New Thought
A late-nineteenth-century religious movement that wedded
the spiritual idealism of philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson
with the pursuit of healing alternatives through various mental
and psychological processes. The origin of New Thought is
generally traced to Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866),
a mesmerist from the state of Maine. Quimby had become fascinated
with the phenomena associated with mesmerism (or
hypnotism) but began to notice that its healing potential really
came from the transfer of healing thoughts. He concluded that
mind was the major factor in healing. The mind of the patient
had come to accept thoughts that caused disease, and healing
was accomplished when the mind came to believe the truth. For
Quimby, the mind’s operation upon the body brought health.
Quimby lived in Portland, Maine, far from the centers of
culture. He wrote down his ideas but never published them,
and only a few students found their way to his door. When he
died as a relatively unknown and unheralded healer in 1866
there was nothing like a movement built around either him or
his ideas. One of his students, Warren Felt Evans, a Swedenborgian
minister, settled in Salisbury, Massachusetts, and in 1869
wrote the first of a series of books on mental healing, acknowledging
in passing his debt to Quimby. However, his developing
ideas left Quimby behind for a form of pantheism.
The most notable of Quimby’s students was Mary Baker
Eddy. She found significant relief from her chronic medical
problems under Quimby’s tutelage, but had questioned the fact
that her symptoms returned when she left Maine and tried to
resume her normal life. She also was offended by Quimby’s disparagement
of ministers, churches, and religion in general.
She went to the Bible as a means of answering her questions.
Eddy reached a crisis in 1866 a few weeks after Quimby’s
death. She slipped on some ice and injured herself to the extent
that she was bedridden. Some thought she was going to
die. However, during her recovery, all of her study came together
in a new revelation that God was all, the sum of reality.
Since God is all, and in his presence there can be no illness, she
concluded that illness must be an error in the individual’s
mind. The realization of this new insight led to her immediate
healing. She would embody this new idealistic understanding
of the universe in a booklet, The Science of Man (1870), and then
more completely in her textbook, Science and Health (1875). She
taught informally for several years but in 1876 encouraged the
formation of the Christian Science Association, an organization
of her students and the root of the Church of Christ, Scientist,
which she would found three years later.
The Christian Science movement placed a new healing emphasis
before the American public. Eddy regularly offered
classes at which she trained people to become practitioners.
Her students in turn moved out to establish offices and offer
their services to their suffering neighbors. Led by the distribution
of Science and Health (soon expanded with a biblical key to
become Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures), the Christian
Science movement spread across North America and into
Europe during the 1880s.
The Emergence of New Thought
Eddy built this large movement, with which Quimby was
never involved. It was built around her own particular healing
vision, the core of which had been revealed to her in 1866 and
which she developed throughout the rest of her life. She had
little patience with students who wished to take her ideas and
make personal elaborations upon them. Students who deviated
from Eddy’s own presentation of Christian Science were soon
separated from the organization. By the mid 1880s there were
a number of independent Christian Science practitioners, including
some who moved away due to Eddy’s insistence upon
the centrality of Christian faith and symbols. Collectively they
became known as the mind cure movement.
In 1885, one of Eddy’s most talented students, to whom she
had entrusted the Christian Science Journal, broke with Eddy and
moved from Boston to Chicago to establish an independent
private practice. After a year as merely a practitioner, Emma
Curtis Hopkins was talked into opening a school at which she
could teach Christian Science and train practitioners. The
school opened in 1886 as the Hopkins Metaphysical Association.
By the end of 1887, affiliated associations managed by her
students could be found from Maine to California. Hopkins’ efforts
pulled together the independents into a coherent competing
movement that grew and diversified over the next decade.
Among Hopkins’s students were a number of capable leaders
who, with her encouragement, founded their own independent
movements. Over the years she taught Melinda Cramer
(founder of Divine Science), Myrtle and Charles Fillmore (cofounders
of Unity), Annie Rix Militz (founder of the Homes of
Truth), and Ernest Holmes (founder of Religious Science).
Hopkins thus mobilized the followers and trained the leaders
of what would in the 1890s become known as the New
Thought movement and is rightly remembered as the movement’s
founder. Hopkins would largely resign from any leadership
role in 1895 after launching the movement, which consisted
of several large associations of churches and centers (Unity,
Divine Science, Homes of Truth, and later the Church of Truth
and Religious Science) and many independent churches and
centers. Various attempts to organize the movement were
made through the early years of the twentieth century, culminating
in the formation of the International New Thought Alliance
in 1915. Several years later the alliance adopted a ‘‘Declaration
of Principles’’ which guided it for forty years until the
present ‘‘Declaration,’’ which was adopted in 1957, appeared.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. New Thought
1115
The 1957 Declaration affirmed the oneness of God and humanity,
a major implication being that humans can reproduce
divine perfection in the body. God is defined as universal wisdom,
love, life, truth, power, peace, joy, and beauty, and the
universe is seen as the body of God. Mental states manifest in
human life to good or ill. God manifests as the divine virtues
in humans. Humans are basically an invisible spiritual dweller
in the body.
Today the International New Thought Alliance is headquartered
at 5003 E. Broadway Rd., Mesa, AZ 85206.
Sources
Beebe, Tom. Who’s Who in New Thought. Lakemount, Ga.
CSA Press, 1977.
Braden, Charles S. Spirits in Rebellion. Dallas, Tex. Southern
Methodist University Press, 1963.
Dresser, Horatio W. History of the New Thought Movement.
New York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1919.
———. The Spirit of New Thought. New York Thomas Y.
Crowell, 1917.
Fuller, Robert C. Mesmerism and the American Cure of Souls.
Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical
Movements in America. Philadelphia Westminster Press,
1967.
Melton, J. Gordon. New Thought A Reader. Santa Barbara,
Calif. Institute for the Study of American Religion, 1990.
Meyer, Donald. The Positive Thinkers. New York Doubleday,
1965.
Parker, Gail. Mind Cure in New England. Hanover, N.H.
University Press of New England, 1973.
Podmore, Frank. Mesmerism and Christian Science. London
Metheun, 1909.
Quimby, Phineas P. The Complete Writings. Edited by Ervin
Seale. 3 vols. Marina del Rey, Calif. DeVorss, 1987.
———. The Quimby Manuscripts. Edited by Horatio Dresser.
New York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1919. Reprint, New York Julian
Press, 1961.
Trine, Ralph Waldo. In Tune With the Infinite. New York
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1897.
Troward, Thomas. The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science.
London, 1904.
———. The Hidden Power and Other Papers on Mental Science.
New York Dodd, Mead, 1917.