Current scholarship regards American Religion as being composed of three distinct religious forces: Protestant evangelical traditions which stress a sense of separation from spiritual power, mainstream Christian denominational traditions which stress grace through communal ceremony and, finally, metaphysical religion, which includes what we know as New Thought, but also includes Spiritualism, Christian Science, Theosophy, and a variety of new movements, such as New Age [Albanese, 5-15]. There are three distinguishing characteristics of metaphysical religion:
an emphasis on the human mind and its connection to God (Oneness), instead of a sense of separation from God
a recognition of the fluid or energetic way in which the mind serves as a conduit between the spiritual and physical world (Flow)
a pragmatic focus on comfort and healing in one’s life through a correspondence between human consciousness and external phenomena (Manifestation), instead of an abstract focus on salvation in an after-life
A mentioned above, New Thought is part of what is known as metaphysical religion, and it shares a belief in Oneness, Flow and Manifestation, but New Thought has a more distinct background. This more distinct history separates New Thought from Spiritualism, Christian Science, Theosophy, New Age and other metaphysical traditions. These other traditions will be discussed in section five.
A confluence of metaphysics, mysticism and mind-cure
New Thought is a religious movement that emerged in the second half of the 19th century as the result of the confluence of three great spiritual traditions, each of which seem to speak to human beings in a distinct, unique way.
A development of Greek philosophy known as Metaphysics, which originated with Plato, has evolved into a philosophical construct known as Mind-Idea-Expression, and is a head-centered spiritual path that speaks to human reason and intellect.
Christian Mysticism, which originated in the Judeo-Christian tradition, was perfected by Jesus and speaks specifically to the subconscious parts of the human soul, which we recognize as a heart-centered spirituality.
Mind-cure, which originated with the early discoveries of Mesmer and Quimby, has evolved into what we know today as the mind-body connection and speaks to the needs of the body, restoring life and health.
A definition of New Thought
So we find ourselves with the following definition of New Thought:
A spirituality with a belief system of Oneness, Flow and Manifestation and articulated by the construct of Mind-Idea-Expression, that addresses the needs of the head, heart and body and is based on the rich traditions of western philosophy, the teachings of Jesus and our understanding of the mind-body connection.
This definition will provide the framework for distinguishing New Thought from other religious traditions and these terms will be fleshed-out as we consider the many contributions of New Thought antecedents and pioneers.