The New Thought movement is a spiritually-focused or philosophical interpretation of New Thought beliefs. Started in the early 19th century, today the movement consists of a loosely allied group of religious denominations, secular membership organizations, authors, philosophers, and individuals who share a set of beliefs concerning metaphysics, positive thinking, the law of attraction, healing, life force, creative visualization and personal power.
New Thought promotes the following ideas:
- Infinite Intelligence or God is ubiquitous
- Spirit is the totality of real things
- All people are spiritual beings
- Divine thought is a force for good
- Sickness originates in the mind
- Right Thinking has a healing effect
- Our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living
There are three major religious denominations within the New Thought movement, Religious Science, Unity Church and the Church of Divine Science. There are many other smaller churches, as well as schools and umbrella organizations.
History of New Thought
The History of New Thought started in the 1830s, with roots in the United States and England. As a spiritual movement with roots in metaphysical beliefs, New Thought has helped guide a variety of social changes throughout the 19th, 20th, and into the 21st centuries. Psychologist and philosopher William James labelled New Thought “the religion of healthy-mindedness” in his study on religion and science, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Rooted in Socrates’ notion of universal science, early New Thought leaders shared a Romantic interest between metaphysics and American Christianity. In addition to New Thought, Christian Science, transcendental meditation, theosophy, and other movements were born from similar interests, all in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Early New Thought leaders were influenced by Calvinistic belief in the absolute sovereignty of God, John Locke’s belief that anything that existed in the mind could be expressed through words and the transcendentalist belief that ideal spirituality “transcends” the physical and is realized only through individual intuition, instead of through religion.
Before anyone practiced New Thought as a set of beliefs there were a few influential figures whose teaching later contributed to the movement. The founder of the 18th century New Church, Emanuel Swedenborg, extended influence on many New Thought writers. Ralph Waldo Emerson was also influential, as his philosophical movement of transcendentalism is incorporated throughout New Thought. Franz Mesmer’s work on hypnosis drove the work of Phineas Quimby, who was healed through the work of Charles Poyen.
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802 -1866), an American philosopher, mesmerist, healer, and inventor, is widely recognized as the founder of the New Thought movement. Quimby learned about the power of the mind to heal through hypnosis. Through this practice and further study, he developed the view that illness is a matter of the mind.
During the late 19th century the metaphysical healing practices of Quimby mingled with the Mental Science of Warren Felt Evans, a Swedenborgian minister.
New Thought was propelled along by a number of spiritual thinkers and philosophers and emerged through a variety of religious denominations and churches, particularly the Unity Church, Religious Science, and Church of Divine Science. Many of its early teachers and students were women; notable among the founders of the movement were Emma Curtis Hopkins, known as the “teacher of teachers”, Myrtle Fillmore, Malinda Cramer, and Nona L. Brooks; with many of its churches and community centers led by women, from the 1880s to today.
New Thought Writers
New Thought is largely a movement of the printed word. The 1890s and the first decades of the 20th century saw many New Thought books published on the topics of self-help, financial success, and will-power training. New Thought authors such as of Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, Charles Haanel, and Frank Channing Haddock were extremely popular.
New Thought magazines have reached large audiences, both in the early 1900s as well as today. Nautilus Magazine, for example, had 45,000 subscribers and a total circulation of 150,000. One Unity Church magazine, Wee Wisdom, was the longest-running children’s magazine in the United States, published from 1893 until 1991. Today, New Thought magazines include The Daily Word published by Unity and the Religious Science magazine, Science of Mind, published by the United Centers for Spiritual Living.