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The New Thought Movement or New Thought is a spiritual movement which developed in the United Statesmarker during the late 19th century and emphasizes metaphysical beliefs. It consists of a loosely allied group of religious denominations, secular membership organizations, authors, philosophers, and individuals who share a set of metaphysical beliefs concerning the effects of positive thinking, the law of attraction, healing, life force, creative visualization and personal power. It promotes the ideas that God is ubiquitous, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, all sickness originates in the mind, and 'right thinking' has a healing effect.

Although New Thought is neither monolithic nor doctrinaire, in general modern day adherents of New Thought believe that God is "supreme, universal, and everlasting", that divinity dwells within each person and that all people are spiritual beings, and that "the highest spiritual principle [is] loving one another unconditionally . . . and teaching and healing one another", and that "our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living".

The three major, but distinct, religious denominations within the American New Thought movement are Unity Church, Religious Science and the Church of Divine Science.

The largest New Thought group in the world is Seicho-no-Ie, predominant in Japan.


William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, described New Thought as follows:

...for the sake of having a brief designation, I will give the title of the "Mind-cure movement...."
There are various sects of this "New Thought," to use another of the names by which it calls itself; but their agreements are so profound that their differences may be neglected for my present purpose, and I will treat the movement, without apology, as if it were a simple thing.

It is a deliberately optimistic scheme of life, with both a speculative and a practical side.
In its gradual development during the last quarter of a century, it has taken up into itself a number of contributory elements, and it must now be reckoned with as a genuine religious power.
It has reached the stage, for example, when the demand for its literature is great enough for insincere stuff, mechanically produced for the market, to be to a certain extent supplied by publishers -- a phenomenon never observed, I imagine, until a religion has got well past its earliest insecure beginnings.

One of the doctrinal sources of Mind-cure is the four Gospels; another is Emersonianism or New England transcendentalism; another is Berkeleyan idealism; another is spiritism, with its messages of "law" and "progress" and "development"; another the optimistic popular science evolutionism of which I have recently spoken; and, finally, Hinduism has contributed a strain.
But the most characteristic feature of the mind-cure movement is an inspiration much more direct.
The leaders in this faith have had an intuitive belief in the all-saving power of healthy-minded attitudes as such, in the conquering efficacy of courage, hope, and trust, and a correlative contempt for doubt, fear, worry, and all nervously precautionary states of mind.
Their belief has in a general way been corroborated by the practical experience of their disciples; and this experience forms to-day a mass imposing in amount.


19th century origins

New Thought as a movement had no single origin, but was rather 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. It was a feminist movement in that most of its 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; and has been described as a form of feminist theology, with its churches and community centers mostly led by women, from the 1880s to today.

The earliest identifiable proponent of what came to be known as New Thought was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–66), an American philosopher, mesmerist, healer, and inventor. Quimby developed a belief system that included the tenet that illness originated in the mind as a consequence of erroneous beliefs and that a mind open to God's wisdom could overcome any illness. During the late 19th century the metaphysical healing practices of Quimby mingled with the "Mental Science" of Warren Felt Evans, a Swedenborgian minister.

Notable pioneers in the movement also included Charles Fillmore, William Walker Atkinson and Ernest Holmes.

A movement of the printed word

New Thought was also largely a movement of the printed word. The 1890s and the first decades of the 20th century saw an explosion of what would become known as self-help books, including the financial success and will-training books of Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, Frank Channing Haddock, and Thomas Troward.

In 1906, William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932) wrote and published Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World. Atkinson was the editor of New Thought magazine and the author of more than 100 books on an assortment of religious, spiritual, and occult topics.

The following year, Elizabeth Towne, the editor of The Nautilus Magazine, a Journal of New Thought, published Bruce MacLelland's book Prosperity Through Thought Force, in which he summarized the "Law of Attraction" as a New Thought principle, stating "You are what you think, not what you think you are."

These magazines were used to reach a large audience. Nautilus magazine, for example, had 45,000 subscribers and a total circulation of 150,000. One Unity Church magazine, Wee Wisdom, was the longest-lived children's magazines in the United States, published from 1893 until 1991.

Conventions and conferences

The 1915 International New Thought Alliance (INTA) conference – held in conjunction with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world's fair that took place in San Franciscomarker – featured New Thought speakers from far and wide. The PPIE organizers were so favorably impressed by the INTA convention that they declared a special "New Thought Day" at the fair and struck a commemorative bronze medal for the occasion, which was presented to the INTA delegates, led by Annie Rix Militz.

By 1916, the International New Thought Alliance had encompassed many smaller groups around the world, adopting a creed known as the "Declaration of Principles". The Alliance is held together by one central teaching: that people, through the constructive use of their minds, can attain freedom, power, health, prosperity, and all good, molding their bodies as well as the circumstances of their lives. The declaration was revised in 1957, with all references to Christianity removed, and a new statement based on the "inseparable oneness of God and Man".

Belief systems

The chief tenets of New Thought are:

  • Infinite Intelligence or God is omnipotent and omnipresent.
  • Spirit is the ultimate reality.
  • True human self-hood is divine.
  • Divinely attuned thought is a positive force for good.
  • All disease is mental in origin.
  • Right thinking has a healing effect.

Evolution of thought

Adherents also generally believe that as humankind gains greater understanding of the world, New Thought itself will evolve to assimilate new knowledge. Alan Anderson and Deb Whitehouse have described New Thought as a "process" in which each individual and even the New Thought Movement itself is "new every moment." Thomas McFaul has hypothesized "continuous revelation," with new insights being received by individuals continuously over time. Jean Houston has spoken of the "possible human," or what we are capable of becoming.

Theological inclusionism

The Home of Truth, which, from its inception as the Pacific Coast Metaphysical Bureau in the 1880s, under the leadership of Annie Rix Militz, has disseminated the teachings of the Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda, is one of the more outspokenly interfaith of New Thought organizations, stating adherence to "the principle that Truth is Truth where ever it is found and who ever is sharing it."

Therapeutic ideas

Divine Science, Unity Church, and Religious Science are organizations which developed from the New Thought movement, which teach that Infinite Intelligence or God is the sole reality, sickness is the result of the failure to realize this truth, and healing is accomplished by the affirmation of the oneness of the human race with the Infinite Intelligence or God. They tend to reject the medical science explanations for many diseases and promote their ideas as a sort of alternative medicine.

John Bovee Dods (1795-1862), an early practitioner of New Thought, wrote several books on the idea that disease originates in the electrical impulses of the nervous system and is therefore curable by a change of belief. Later New Thought teachers, such as the early 20th century author, editor, and publisher William Walker Atkinson, accepted this premise. He connected his idea of mental states of being with his understanding of the new scientific discoveries in electromagnetism and neural processes.

Unity and Religious Science

The two largest New Thought denominations are Religious Science and Unity. Religious Science operates under Four umbrella organizations: Religious Science International and the United Centers for Spiritual Living, The Affiliated New Thought Network, and Global Religious Science Ministries. Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science, stated that Religious Science/Science of Mind (RS/SOM) is not based on any "authority" of established beliefs, but rather on "what it can accomplish" for the people who practice it. It therefore differs from the philosophy of another New Thought organization, Unity, which identifies itself as "Christian New Thought" with the Bible as one of its main texts, although not interpreted literally, the other core text's being Lessons in Truth by H. Emilie Cady. The Science of Mind, authored by Ernest Holmes is also based largely on Jesus Christ's teachings.

See also


  1. James R.Lewis, Jesper Aagaard Peterson (2004). Controversial New Religions. p. 226.
  2. International New Thought Alliance Declaration of Principles, accessed Sept 2008. The statement of beliefs is mirrored at
  3. "Masaharu Taniguchi." Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008. p. 557.
  4. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, p.92-93. New York 1929 [1]
  5. Moskowitz, Eva S. (2001) In Therapy We Trust, The Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0801864032, p. 19.
  6. William Walker Atkinson. Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction. Advanced Thought Publishing. 1906. Full text public domain version online.
  7. MacLelland, Bruce, Prosperity Through Thought Force, Elizabeth Towne, 1907
  8. Miller, Timothy (1995) America's Alternative Religions, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791423974, p. 327.
  9. Dresser, Horatio, History of the New Thought Movement, 1919
  10. Houston, Jean. The Possible Human. 1997.
  11. Home of Truth home page. Retrieved Sep. 20, 2007
  12. Official website of Divine Science. Retrieved Nov 16, 2007.
  13. Official web site of Unity Church. Retrieved Nov 16, 2007.
  14. Official web site of Religious Science International. Retrieved Nov 16, 2007.
  15. Dumont, Theron, Q. [pseudonym of William Walker Atkinson. Mental Therapeutics, or Just How to Heal Oneself and Others. Advanced Thought Publishing Co. Chicago. 1916.
  16. retrieved July 16, 2008
  17. Vahle, Neal (1993). Open at the top: The life of Ernest Holmes, Open View Press, 190 pages, p7.
  18. Holmes, Ernest (1926) The Science of Mind ISBN 0874778654, pp. 327-346 "What the Mystics Have Taught".

Further reading

  • Albanese, Catherine. A Republic of Mind and Spirit. Yale Universitymarker Press, 2007.
  • Anderson, Alan and Deb Whitehouse. New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality. 2003.
  • Braden, Charles. Spirits in Rebellion
  • Judah, J. Stillson. The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1967. Review by Neil Duddy.
  • McFaul, Thomas R. Religion in the Future Global Civilization printed in The Futurist magazine. September-October 2006.
  • Mosley, Glenn R. The History and Future NEW THOUGHT, ANCIENT WISDOM of the New Thought Movement. Templeton Foundation Press. 2006, ISBN 0-59947-089-6
  • White, Ronald M. New Thought Influences on Father Divine (Masters Thesis, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. 1980. Abstract

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