The History of New Thought
From Mind Cure to Positive Thinking and the Prosperity Gospel
By John S. Haller, Jr.
Foreword by Robert C. Fuller
Swedenborg Studies #21
John Haller traces the history of New Thought from the mind-cure speculations of the late nineteenth century to the modern belief in the power of thought to shape our destiny. Read more
Hardcover and e-book, 404 pages
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New Thought is both a movement and a uniquely American philosophy, one that emphasizes the power of the mind over matter and challenges its followers to visualize their way to health and success. Historian John S.Haller’s exploration of New Thought is not only about the people and organizations involved, but the way that their ideas were embraced and disseminated through popular culture.
Haller traces New Thought back to its earliest beginnings in the American rejection of Calvinist theology, the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the healing techniques of Franz Anton Mesmer, and the visionary theology of Emanuel Swedenborg.
Identifying the emergence of the movement with mind-cure healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, he shows how Quimby’s ideas were spread by students such as Swedenborgian Warren Felt Evans and Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy. The idea that the mind can cure disease quickly morphed into the idea that the mind can cure all of a person’s problems. New job, new house, new love–according to the preachers of the prosperity gospel, not only can we have it all, but we deserve it. That idea was eagerly adopted and repeated by generations of opinion leaders, often without realizing where it originated. Haller follows these threads into modern times, illuminating an important but little-studied facet of American culture.
“This is a valuable and comprehensive survey of the religious movement called New Thought–a cluster of American theological and metaphysical systems based on the power of the human mind to transform personal realities and interact with the divine mind. Haller skillfully weaves the multifaceted strands of this diverse and divergent movement into a coherent narrative. Starting with the rejection of traditional Christian metaphysics, and drawing from inspiring figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Anton Mesmer, and Emanuel Swedenborg, this movement quickly diversified in the 19th century, becoming an important part of American religious and social life. Innovators such as Phineas Quimby, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, and many others developed practical new metaphysics that met American needs. Haller traces this movement into the 20th century, through such diverse figures as Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and even Oprah Winfrey, along with Stephen Covey, Eckhart Tolle, Matthew Fox, and the Christian leaders of the Word of Faith movement. This fascinating and very readable book illuminates an important aspect of American culture and religion. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”
—M. A. Granquist, Luther Seminary, Choice
“Haller’s work on New Thought history is an engaging and welcomed addition to a recent trend of new books on the subject. The tapestry that is the history of New Thought is as varied and eclectic as the nation in which it was born. Haller pulls these threads together in a compelling fashion that gives the reader a deeper appreciation for the unique cultural context that gave rise to New Thought. Haller provides more than a historical review of where we emerged from; he also takes an honest look at how it happened. As such this book, more than any other in this genre, provides valuable insights into what the New Thought movement has become as it has both shaped and been shaped by the American psyche. I believe The History of New Thought will quickly become required reading for anyone who wants to know not only where New Thought came from, but also where it might go and grow from here.”
—Rev. David F. Alexander, senior minister, New Thought Center for Spiritual Living
“The popularity of the so-called Prosperity Gospel in modern American evangelicalism and the proliferation of exponents of this adaptation of Christian teachings have fascinated religious researchers for decades. But are there antecedents to this phenomenon that can help us understand its methods and motivations? Indeed, there is a long and complex history behind this movement, and in this fine work, author Haller (Swedenborg, Mesmer and the Mind/Body Connection: The Roots of Complementary Medicine) takes us into the heart of the uniquely American set of spiritual doctrines known as “New Thought” and shows how such thinkers as Emanuel Swedenborg, Mary Baker Eddy, and Norman Vincent Peale have affected the way we view religion and, indeed, God. Haller concludes that “New Thought marked a triumph of voluntarism, a vindication of religious freedom, and scorn for all forms of authoritarian creeds.” As such, it synthesizes the individualistic impulses of centuries of ecclesiastical radicals and serves it up in a distinctly American religious tradition. Haller, a historian at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, artfully and persuasively pulls together a complex history and shines a much needed light on a seductive and popular religious movement.”
—Publishers Weekly (October 8, 2012)
“Haller (history and medical humanities, Southern Illinois U.) presents a history of “New Thought,” from colonial days to the present, which attends to its relationship with scientific discourse and worldly “success.” He explores the early foundations of New Thought in a rejection of pessimistic Calvinism in favor of self-directed theologies of emotion and intuition that tried to revive a spiritual core to Christianity that was hopeful of over-coming the “failings” of materiality. These traditions are grounded in Christianity and so East Asian religions in the west only figure as influences rather than developments. While he finds these traditions start out in earnest, they develop into various forms of spiritual hucksterism in the 20th century. To this end he considers the rise of Oprah, positive psychology’s assault on the failings of market society, and alternative forms of medicine. Since he focuses on ideas more than historical actors, two appendices list organizations and individuals affiliated with New Thought. This text is published by Swedenborg Foundation Press. Emmanuel Swedenborg is a prominent figure in this history.”
—Book News Inc., Portland, OR
About the Swedenborg Studies Series
Swedenborg Studies is a scholarly series published by the Swedenborg Foundation. The primary purpose of the series is to make materials available for understanding the life and thought of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) and the impact his thought has had on others. The Foundation undertakes to publish original studies and English translations and to republish primary sources that are otherwise difficult to access.