1906
The Unity Church in Louisville, Kentucky, built in the Byzantine Revival style
Unity Church in Unity Village, Missouri
The First Church of Divine Science in Denver, Colorado, completed in 1922, was designed in the Classical Revival style by the architect J.J.B. Benedict
Divine Science Church of the Healing Christ in Washinton, DC
The Church of Religious Science in Los Angeles, California
The East Bay Church of Religious Science is a "storefront" style church in Oakland, California
"Secrets of the Crystal Silence League" by Claude Alexander Conlin, a circa 1919 New Thought instruction manual compiled, edited, and updated by Catherine Yronwode and Deacon Millett
The Home of Truth, an eclectic New Thought church in Alameda, California, built in 1905
The Crystal Silence League, founded in 1919 by the New Thought author Claude Alexander Conlin, provides free prayer services for all who request them

Secular New Thought

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, the founder of the New Thought Movement, was a non-religious theist, and his teachings attracted many adherents whose interests were in New Thought as a philosophy, a method of regaining health, a system of metaphysics, or even an occult practice. Unlike religious New Thought, which is marked by the building of beautiful churches, non-religious New Thought is primarily a movement built upon books. From the 1890s to the present, New Thought authors such as Elizabeth Towne, William Walker Atkinson, Orison Swett Marden, Frank Channing Haddock, Wallace Wattles, and Napoleon Hill have written and published a wide array of uplifting, instructive, and insightful volumes for students.

The ideas these writers have promoted are widely known in American popular culture — and have made their way into a variety of religious movements as well. Many of these New Thought concepts are known by the titles of the books in which the ideas were first set before the public: The Law of Attraction, Personal Power, Think and Grow Rich, The Power of Concentration, Self Mastery, Conscious Autosuggestion, Personal Magnetism, The Master Key, Will Power -- all of these are titles or partial titles of secular, occult, or metaphysical New Thought books. Their effect upon modern society has been incalculable, and, through digitization, they continue to be read and studied by millions of people who wish to better themselves and more fully enjoy their lives.

Metaphysical New Thought

The metaphysical wing of the New Thought Movement includes varying forms of magical practices. Each New Thought teacher is free to select from among the many occult, esoteric, and magical traditions, and no one practice may suit all, but the most commonly encountered metaphysical concepts found within this form of New Thought are a belief in some form of divination (crystal ball reading is particularly favoured), and a belief in the efficacy of psychism and mental influence.

Metaphysical New Thought writers are quite varied in their approaches, but in a text like "The Science of Mental Magic" by William Walker Atkinson, we see a close approach to the type of non-theological mind-power techniques that many traditional folkloric practitioners employ in their spell-casting.

Gender Identity in the New Thought Movement

Although most of the early non-theological and secular New Thought authors, such as William Walker Atkinson, Claude Alexander Conlin, Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, Perry Joseph Green‎, Frank Channing Haddock, Edward E. Beals, Orison Swett Marden, and Thomas Troward, were male, many of the religious New Thought proponents were female; notably Mary Baker Eddy, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Myrtle Fillmore, Malinda Cramer, Annie Rix Militz, and Nona L. Brooks.

There were, of course, authors who crossed this retrospectively-perceived gender-line: Elizabeth Towne, for instance, wrote secular New Thought books and ran a publishing house which released dozens of metaphysical, and health-oriented New Thought works; both Ernest Holmes and Charles Fillmore, on the other hand, were associated with the religious New Thought Movement. However, because female New Thought authors tended toward more religious expressions than their male counterparts, quite a few New Thought churches and community centers have been led by women, from the 1880s to the present.

Judeo-Christian New Thought Denominations

Because most of the early adherents of the New Thought Movement, even those who identified as secular, theistic, or metaphysical, had been raised within Protestant Christianity, those who developed religious traditions within the New Thought Movement tended to build their theology in accord with existing Jewish and Christian cosmological, moral, and spiritual teachings.

Christian Science

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, was a patient of Phineas Quimby’s and shared his New Thought view that disease is rooted in mental causes over which human beings exercise a greater or lesser degree of control. Eddy went on to found the Church of Christ Scientist, the most overtly Christian of the New Thought denominations, basing its doctrine upon teachings in the Bible. However, by the time she wrote her own book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, her cosmology and her approach to healing had grown quite distant from Quimby's. Eddy preached that the universe is spiritual and good in nature, rather than material and evil, and according to her interpretation of the Bible, all good is real and all evil is unreal and illusory. In light of this, sin, illness, and diseases are seen as unreal and curable through prayer.

In Christian Science, prayer is not seen as petition to God seeking intervention, but rather as a contemplative process awakening true understanding of reality and recognition of the spiritual nature of the universe. The act of recognition and understanding of reality then banishes the illusory disease. Members of the Christian Science church utilize a special form of prayer over medication and surgery as the latter two are viewed as being material in nature.

There is no concept of eternal punishment in Christian Science and Jesus the man is often distinguished from the Christ or anointed one. Because Christ is considered purely spiritual, only Jesus as a physical person can carry the Christ. Similarly, the mainstream concept of God the Father is viewed as Father and Mother. In these and other ways, Christian Science differs from most mainstream Christian beliefs.


In 1889 the husband and wife team of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore founded Unity in Kansas City, Missouri. Although Unity describes itself as having no particular creed, no set dogma, and no required ritual, at the present time, the denomination is also known as Unity Church and the Unity School of Christianity.

Unity identifies as "culturally Christian and universally inclusive," meaning that while its primary inspirations are the Jewish Bible, the Christian New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus Christ, its adherents recognize truth in all of the world's sacred scriptures and faith traditions and view each person as a unique expression of the divine energy of God.

The basic ideas that make up the Unity belief system are that God, the source and creator of all, is good and present everywhere; that humans are spiritual beings created in God’s image; that the spirit of God lives within each person and therefore, all people are inherently good; that human beings create their life experiences through their way of thinking; that there is power in affirmative prayer which increases one's connection to God; and that mere knowledge of these spiritual principles is not enough; one must also live by them.

Divine Science

Divine Science grew from the amalgamation of two separate woman-led New Thought groups. The first was started in 1887 in Colorado by three sisters -- Nona Lovell Brooks, Aletha Brooks, and Fannie Brooks James -- and their friend Kate Bingham. Drawing upon the principle of the Omnipresence of God and incorporating practical adaptations of the principles of Christian Science (for instance, adherents were allowed to seek medical help rather than merely relying upon prayer), the women held regular meetings in Pueblo, Colorado to discuss New Thought. Simultaneously, also beginning in 1887, Malinda Cramer, a student of Emma Curtis Hopkins who lived in San Francisco, California, was expounding a similar belief in God as Truth and attracting students to her Home College of Spiritual Science (later known as the Home College of Divine Science). In 1892, Cramer became a co-founder of the International Divine Science Association (now known as the International New Thought Alliance). In 1898, the Colorado and California groups joined together when Nona Lovell Brooks was ordained a minister by Malinda Cramer. The women then founded the Denver Divine Science College to train teachers, organize churches, and ordain ministers, and the Divine Science Church of Denver became a place of public worship.

Divine Science teaches the Fatherhood of God as Omnipresent Life, Substance, Intelligence, and Power and advocates the brotherhood of man, the unity of all life, and the Truth that can be found in science, philosophy, and religion. Divine Scientists do not partake of typical Christian rituals such as the sacrament of bread and wine or the use of water for baptisms and christenings; rather, they believe that every process of Life is a sacrament and that, as the Spirit of God is immanent at all times, the sacraments are present at every moment, eternally.

Following both the example and the teachings of Jesus, adherents work on a daily basis, "seeking first the Kingdom of God" and "knowing the Truth that sets men free," as they take charge of their own thoughts, words, and actions, and the power of right thinking releases into expression in each individual life its divine inheritance of health, abundance, peace, and power.

Religious Science

In 1927, Ernest Holmes founded a New Thought denomination known as Religious Science. Blending spiritual, religious, metaphysical, and philosophical beliefs, its doctrines are based upon Holmes' teachings in his 1926 book "The Science of Mind." Holmes did not found the organization as a church, but as a teaching institution, with "centers" rather than "churches," but a belief in deity is central to its tenets. This deity is identified as "Spirit Almighty; one, indestructible, absolute, and self-existent Cause."

There are three major organizations to which adherents of Religious Science belong: the Centers for Spiritual Living, the Affiliated New Thought Network, and the Global Religious Science Ministries, with centers in Canada, Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, India, Australia, and the Philippines. All of them drawn inspiration from the teachings of Ernest Holmes.

In the United States, Religious Science has been open to teachings from secular and metaphysical sources, as well as Protestant Christian and Spiritualist traditions. Perhaps for this reason, the denomination has attracted many African American adherents, particularly on the West Coast. The beliefs and practices of Religious Science, especially the use of affirmative prayer, have in turn been carried into the African American magical tradition of hoodoo, greatly influencing its development through the 20th and 21st centuries.

Spiritualism and the New Thought Movement

The New Thought Movement developed during the same era that saw the birth of modern Spiritualism, and it was only natural that there would be some exchanges of ideas between the two. While each retains its own distinct culture, there have been New Thought proponents who have espoused Spiritualist and mediumistic beliefs and practices, such as communion with the dead, and there are also Spiritualists who engage in typically New Thought practices, such as affirmative prayer for the purposes of healing.

Spiritualist-Metaphysical New Thought Teachers

Two prominent 20th century teachers who blended mediumistic Spiritualism with secular, philosophical, and metaphysical New Thought were William Walker Atkinson, the author of books such as Psychomancy and Crystal Gazing and How to Develop Mediumship; and Claude Alexander Conlin, the founder of the Crystal Silence League. Conlin in particular, writing under the name C. Alexander, taught both mediumship and seership to his students in his New Thought book "The Crystal Silence League: Personal Codes, Lessons, and Instructions for Members." This and other of Conlin's writings on both New Thought and Crystal Gazing were compiled into an illustrated instruction manual titled "Secrets of the Crystal Silence League" by Catherine Yronwode and Deacon Millett in 2019.

The Association of Independent Spiritual Churches

Missionary Independent Spiritual Church, founded in 2006 by the husband and wife team of catherine and nagasiva yronwode, was the founding body of the Association of Independent Spiritual Churches, Eclectic Spiritualist denomination that incorporates many aspects of the New Thought Movement. In fact, its founders have said that as an interfaith organization, it may almost equally be considered to be a New Thought church that incorporates the practices of Spiritualism. Other interfaith churches of this eclectic type are Divine Harmony Spiritual Church and Four Altars Gospel Sanctuary

These churches and similar ones within the Association of Independent Spiritual Churches denomination make use of affirmative prayer in combination with spirit mediumship, ancestor veneration in the African American tradition, and contact with the dead and with spirit guides. Church ministry services may also include the recitation of Biblical Psalms and the setting of vigil lights for positive outcomes to prayer.

Hinduism and the New Thought Movement

During the late 19th century, gurus, swamis, and other teachers from India began to tour America, lecturing on Hinduism, Vedanta, and yoga. Their impact upon the New Thought Movement was greatest in the secular and metaphysical branch of the movement, but at least one small New Thought denomination on the West Coast, The Home of Truth, embraced South Asian philosophy, and placed Vedanta and yoga on a par with Christianity, crafting from the blend a truly interfaith form of New Thought religion.

Hindu-Metaphysical New Thought Teachers

The secular New Thought author William Walker Atkinson, a student of Emma Hopkins Curtis and a prolific writer and journalist in his own right, attended the 1893 Parliament of Religions (also known as the First World Conference on Religion), which was held in Chicago, Illinois, at the World's Columbian Exposition. What he encountered there led him to study Hindu traditions extensively from primary sources. Under a series of Indian-sounding pseudonyms, such as Swami Bhakta Vishita, Yogi Ramacharaka, and Swami Panchadasi, he wrote a series of credible and generally well-received introductory books on the topic for Americans, including Reincarnation and the Law of Karma (1908) and The Hindu-Yogi Science Of Breath (1904).

Like his contemporary, Annie Rix Militz, Atkinson often cross-referenced Protestant Christianity with his understanding of Hinduism, blending their mingled streams into his openly eclectic New Thought teachings.

Atkinson's friend and fellow author Claude Alexander Conlin, the founder of the Crystal Silence League, performed as a stage magician in his younger years while wearing Indian robes and a turban. Although Hindu religion per se was not the central core of his basically Judeo-Christian New Thought system of personal development, he did study Hindu religious culture -- particularly the methods of Indian fakirs and sadhus -- and in his books he referenced both yoga and the concept of personal mantras as essential adjuncts to his spiritually transformative New Thought teachings.

The Home of Truth

The Home of Truth was founded by Annie Rix Militz and Harriet Hale Rix, two sisters from northern California who were students of the New Thought teacher Emma Curtis Hopkins. The Rix sisters had entered New Thought from a Protestant Christian background and had formerly been associated with Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science, with Charles and Myrtle Fillmore's Unity, and with the female suffrage movement. Annie Rix Militz was the founder of the West Coast Metaphysical Bureau, a group that studied comparative religious teachings in the light of New Thought metaphysical philosophy. She also served a term as the president of the International New Thought Alliance and was the editor of Master Mind Magazine.

In 1893, at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Annie Rix Militz met Swami Vivekananda, an Indian-born teacher in the Vedanta tradition. Impressed with his message, she sponsored a lecture tour for him in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he remained for one month and spoke to thousands of New Thought adherents. Through Vivekananda's outreach, Hindu theological concepts were incorporated into the writings and teachings of the Rix sisters, and thus their denomination, The Home of Truth, became inclusive, interfaith, and eclectic in outlook.

The influence of Hinduism in the Home of Truth denomination went beyond eclecticism in theology and worship. Embracing the Hindu concept of ahimsa (non-harm), Annie Rix Militz also became an outspoken advocate for the worldwide peace movement during World War One, a time when such beliefs were neither popular nor widespread. This emphasis on compassion and social progressivism continues to form a strong current within the Home of Truth.


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