Williamson, Marianne (1953– )
Marianne Williamson, a popular metaphysical teacher of
the channeled text A Course in Miracles (ACIM), was born in
Houston, Texas, the daughter of a prominent Jewish lawyer
who specialized in immigration law. Her father, Alan Vishnevetsky,
had changed the family name when he moved to the
United States from his birthplace in Russia. In her youth, she
was influenced more by leftist politics than spirituality. She attended
Pomona College for two years (1970–72), but found
herself rudderless through the next years of her life. In 1977,
while living in New York City and trying to develop a singing
career, she first encountered A Course in Miracles. Though initially
put off by its Christian references, the following year she
volunteered at the Foundation for Inner Peace, the corporation
set up to publish the books and disseminate the teachings,
and assisted in its move to Tiburon, California.
Williamson moved back to Houston in 1979, and she married
a businessman. The marriage soon ended in divorce. Her
first attempt to appropriate the teachings of the Course led her
into a lengthy spiritual crisis which she termed a ‘‘dark night
of the soul.’’ She eventually found her way to a psychiatrist who
was also a student of the ACIM, and attributes his help in getting
her through this difficult period. She finally reached the
point where she invited God into her life and in essence began
her life anew. In 1983 she moved to Southern California. She
took a secretarial job with the Philosophical Research Society
in Hollywood, and soon became the weekly lecturer on A Course
in Miracles.
Articulate, attractive, and entertaining, Williamson soon
outgrew the facilities at the society, and went out on her own.
She drew large audiences in both Los Angeles and New York,
and discovered that she had a special appeal among gay males
who had been affected by the AIDS epidemic. Her recognition
of her gay audience led her to found the Center for Living, a
combination hospicecultural center for people with catastrophic
illnesses. Centers were opened in both Los Angeles
and New York. She spent a considerable amount of her time
raising financial resources for the center.
Williamson attained a new level of fame beginning in 1991
when the newsstand magazine Vanity Fair published a feature
article on her. Then she officiated at the wedding of Liz Taylor
and Larry Fortensky. When her first book, A Return to Love, appeared
early in 1992, Oprah Winfry invited her on the show
and endorsed the volume, copies of which she distributed to
the audience that day. Williamson was a national celebrity, her
fame reaching far beyond that previously attained by ACIM. In
the meantime, dissension had emerged at the two centers. She
eventually withdrew from an active administrative role and in
the mid-1990s moved to Santa Barbara for several years before
relocating to New York.
While being attacked in the press for what were considered
by some as personality flaws, Williamson continued to write
popular spiritual texts including A Woman’s Worth and Illuminata.
Still drawing large audiences for her presentations,
she remains the single most popular interpreter of A Course in
Miracles.
Sources
Bennetts, Leslie. ‘‘Marianne’s Faithful.’’ Vanity Fair (June
1991).
Miller, D. Patrick. The Complete Story of the Course The History,
the People and the Controversies Behind A Course in Miracles. Berkeley,
Calif. Fearless Books, 1997.
Oumano, Elena. Marianne Williamson Her Life, Her Message,
Her Miracles. New York St. Martin’s Press, 1992.