EXPLORING THE EVOLUTION OF
NEW THOUGHT AND SCIENCE OF MIND
BY REV. DR. SHARON R. GUTHRIE, PhD
Copyright © 2023 Sharon R Guthrie
New Thought is a term used to describe a movement in spiritual philosophy that was developed and popularized in the United States in the early 19th century. The movement originated during a time when the Church was criticized for its overly rigid doctrines and dogmatic approach to spiritual growth. Instead, New Thought advocates called for a more individualistic approach to personal growth and spiritual exploration.
New Thought is based on the idea that the universe is a vast field of energetic potential that humans can direct to enhance the quality of their lives. More specifically, the philosophy is grounded in the belief that the mind (i.e., one’s thoughts and beliefs) is a creative force that significantly impacts the material conditions of life. Therefore, New Thought encourages people to take personal responsibility for their lives by using the power of their mental capacities. More specifically, the chief tenets of New Thought are: 1) Infinite Intelligence or God is omnipotent and omnipresent, 2) Spirit is the ultimate reality, 3) Human self-hood is Divine, 4) Divinely attuned thought is a force for good, 5) All disease is mental in origin, and 6) Right thinking has a healing effect.1
Religious Science (RS), later known as Science of Mind (SOM), was founded in the early 20th century by Ernest Shurtleff Holmes. Religious Science/ Science of Mind is an integral part of the broader category of New Thought. The philosophy is founded on the belief that all of humanity is interconnected and that all beings are part of the larger universal fabric of existence. Like New Thought, Science of Mind is a practical system for advancing personal development and transformation. Also, consistent with New Thought, proponents believe that humans possess an innate creative capacity to use the limitless potentials of the universe to enhance their lives via their mental powers.
Science of Mind draws from a variety of sources and religious traditions. As founder Holmes stated in The Ernest Holmes Papers, “The greatest contributions to New Thought came from Hinduism, Buddhism, the Old Testament, Judaism, the New Testament, and the Greeks.” He further claimed, “New Thought, stems out of Christianity, but Religious Science is not just a Christian philosophy although it is a Christian denomination.”2
In Science of Mind, Holmes’ 1926 seminal work, he maintained, “Religious Science is a correlation of the laws of science, the opinions of philosophy, and the revelations of religion applied to human needs and the aspirations of man [sic].” He also declared that Religious Science/Science of Mind is not based on any “authority” of established beliefs but on “what it can accomplish” for the people who practice it.
There are essentially four major influences that prompted the origin of New Thought, and ultimately Science of Mind: 1) the Ancient Wisdom Traditions; 2) Progressive Christianity; 3) Transcendentalism; and 4) the Mind Cure Movement. Thus, the movement, which originated in America, is rooted in antiquity. This historical review includes the major players associated with each philosophical source, with an emphasis on those who had the greatest influence on Ernest Holmes.
The First Influence: The Ancient Wisdom Traditions
The Ancient Wisdom traditions include 1) Confucianism and Taoism in China; 2) Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism in India; 3) Monotheism in Israel (which later developed into Judaism, Christianity and Islam); and 4) Rationalism in Greece. Each of these traditions offered grist for the mill of New Thought philosophy.
Confucianism and Taoism
The ideas of Confucianism and Taoism, with their emphasis on living in harmony with oneself and the external world, lent support for the philosophical and spiritual concepts of New Thought and paved the way for the optimism and personal growth that is associated with New Thought today. Confucianism, which was founded on the teachings of Confucius (551-479 BCE) in ancient China, is compatible with New Thought because of its focus on establishing ideal or “right” relationships as a path to spiritual growth and enlightenment. Most importantly, Confucianism emphasizes the need to cultivate social harmony and live in harmony with nature. This idea of harmonious living with oneself, with others, and with the world around us is central to New Thought philosophy.
Taoism, which originated in prehistoric China, also influenced New Thought. Taoism stresses the importance of living in harmony with the natural order of the universe. Living in alignment with the natural order is consistent with the New Thought concepts of “right thinking“ and the “law of attraction.” Both concepts are grounded in the belief that being in alignment with the laws of nature attracts positive energy and experiences into one’s life.
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism
New Thought draws many of its sources from India. Hinduism is an ancient spiritual and religious tradition dating back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Despite its antiquity, Hinduism thrives in modern times and has had a significant impact on the development of many philosophical and spiritual traditions, including the New Thought movement. It also influenced the thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Troward, both of whom greatly influenced Ernest Holmes.
The core teaching of Hinduism, namely that all aspects of life are connected to and controlled by Divine consciousness, is aligned with the emphasis in New Thought on the power of positive thinking and the ability to direct energy through the use of the mind. New Thought practitioners believe that by recognizing the power within and controlling one’s thoughts, one can gain mastery of self and spiritual growth, and experience enhanced life conditions (e.g., health, abundance). This belief is a direct product of Hindu philosophy.
Hinduism’s emphasis on the importance of meditation and contemplation, as well as its concept of Brahman, the universal power, are important elements of New Thought practice. Additionally, many of the terms coined and popularized by New Thought practitioners, including “manifestation” and “the law of attraction,” were derived from or are consistent with Hindu scriptures.
Buddhism and Jainism also have had an impact on the New Thought movement and its adherents. Although many of their basic teachings and ideas are very similar, each religion offers a unique perspective and understanding of spiritual truth.
Buddhism is a religious and philosophical tradition that was founded in India in the 5th century BCE by Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhism provides a system of beliefs, and practices that are designed to lead individuals to spiritual liberation. More specifically, the philosophy is rooted in the notions of: 1) Dharma (religious and moral duty); 2) the Four Noble Truths, which are: (a) life is filled with suffering; (b) suffering is caused by craving and attachment; (c) suffering can be ended; and (d) the path to ending suffering and achieving enlightenment is ethical behavior, mental training, and meditation; and 3) Karma (the action/consequence principle). New Thought proponents have embraced many of the basic Buddhist concepts and practices, particularly those related to karma, mindfulness, and the belief that negative thoughts, words, or actions can lead to suffering. Karma in New Thought, however, is generally not associated with reincarnation, as is true in Buddhism and Jainism, but rather circumstances occurring in the present lifetime.
Jainism is a religious and philosophical system founded in India in the 6th century BCE. A core principle of Jainism is ahimsa, a belief in non-violence. The practice of ahimsa, which is often referred to as “love for all living things,” has been embraced by New Thought proponents as it is seen as an attitude of respect and kindness toward all living species.
Jains also believe in the practice of meditation to help cultivate ahimsa, spiritual progress, and understanding of the true nature of reality. Jainism’s emphasis on the power of meditation to bring about desired changes in consciousness has been one of the cornerstones of the New Thought movement. Finally, Jainism has influenced New Thought’s belief in non-dualism as the true nature of reality. Non-dualism is the belief that reality is ultimately a unified whole, where distinctions such as subject and object have no real meaning. This belief has been a foundational component of New Thought and Science of Mind teachings.
Monotheism in Israel
Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God who is all-powerful and all-knowing. This concept, which was first introduced in ancient Israel as early as the first millennium BCE, is known to have had a profound influence on the development of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The belief in an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God is a central tenet of New Thought and Science of Mind.
Rationalism in Ancient Greece
Rationalism, the view that reason is the main source and test of knowledge, provided a logical response to the chaotic natural world in which the Greeks lived and the impetus for the shift in thought from a magical, mystical belief system to a rigorous intellectual and scientific one. Although the famous philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are often credited with the birth of modern rationalism, its roots go much deeper into Ancient Greece’s past. Pre-Socratic thinkers, such as Thales, Anaximander, and Heraclitus, had earlier formulated a way of intellectually examining natural phenomena, trying to explain why things acted in certain ways and, more importantly, how they were connected.
Rationalism was not limited merely to natural phenomena, however. Many philosophers, particularly Socrates, applied their logic to moral, ethical, and metaphysical questions. Socrates’ famous declaration, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” is indicative of his belief that individuals should be reflective reasoning beings and that thought was the path to enlightenment and a good life. Moreover, according to Ernest Holmes, “we find in the Greeks a rehearsal of the Hermetic teaching, particularly their concept of what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “Law of Parallels.” That is, there is always a correspondence between the laws and phenomena of the various planes of Being and Life: the known and unknown.3
Plato, a pupil of Socrates and one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy, was an early architect of what later became New Thought with his notion of “ideal forms.” According to Plato, ideal forms are perfect, essential realities that exist beyond the physical world. He suggested that one’s understanding of these forms is necessary to achieve knowledge, and ultimately, wisdom. Plato also argued that reason could be used to free oneself from the illusions of the material world and that knowledge should be sought for its own sake rather than for worldly gain.
The Influence of the Ancient Wisdom Traditions on Ernest Holmes
Plato (427-347BC). Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science, was influenced by Plato’s philosophy in many ways. For example, he was attracted to Plato’s concept of “The Good Life” as a source of spiritual guidance and his views on the immortality of the soul. Plato believed that all individuals have a natural desire for justice and goodness, and by developing the confidence to act on this principle, one can develop inner wisdom and insight into the human condition. This concept was grounded in Plato’s view that achieving the good life (i.e., overcoming negative emotions and cultivating virtue) involves understanding one’s inner nature and the true nature of reality, both of which are important ingredients in Science of Mind. These ideas resonate with Holmes’ belief that a single source of spiritual truth exists and is accessible through intuition and “right thinking.” Moreover, when individuals recognize and align with this truth, they can access their highest potential and experience peace and harmony.
Plato also likely influenced Holmes’ views on the existence and nature of the soul. For Holmes, the soul was the true essence of the individual and was the source of creative and spiritual power. This was mirrored in Plato’s notion of the “psyche,” which he regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom. Holmes explicitly embraced this notion and wrote in his 1926 work, The Science of Mind,. . . “the soul is the spark of the divine within us, and its power is absolute and is never subject to the laws of the physical universe.”
Finally, Plato’s philosophy is significantly aligned with Holmes’ views on the relationship between the individual and the Divine. For Holmes, there existed a higher power that could be tapped into by those seeking spiritual growth. According to Holmes, the soul is a part of God that can be accessed through human experience, which corresponds to Plato’s description of the body as the holding cell for the soul but holds significance beyond the body. Holmes also adopted Plato’s conception of God as an eternal and unchanging being who is beyond the physical world. He agreed with Plato’s belief that beauty, virtue, and truth could be found in the ideal realm rather than the physical realm, a concept known as Platonic Idealism. Holmes used this idea in his teaching that the external world is an illusion and that real truth is found in the realm of the ideal. Finally, Holmes was also influenced by Plato’s notion of the “soul’s journey,” a concept in which the soul travels through different stages of existence before finally reaching a state of “enlightenment.” Holmes adopted this idea in his teaching, describing a journey toward a state of spiritual awakening.
Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950). Also, important among individuals associated with the Ancient Wisdom Traditions was Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher, yogi, and spiritual leader. He is best known for his teachings regarding the power of the inner self and uncovering the Divine within each person. He also is credited with deepening the understanding of yoga, meditation, and spirituality, making them more in tune with the Western world. Aurobindo taught that we have the power within us to tap into our “Higher Self” and manifest our full potential. He also claimed that the ultimate state of spiritual realization could be attained by individuals if they followed their soul’s (intuitional) guidance. Ernest Holmes followed this line of thinking and often claimed that one’s intuition is God within, revealing the reality of his or her Being.
Holmes was inspired by Sri Aurobindo, writing about him in his book entitled Creative Mind and Success (1928). In this work, Holmes explored how Aurobindo’s teachings could be applied in the West by adapting them to the culture and sensibilities of people living in the United States at the time. Holmes admired Aurobindo’s notion of discovering inner knowledge and that humans have the power to make positive changes through meditation and spiritual practice. Additionally, he was fascinated by Aurobindo’s ability to tap into the higher realms of consciousness and access the wisdom so few others had attained. Many of Holmes’ teachings can be attributed to Aurobindo, for example, the idea that we draw unto ourselves what we need when it is truly needed. Additionally, he was inspired by Aurobindo’s concept of the mystic’s role in union with the Divine in which he saw the existence of an invisible Presence in all life.
Julia Seton (1862-1950). Another individual who drew on the ideas from the Ancient Wisdom Traditions and greatly inspired Ernest Holmes was Julia Seton. Seton was a medical doctor and prominent New Thought leader who steeped her narrative in the scientific framework of her time, including Darwinism and data-driven analysis. She also embraced the philosophy and doctrines of ancient Egypt, India, and Greece. Seton was successful in combining these elements, creating a teaching that was novel and unprecedented, and laying the groundwork for a spiritual practice unconstrained by dogma and adaptable to diverse worldviews.
As Holmes once said, Julia Seton’s . . . “broad vision of spiritual truth is remarkable, and her ability to synthesize science and spirit is inspiring. Seton is one of the most remarkable women [sic] whoever appeared in the New Thought movement.”4 Thus, Seton’s influence on Holmes was significant. Through her, he was exposed to a broader spiritual view of the universe and came to understand the importance of practicing a spiritual life that was both anchored in science and open to spiritual exploration.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). Another major influencer of New Thought philosophy was Swami Vivekananda, an Indian Hindu monk and philosopher, who was the first Vedanta Yogi teacher to visit America. Vivekananda is credited with raising interfaith awareness and bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion. He spoke of tolerance, proclaiming that the world’s various religions are but different paths leading to the same goal. Vivekananda influenced several individuals associated with Ernest Holmes, including Emma Curtis Hopkins, Charles Fillmore, and Mary Baker Eddy. He also influenced, Paramahansa Yogananda, who in turn influenced Ernest Holmes, most notably in his emphasis on the unity of all life, the power of prayer and meditation, karma, and the power of intent in manifesting one’s desires.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952). Yogananda’s teachings and practices helped shape Holmes’ belief that all individuals can tap into the divine power within themselves and that positive spiritual and mental states can be created through concentration and meditation. In addition to his impact on Ernest Holmes, Yogananda’s presence in America had a lasting impact on the New Thought movement as a whole. His lectures, books, and other works spread the message of his spiritual teachings far and wide, creating a space for New Thought to take root and thrive in the Western world. Yogananda’s presence also helped link the Eastern and Western philosophies in a profound way, inspiring and invigorating the New Thought movement.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1863-1902). In the 19th century, Emerson, a key figure in the thinking of Ernest Holmes, was inspired by the writings of Vedanta, a philosophical system that developed out of ancient Hinduism. Emerson’s “over-soul” concept was likely inspired by the Brahman of Advaita Vedanta. This concept of Brahman, which is the ultimate reality or the divine source of all creation, had a particularly strong resonance with Emerson, who saw it as a unified spirit and a source of potential power for all individuals. In his essay “Nature,” Emerson wrote, “We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related.”5 This emphasis on the unity of all things and self-awareness is central to both Hinduism and New Thought.
Thomas Troward (1847-1916). Troward was also inspired by Hindu thought. He frequently read the Upanishads as part of his study, and his ideas about spiritual law and the power of thought were deeply rooted in Hindu philosophy. Troward’s teachings about the Law of Mentalism, for example, echo the teachings of Hinduism regarding the law of karma, which is the idea that every action has an associated energy that influences future events and experiences. Troward’s scientific approach to faith and spirituality also were drawn from Hinduism, as evidenced by his statement that “not only is the universe based on spiritual law, but science itself is the mathematically accurate expression of this law.”6
Hinduism had a significant impact on the New Thought movement and the work of both Emerson and Troward, and ultimately Ernest Holmes. By introducing ideas such as unity, self-awareness, spiritual law, and the power of thought, Hinduism paved the way for New Thought to flourish as an accepted philosophical and spiritual system in the modern world. The works of Emerson and Troward meanwhile, helped bring New Thought to the broader public and allowed people to gain insights into the divine nature of the universe. The influence of Hinduism in these works is undeniable, and it is a testament to the timelessness of Hindu spiritual thought.
The Second Influence: Transcendentalism
The Age of Enlightenment, often referred to as the Age of Reason, was a period when some of the greatest minds of the time explored the nature of the world and the universe. One of the most influential philosophies to emerge from this period was Transcendentalism, a movement that sought to unfetter the power of imagination and intuition and challenge the norms of society. By combining the teachings of Immanuel Kant and Ralph Waldo Emerson, transcendentalism became a firm underpinning for the New Thought movement, and ultimately Science of Mind.
American Transcendentalism was an idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in the New England region of the United States circa 1820s-1830s. It emerged in reaction to rationalism and John Locke’s sensationalism, that is, the belief that experience, as a source of knowledge, is limited to sensation or sense perception. While the Enlightenment period was dominated by the scientific method and reason, transcendentalism preached the importance of the individual’s experience of intuition and imagination in understanding reality. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, Transcendentalism taught that Divinity pervades all of nature and humanity; moreover, its advocates often held a progressive view on feminism and communal living.7
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, gave Transcendentalism its name, expressing the viewpoint that there are universal transcendent truths that cannot be established by reasoning alone, but rather must be understood through intuition. Kant also unified and systematized the idea of personal autonomy, proposing that human nature was characterized by self-determination and a moral sense. This influenced the New Thought movement, which sought to invoke a deeper connection with the Divine to enhance spiritual and mental health. A fundamental transcendental belief is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Drawing from the resources of Hindus, Confucius, Buddha, the Mohammedan Sufis, and the Bhagavad Gita, transcendentalism became an eclectic composite of Oriental, Greek, English, French, German, and native thought.8
Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist and philosopher, was a major player in the Transcendentalist movement and was one of the key persons from which New Thought drew its inspiration. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, Emerson significantly influenced Ernest Holmes’ thinking. Emerson argued that the universe was only accessible through an imaginative heart, which allowed an individual to experience it on a very personal level. His philosophy was rooted in the idea that only through our imagination and intuition can we understand the world in a meaningful way. Emerson also placed great importance on individual identity, counseling that each person had to be true to his/her unique perspectives. He strongly rejected materialism and the idea of mass conformity, which he viewed as obstacles to recognizing one’s potential.
Emerson’s life was one of spiritual exploration. He has even been called “the Father of New Thought” in some circles because he was instrumental in gathering together a group of intellectuals, writers, and philosophers to explore transcendental philosophy.9 Emerson believed every person to be an individualization of the one and only God and that at the center of our being, we are all influenced by spiritual laws.
Many of Emerson’s essays are aligned with Science of Mind concepts, particularly Self-Reliance, Spiritual Laws, Compensation, and The Over-soul. Ernest Holmes was deeply moved by the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and has been quoted as saying, “Reading Emerson is like drinking water to me.”10 Moreover, from Emerson, Holmes learned and embodied the following: 1) We are our own spiritual authority; 2) There is a Godlike Essence in every person; and 3) There is a connection between our thoughts and our life conditions.11
The Third Influence: Progressive Christianity
Throughout history, Christianity has been a major religious and spiritual force within the Western world. Christianity is a combination of the Hebrew and Greek philosophies, drawing much from Egyptian beliefs. Fifteen hundred years before the time of Moses, there was the Hermetic doctrine, which originated in Egypt. Not surprisingly, this teaching is closely aligned with what Moses taught as he was educated in the Egyptian court and temples by Egyptian priests.12
In the 19th century, a significant transformation of the Christian religion began to take place with the emergence of the Progressive Christianity movement. This spiritual movement was indicative of a considerable shift in perception regarding the traditional religions that had informed the faith of many. During this period, a new age of spiritualism, fueled by the ideas of Swedish theologian and scientist, Emanuel Swedenborg and Warren Felt Evans, a philosopher and writer, began to take hold, having major implications for New Thought.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg, a prominent 18th-century religious natural philosopher and scientist, had a great influence on the spiritual thinking of the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1747, he experienced a spiritual experience during an intense period of study and reflection, claiming that the Lord spoke to him. This event caused him to leave his scientific pursuits and focus on his spiritual mission.
Swedenborg sought to explain the connections between the spiritual and the physical world, and he believed the Bible was the key to interpreting the Divine will and the meaning of life. His beliefs focused on the idea of a rational God and a divinely ordained system of ethics and morality. He taught that the soul of every human is immortal and that spiritual truths should be used to guide the physical life. He also argued that understanding the spiritual aspects of the Bible was essential for understanding the universe and its mysteries.
Swedenborg advocated for a new interpretation of the Bible, suggesting that there is much latent meaning in the sacred text. He proposed that the elements of symbolism and allegorical stories present in the Bible were concealing a deeper spiritual reality, beyond pure physicality. Swedenborg thus laid the foundations for the fusion of religion/spirituality and the physical world, as evidenced by his teachings of correspondence between divine truths and those found in the physical world (i.e., Law of Correspondence). His philosophy has been said to transcend traditional Christian views of heaven and hell, introducing the notion of spiritual resurrection on Earth, an idea that is fundamental to many forms of modern spirituality, including Science of Mind.
Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889). Evans, an American philosopher and prolific author of New Thought philosophy and practice, helped shape the contours of New Thought in America. Specifically, he is remembered as an advocate of the belief that God is the source of all power and that each individual can achieve a greater understanding of the Divine through observing natural laws. His notion of a higher self, which could be tapped into in prayer and meditation, was one of the cornerstones of the New Thought movement. Additionally, Evans’ view of “mind cure” had a wide impact as he taught that physical healing could be achieved through the power of mental and spiritual development and healing. He also was noted for his understanding of the psychological ramifications of New Thought and the interdependency of the mind-body system.
Moreover, as a writer and Swedenborgian minister, Evans brought Swedenborg’s spiritual views to a larger audience, popularizing his claim that embedded in the Bible were important spiritual insights. His teachings bridged traditional Christianity with the new spirituality beginning to emerge in the 19th century, thus advancing the Progressive Christianity movement and inspiring spiritual reformers of the period.
Ernest Holmes was inspired by the teachings and writings of both Swedenborg and Evans. As the founder of Religious Science/Science of Mind, Holmes established his form of spiritual cultivation based on the central themes of positive thought and the power of the individual. Science of Mind was intended to be a practical application of spirituality, as opposed to a religious text of faith. As he states in his book, The Science of Mind (1926), “It was then that I clearly saw that there was a great natural and spiritual science which had its foundation in the divine mind, and that this science…included all things.” In this way, Science of Mind was connected to the emergent Progressive Christianity of the 19th century, as Holmes’ sought to bridge his spiritual interpretation of the Bible with the approach of Swedenborg and Evans.
The Fourth Influence: The Mind Cure Movement
The Mind Cure Movement may be considered the most powerful influence on the development of New Thought and Science of Mind. The movement began in the 19th century in the United States and Europe as a spiritual enterprise seeking to help people find a path of spiritual healing and growth by using the power of one’s mind. During the early developmental stage, many spiritual teachers, some of whom were physicians and scientists, attempted to apply scientific theories to the understanding of the power of the human mind. They believed that through the successful application of spiritual principles, individuals could find harmony with the universe, healing, and overall well-being.
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815). Mesmer, a German physician, was one of the first European thinkers to link mental states to physical conditions. His concept of “mesmerism,” also known as “animal magnetism,” became widely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and laid the foundation for the later development of hypnotism.
Mesmer, who believed in the more esoteric aspects of the Western medicine tradition, posited the existence of an invisible natural force possessed by all living things that could have physical effects, including healing. He believed that all persons had magnetic fluid, or a vital force, flowing through their bodily channels, which when blocked, caused physical and emotional disease. His strategy was to put his patients into trance-like states, similar to the hypnotic condition, which he believed would unclog the fluid and promote healing. Although Mesmer was working with the subconscious mind, which he believed to be an intangible cosmic energy, he did not associate this energy with the mind. Therefore, even though Mesmer demonstrated, in essence, the power of the subjective mind and the even greater power of the conscious mind, his theoretical interpretation was not accurate.
Mesmer’s work on animal magnetism and the relationship between bodily fluids and disease inspired the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who was influenced in part by hearing a lecture by mesmerist, Charles Poyen. Mesmer’s influence on Phineas Quimby was also evident in the theories and practices he used in his system of mental healing. Quimby, like Mesmer, believed that the power of suggestion and imagination could be used to alter a person’s state of being.
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). Quimby is widely recognized as the father/founder of the New Thought movement, particularly in the United States. He was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire, but grew up in Belfast, Maine. He was an inventor, metaphysical thinker, and healer whose unique perspective on reality significantly contributed to the development of the Mental Cure Movement and New Thought.
Throughout his life, Quimby acquired extensive knowledge in the fields of medical science, metaphysics, and spirituality. He was the originator of the concept of mentalism, which holds that one’s mental state is the primary agent of healing and health. He argued that it is possible to heal or cure diseases with the power of one’s mind and that accurate and efficient diagnosis and treatment of ailments requires an understanding of the patient’s mental state. Quimby held, through healing himself and others, that diseases were caused by wrong beliefs and misguided assumptions and emphasized the importance of developing self-knowledge. In addition, Quimby contributed to the establishment of a central tenet of the New Thought movement, the idea that individuals are “creators of their own reality” and should focus on positive thoughts and affirmations to manifest positive results in life.
The ideas of Phineas Quimby have continued to be an important influence in the Mental Cure movement and New Thought since the mid-19th century. His notion of mental healing has been further developed and refined over time and is now widely accepted as a valid form of healing in many parts of the world. The fundamental principles of his teachings, such as the importance of one’s mental state for healing, the idea of self-knowledge, and the power of positive thought, are still the foundation of many modern healing practices. Moreover, these discoveries led to the enhancement of understanding and the development of cures for psychosomatic illness.
Quimby’s influence was reflected in the writings of Warren Evans who came to Quimby for healing in 1863. When Evans was healed shortly thereafter, he began writing New Thought literature; in fact, he may have been the first person to publish a clear philosophy based on Quimby’s practices. Evans was so impressed with the results of Quimby’s work, he published several works exploring and systematizing Quimby’s ideas, including The Mental Cure.
The Dressers. Other proponents of Quimbian philosophy and practice were Julius Dresser (1838–1893), a popular lecturer, and his wife, Annetta Seabury (1843-1935), a practitioner, and their son Horatio (1866–1954), who spread his father’s teachings and later edited The Quimby Manuscripts (1921).13 Horatio is also known for leading a dispute against Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy, over her use of Quimby’s teaching without giving him credit in her writings. Eddy’s lack of crediting Quimby’s work is surprising since she had come to Quimby for healing from ill health and was very impressed with his teaching and practice. Although Christian Science is not considered a New Thought denomination due to Eddy’s dogmatic approach and disinterest in allowing the doctrine to grow and evolve, Christian Science is commonly regarded by New Thought followers to be heavily driven by New Thought beliefs. In 1875, Eddy published Science and Health, thus establishing Christian Science as a denomination.
Charles Sherlock Fillmore (1854-1948). Charles Fillmore, originator of the Unity organization, was also an important leader in the New Thought and Mind Cure Movements. Fillmore was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1888 where he took up the study of New Thought. Through his daily practice and study of the religion, Fillmore began to develop his ideas about healing and spiritual growth. He initially believed that prayer and meditation were the most effective methods of physical and spiritual healing, but soon began to expand his views to include other concepts such as the power of faith and positive thinking. Additionally, Fillmore became known as an American mystic for his contributions to the spiritual interpretation of Biblical scripture.
Fillmore, along with his wife, Myrtle (1845-1931), founded the Unity School of Christianity in 1889 to spread the teachings and practices of New Thought. In his book, Teachings on the Unity (1925), Fillmore outlined the basic principles of the faith, stressing the importance of finding faith in oneself and living in harmony with the universe. He believed that the power of “mind over matter” could be used to create physical health, material success, and spiritual growth. Fillmore is credited with introducing the concept of “affirmations” into the New Thought tradition, emphasizing the power of positive thinking and the ability to manifest change through the power of the mind.
Nona Brooks (1861-1945) and Malinda Cramer (1844-1906). Nona Brooks another leader in the Mind Cure movement and described as a “prophet of modern mystical Christianity,” joined forces with Malinda Cramer to found the Church of Divine Science. Both women were passionate speakers and prolific writers who used their platforms to spread New Thought teachings. They taught that the power of the individual’s inner thoughts could be used to manifest health and abundance in everyday life. While Cramer focused on the metaphysical elements of the New Thought doctrine, Brooks stressed the importance of practical application and was noted for her progressive thinking on topics such as gender roles and racial equality. Together, they gave voice to the teachings of the New Thought movement and helped it gain widespread popularity.
Thomas Troward (1847-1916). As mentioned earlier, Troward was a prominent figure in the New Thought movement. He also played a major role in the Mind Cure Movement. Troward, a British judge, philosopher, author, and metaphysical thinker advanced the concept of mental healing, as well as mystic Christianity. He argued that the mind is a powerful force, capable of influencing and changing one’s life and environment. Indeed, Troward’s idea of mental healing lies at the heart of New Thought, so much so that he has been called “the Father of the New Thought Movement,” particularly in Britain. His influence on Ernest Holmes’s thinking was profound. In fact, Holmes claimed that 25% of the Science of Mind philosophy came from Troward, who relied extensively on the work of Thomas Jay Hudson for the mental science element in his teaching.14
Troward was born in the Punjab, India, educated in England, and then returned to India to become a Divisional Judge. His chief interest lay in the field of religion. He spent years studying the Indian and comparative religions and became well-versed in Indian lore and sacred writings, as well as Hebrew and other ancient scriptures. Moreover, he was an ardent student of the Bible and was drawn to Emerson’s writings. Troward associated himself with the Higher Thought Centre in England and became a noted leader of British New Thought. His extensive theorizing led to what he called Mental Science. Troward’s Edinburgh and Dore Lectures on Mental Science contain a logical, intellectual explanation of this rich philosophy.
Ernest Holmes discovered Troward’s work in 1914, two years before the latter man died, and was one of the main channels through which Troward’s ideas reached American circles. He began speaking on Troward’s philosophy to groups of people when he was 25 without realizing his lifetime ministry had begun.15 He said of Troward’s philosophy, “This is as near to my own thoughts as I shall ever come.” From Troward, Holmes became convinced that: 1) There is an impersonal Law of the universe that is creative; 2) We create our dungeons or destiny by using the same creative power that created the universe; 3) Where Spirit is, the whole of Spirit must be; and 4) We can use the God Power within us consciously to improve our life.16
Emma Curtis Hopkins (1849-1925). Hopkins, another powerful leader in the Mental Cure Movement, was a metaphysical teacher and healer. She was a genuine mystic, that is, a person who sought contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the absolute. Hopkins emphasized this element, as well as her belief that Truth was omnipresent, in all her teachings and writing. Moreover, she drew upon the Bible, the non-Christian scriptures, and the works of the world’s great philosophers and saints in her teaching.
Hopkins’ mysticism had a potent influence on Ernest Holmes, who studied with her while teaching individual students in her later years. Holmes believed that she was among the greatest of mystics and with her guidance, he was able to distinguish between the psychological and mystical realms of life and eventually found ways to contact the latter.
Hopkins is credited with consolidating the various elements of New Thought into a cohesive whole. She championed the power of the individual as a creative force in the universe and argued that one could manifest his or her own reality through the power of the mind. She was educated at Woodstock Academy and remained for a time as an instructor. In 1882, she went to Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) because she was ill, and subsequently was healed. As a result, she devoted herself during that time to the study and growth of the Christian Science approach. She became a practitioner and served as editor of the Christian Science Journal from 1884 to 1885. Hopkins’ thinking, however, contrasted with Mary Baker Eddy because her mentor believed she alone knew the Truth. Within a year, Hopkin’s independent quest for spiritual truth created a rift between the two women.
In 1886, Hopkins left Mary Baker Eddy and began to develop her own metaphysical approach. She moved to Chicago, and in 1887, established the Christian Science Theological Seminary, an institution founded to promote her teachings. She quickly developed a following and expanded her teaching to New York, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Boston. Among those influenced by these lectures were Melinda Cramer and Nona Books, co-founders of Divine Science; Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of the Unity School of Christianity; Harriet Emilie Cady, author of Lessons in Truth (a text used in Unity teachings); Annie Rix Militz, founder of The Home of Truth (a New Thought denomination in San Francisco); and Ernest Holmes, founder of Religious Science. Because Hopkins’ influence was so pervasive in these New Thought organizations, she became known as the “Teacher of Teachers.”17
Ernest Holmes: Science of Mind
From time to time, a person of genius comes along, one whose insight, understanding, and compassion are influential in changing the thinking of generations. Ernest Shurtleff Holmes (1887-1960), the founder of Religious Science (later called Science of Mind), was such a person. Holmes’ brilliance, as a spiritual teacher, author, and philosopher, was in his ability to identify the commonalities across diverse religious and metaphysical systems and meld them into a philosophy that included practical tools for self-enhancement. In general, the term “Science of Mind” most often applies to the teachings, while the term “Religious Science” generally refers to the organizations. The terms are often used interchangeably, however.
Science of Mind, as noted earlier, outlines how individuals can use their thoughts and feelings to create positive mental/emotional states and manifest tangible material results. Holmes is known for saying, “God is not a person, but a Universal Presence. . . already in our own soul, already operating through our own consciousness. . . “We must partner with this loving and powerful energy by feeling and knowing that what is desired has already happened.”18 Thus, clarity in thinking that guides action to be consistent with the desired outcome is critical to the result.
Holmes was born on a small farm in Lincoln, Maine, in 1887. He was raised by Baptist parents who believed in the goodness of God, did not believe in a personal devil, urged their children to approach religion with questioning minds, and did not accept the fear often associated with religious doctrine. As a teenager, Ernest Holmes was known as “the eternal question mark.” His intellectual curiosity followed him to church, where he queried the ministers regarding their theology. “From the beginning I was a nonconformist,” he has said, “asking so many questions, I drove my relatives crazy.” Moreover, he had an excellent memory, indicated by his skill of repeating passages almost word for word after hearing them read only once.20
During his youth, there was no indication that Holmes would become one of the great spiritual leaders of his time. He said, in his later years, that he never felt a special calling and had no intuitive sense that he would become an accomplished teacher. He insisted that his ability was the result of the natural self-growth and evolution that was available to all persons alike.
By the age of 17, Holmes had entered a private preparatory school in Bethel, Maine attempting to obtain formal education and comprehend the religious teachings common to the era. He was particularly inspired by the notion of the unity of God and humanity, which became a central tenet of his teachings. By the age of 18, Holmes moved to Boston (1905) to access further knowledge, both spiritual and otherwise, in a metropolitan city.
Circa 1908, Holmes became interested in the Christian Science philosophy and concept of prayer. He could not accept all of the teachings, however, because of the authoritarian rigidity of the organization and its publications. At this time, Holmes began developing his own spiritual philosophy and ideas about prayer, realizing the answer to prayer lies in the mental attitude of the person praying. In fact, his greatest contribution to the world may be his technique of scientific prayer, which he termed “spiritual mind treatment.” Holmes once said, “Never be astonished when prayer is answered; be surprised when It isn’t and find out where you went wrong.”21
Development of Science of Mind
Holmes began to develop the principles and teachings of Science of Mind in the 1920s as an outgrowth of his spiritual practice and research into ancient and contemporary religious traditions. In 1916, he was working as a purchasing agent in Venice, California when he was invited to speak publicly in Los Angeles on Thomas Troward’s philosophy, particularly his Edinburg Lectures. This marked the beginning of his impressive career as a teacher of metaphysics and spirituality. Soon after that, he became ordained as a Divine Science minister and wrote his first book, Creative Mind in 1919. His teachings sought to unite the science of psychology and spirituality to foster greater harmony and well-being in individuals and society. In 1926, Holmes published the book entitled, The Science of Mind, in which he set forth the basic principles of his metaphysically-based philosophy and practice emphasizing the power of the individual’s mind in creating one’s life experience. This tome, revised and enlarged in 1938, has become a classic and is the standard teaching text and reference source for the Science of Mind philosophy.
Although his goal was to develop Science of Mind as a teaching institution, not as a church, Holmes founded the Institute for Religious Science and Philosophy in Los Angeles in 1927 and worked to spread his message of spiritual healing and personal transformation. The Institute was reorganized in 1949 as the Church of Religious Science when Holmes reluctantly agreed to establish Religious Science as a denomination. In the 1950s, Religious Science was divided into two organizations: Religious Science International, which became the International Centers for Spiritual Living, and the United Church of Religious Science, which became the United Centers for Spiritual Living.
For many years, the United Church of Religious Science (UCRS) maintained its headquarters in Los Angeles, California, while Religious Science International was headquartered in Spokane, Washington. In 2006, UCRS moved its headquarters to Golden, Colorado. After the 2011 merger of the two entities, the Golden location became the home office for the new Centers for Spiritual Living. For over 80 years, the organization has published the monthly magazine, Science of Mind, as well as other spiritual books in a variety of languages. There currently exist numerous Centers for Spiritual Living throughout the United States and worldwide. Combined, they are a global organization honoring diversity of people in all forms, and inclusivity.
Summary and Conclusions
There is no question that Science of Mind and New Thought have had a major impact on the spiritual landscape of the United States. With roots in diverse metaphysical beliefs and approaches, both systems have prompted and guided various psychosocial changes throughout the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries. They also have advanced understanding of the influence of the mind (consciousness) on health and well-being. In fact, over a century ago, renowned psychologist and philosopher, William James, commonly known as the Father of American Psychology, labeled the entire New Thought movement “the religion of healthy-mindedness” in his study on religion and science, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).
There is also a growing recognition of the intimate connection between spirituality and science. This understanding has been forged from early attempts to reconcile the ancient spiritual traditions of the East with the empirical observation of the West. Indeed, scholars from a variety of scientific disciplines are examining the possible linkages between the mind-body-spirit system and the physical world. Much of this new information supports and substantiates New Thought and Science of Mind philosophy and practice.
A prime example is positive psychology, one of the younger subfields of psychology, which emphasizes the importance of cultivating positive emotions, such as joy, love, gratitude, and contentment, to achieve psychological health and well-being. Additionally, positive psychology emphasizes that our thoughts and perceptions of the world ultimately determine mental health. Thus, the principles of positive psychology are closely aligned with those of Science of Mind with both systems providing a means to identify and redirect our thoughts to create enhanced life and living.
In recent years, there has also been a trend toward applying holistic approaches to improve mental, emotional, and physical health. For example, practices such as meditation, yoga, and acupuncture have become increasingly popular in addressing psychological issues. Moreover, practitioners of psychological therapies increasingly integrate Eastern holistic techniques, some of which are spiritually based, into their treatments. Additionally, research is being conducted on the effects of meditation on neurological, biological, and psychological pathways and the connection between spiritual practices and material well-being.22,23
Remarkable advancements have also been made in quantum physics as scholars in this field are attempting to develop a bridge between the empirical findings of materialist science and the intuitive truths of spiritual exploration. Quantum science has opened up the possibility that the very structure of the universe is not merely composed of matter and energy, but also incorporates elements of spiritual and metaphysical reality.24, 25 Thus, quantum science has significantly advanced our understanding of the nature of reality and the ways it works in the universe.
This understanding will likely impact Science of Mind philosophy and teaching. For example, SOM traditionally has taught that we are spiritual beings, having a human experience, governed by the Law of Cause and Effect, which is a fundamental life principle. This Law, states that every event or phenomenon has a specific and predictable cause, and every cause or action has a specific and predictable effect. Quantum physics has demonstrated, however, that some occurrences are acausal, unpredictable, and not subject to “cause and effect” as the Law is commonly defined by standard scientific models. It is anticipated, therefore, that this field of research will continue playing a significant role in furthering our understanding of the universe at micro- and macroscopic levels, as well as providing insight into the development of human consciousness (mind, emotion, feelings, behavior).
Also important is that complex systems (e.g., the human body, the natural environment, and the inner workings of the universe) are increasingly being viewed through the lens of information science. Information science is an interdisciplinary field involving the collection, classification, storage, retrieval, dissemination, interpretation, and use of all types of information. As advances in computing expand our understanding of complexity and the potential for controlling or manipulating biological systems, we can expect a deepening of our understanding and appreciation of the interconnections between spirituality and science.
Ernest Holmes saw humans as “open at the top,” that is, capable of evolutionary expansion of consciousness. Unlike Mary Baker Eddy who kept a tight rein on the doctrine of Christian Science—disallowing her teaching to grow, Holmes believed that Science of Mind must change with the times. Indeed, Science of Mind is an ever-evolving system incorporating new relevant information, as it becomes known, into the set of beliefs and teachings. Indeed, scientific discoveries have moved us closer to realizing the inexorable link between science and spirituality and in doing so, have provided validation for Science of Mind concepts and principles. This merger and integration of science and spirituality is something that our founder, Ernest Holmes, predicted and in which he would have found great satisfaction. And, So It Is!
Spiritual Center of the Desert
Spiritual Center of the Desert (SCD), originally Center for Spiritual Living, Palm Desert has been in existence for 50 years. SCD was associated with the global Centers for Spiritual Living organization until mid-2021. At that time, SCD became an independent center, Spiritual Center of the Desert, affiliated with Emerson Theological Institute. Emerson is an organization that offers a variety of New Thought and Science of Mind educational/training programs.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New Thought
2 The Ernest Holmes Papers, compiled by George P. Bendall, 1991-92
3 The Ernest Holmes Papers, compiled by George P. Bendall, 1991-92
4 The Ernest Holmes Papers, compiled by George P. Bendall, 1991-92
5 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Riggs Ferguson, Jean Ferguson Carr (1987). “The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson”, p.160, Harvard University Press
6 The Law and the Word (1917)
7 Gary Ward Materra, 1997, Women in New Thought, doctoral dissertation
8 “The History of New Thought” – mccsl.org
9 “The History of New Thought” – mccsl.org
10 The Ernest Holmes Papers, compiled by George P. Bendall, 1991-92
12 The Ernest Holmes Papers (1992) compiled by George P. Bendall
13 New Thought: History, Teachings, Practices, & Facts”
14 Information drawn from Path of Discovery by Reverend Scott Awbrey, Science of Mind Archives
15 “The History of New Thought” – mccsl.org
16 Information drawn from Path of Discovery by Reverend Scott Awbrey, Science of Mind Archives
17 “Science of Mind” – Centre for Spirit
19 Information drawn from Path of Discovery by Reverend Scott Awbrey, Science of Mind Archives
22 Chancey, B. (2018). Examining consciousness: The science of mind. The American Journal of Psychology, 55(4), pp.653-668.
23 Gebauer, G. (2016). Neuroscience of spiritual experience: EEG Studies in the Science of Mind. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 85(6), pp.390-401.
24 Hameroff, S. (2017). Quantum Cognition in the Brain: A Brief History and Prospects for the Future. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 11(142), pp.1-13.
25 Nelson, R. (2010). Quantum Information Theory and the Social Order: Can Logic Conquer Chaos? Social Science & Medicine, 71(2), pp.273-284.