History of New Thought Movement

The New Thought movement (which includes CHRISTIAN SCIENCE, RELIGIOUS SCIENCE, and UNITY) was initiated by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, a student of hypnotist Anton Mesmer. Quimby theorized, influenced by Mesmer’s electro-magnetic theory of “animal magnetism” and the Hindu and Buddhist belief that matter is an illusion, that physical maladies are simply the result of translating into the flesh the incorrect idea of “illness,” and therefore developing the power of the mind will cure people of illnesses. Quimby even established a short-lived medical clinic based on this theory. One of Quimby’s patients during this period was Mary Patterson, later to become Mary Baker Eddy.

The central concepts of all New Thought religious groups are the belief that humanity is divine (which naturally involves a pantheistic view of God), the understanding that the Mind is all that exists, the practice of metaphysical healing, and the separation of the historical Jesus from the divine Christ.


Although there are many opinions on who the actual founder of New Thought is, since the essence of the movement is rooted in the interpretation of Quimby’s teachings, Quimby should be credited as the overall intellectual father of New Thought.  Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who was known as “Park,” was born on February 16, 1802, in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He was apprenticed as a clockmaker and had little traditional education. Several important elements of his life led to the development of his ideas of mental healing.

The first important milestone was when Quimby developed tuberculosis but became disillusioned with the method of treatment prescribed by his physician and gave up hope of recovery. A friend suggested that he take up a physical outdoor activity such as horseback riding to improve his condition. While his severe physical ailments prevented him from trying this suggestion, Quimby tried the next best thing and embarked on carriage trips. This course of action produced remarkable results and his recovery prompted much thought on the matter. However, he did not pursue this further until several years later.

In 1838, Quimby began studying Mesmerism after attending a lecture by Doctor Collyer and soon began further experimentation with the help of Lucius Burkmar, who could fall into a trance and diagnose illnesses. Quimby again saw the mental and placebo effect of the mind over the body when medicines prescribed by Burkmar, with no physical value, cured patients of diseases. From the conclusions of these studies, Phineas Quimby developed theories of mentally aided healing and opened an office in Portland, Maine in 1859.
Among the students and patients who joined his studies and helped him to commit his teachings to writing were Warren Felt Evans, Annetta Seabury Dresser and Julious Dresser, the founders of New Thought as a named movement, and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science movement.


Mary Baker Patterson — who became Mary Baker Eddy — was young woman who, plagued with emotional and physical illnesses, underwent treatment with mesmerism from Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (see NEW THOUGHT). Patterson believed herself to be healed by Quimby’s treatment (although, after his death, she disavowed Quimby). Eddy founded the Christian Scientists Association (later the Church of Christ, Scientist) in 1876, shortly after publishing Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Eddy’s religion, rooted in NEW THOUGHT, claims to be a reestablishment of early Christianity. Eddy claimed that the early Church taught mind is the only reality, and that matter is an illusion. She further taught that Christ healed through the same spiritual influence with which she wrote Science and Health.


In 1851, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky met her “Master” in London; this Master introduced her to Eastern Spiritualism. During the next twenty-three years she allegedly traveled around the world to study with gurus and shamans in Mexico, Egypt, Canada, and Asia. Beginning in 1864, Blavatsky spent three years studying esotericism in Tibet.

In 1874 Blavatsky came to the United States to defend Spiritualism, and in 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and William Q. Judge. The Society was formed to expound Blavatsky’s teachings that within each person is the divine spark of the Universal Mind, and this spark can be expanded through the study of diverse spiritual traditions. Her first book, Isis Unveiled (published in 1877), moved the theosophical tradition to a greater emphasis on Indian mysticism.

UNITY (1889)

Charles Fillmore and his wife Myrtle started the Unity School of Christianity after Myrtle was introduced to CHRISTIAN SCIENCE after reading Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. The prayer used by Myrtle in her healing, “I am a child of God, therefore, I do not inherit sickness,” alludes to Unity’s adherence to the NEW THOUGHT belief that sickness is an illusion. A key addition made by the Fillmore’s to basic New Thought teachings is the belief in reincarnation.


Founded in 1917 by Ernest and Fenwicke Holmes as the Metaphysical Institute of Los Angeles, the United Church of Religious Science teaches the Science of Mind, which in essence is NEW THOUGHT. Ernest’s 1928 book Science of Mind, and the continuing journal of the same name, teach that freedom is attained through the “scientific” study of God and His law through meditation and affirmations.


The Arcane School (which is part of the Lucis Trust) was founded in 1923 by Alice Bailey, who was a student of H. P. Blavatsky (see THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY). The most significant development in the history of Alice Bailey was her proclamation in 1906 that a young Indian boy named Krishnamurti was the Messiah. Krishnamurti renounced that role in 1929 and founded the Order of the Star (related to the current Krishnamurti Foundation of America), which focuses on Hinduism and mystical experiences.


Founded in 1959 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as the Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation, Transcendental Meditation (also known as TM) exploded in popularity in 1967 after the Beatles traveled to India to study under the Maharishi. In 1972 the Maharishi initiated a “World Plan” to introduce TM to the entire world. Part of this plan included the 1974 purchase of Parsons College, a Presbyterian school in Iowa, and renaming it Maharishi International University. TM is also behind the Natural Law Party, a political organization that is most active in western Europe.
The essential practice of TM revolves around the repetition of, and meditation upon, a mantra. Mantras, which are central to Hindu spirituality, are sounds or words that enable practitioners to enter states of higher consciousness.

ISKCON (1966)

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), more commonly known as the Hare Krishnas, can be traced back to 16th century India. It was brought to America in 1965 by Abhay Charan De Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who in 1966 opened a storefront center and began publishing Back to Godhead magazine. The movement grew in popularity following the release of the song My Sweet Lord by George Harrison (a former member of the Beatles); the song included the famous “Hare Krishna” mantra.


In 1983 MacLaine, a famous actress, published her autobiography, Out on a Limb. The book, which described her experiences with astral projection, UFO encounters, and other New Age events, established MacLaine as the preeminent New Age celebrity in the 1980s.
The theological significance of MacLaine’s teachings is displayed in the 1986 television miniseries based on her autobiography. In a climactic scene, MacLaine’s guru convinces her to stand on a beach and shout toward the Pacific ocean, “I am God!”


Chopra, a former staff member with TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION, left TM in 1993 after an alleged conflict with the Maharishi. In that same year, Chopra published his breakthrough work, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old. After an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show (Winfrey also boosted the career of Marianne Williamson, an advocate of the occult program A Course in Miracles), Chopra sold 130,000 copies of the book in one day.

Chopra teaches ayurveda, a form of Indian folk medicine which holds that humans can be healed from all problems by opening themselves to the flow of the single source of universal energy. His 1995 book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success claims that opening oneself to this energy flow will enable persons to create unlimited wealth and material success.

A Brief Timeline

  • Phineas P. Quimby begins his work in New Thought.
  • Helena Blavatsky meets her “Master.”
  • Mary Patterson begins New Thought studies.
  • Helena Blavatsky starts the Theosophical Society.
  • Mary Baker Eddy starts Christian Science.
  • Charles and Myrtle Fillmore start Unity.
  • Alice Baily identifies Krishnamurti as the Messiah.
  • Ernest and Fenwicke Holmes start Religious Science.
  • Alice Bailey starts the Arcane School.
  • Krishnamurti denies he is the Messiah.
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founds the Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation.
  • Church Universal and Triumphant founded.
  • Swami Prabhupada founds ISKCON in America.
  • The Beatles visit the Maharishi in India.
  • Jane Roberts publishes the first volume of her channeled Seth Material.
  • Transcendental Meditation initiates its “World Plan.”
  • Shirley MacLaine publishes Out on a Limb.
  • Deepak Chopra meets the Maharishi, and joins Transcendental Meditation.
  • Out on a Limb television miniseries is broadcast.
  • James Redfield publishes The Celestine Prophecy.
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton engages in sessions with the psychic Jean Houston.
  • 39 members of Heaven’s Gate commit suicide.

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