Tag Archives: Philosophy of religion

The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America by J Stillson Judah.

J Stillson Judah The History and Philosophy of the Metaphysical Movements in America

Writing in the 1990s, Wouter Hanegraaff refers to this book as a “standard work” on the topic, and notes that Judah coined the term “metaphysical movements.” (See Judah, p. 7) The volume treats a set of “religious philosophies” in the United States, beginning in the 1840s, and progressing up until the date that the book was written. Although Judah provided no evidence for the claim, he asserted that these religions were growing in popularity at the time of his writing. (p. 12) He characterized these metaphysical movements by family resemblance, with a set of fifteen chief features, including: gnostic anthropology, divine monism, pragmatism, psychological interpretation, optimism, mental or spiritual healing, and preferring “principles” to creed. Even when explicitly Christian, these groups tended to view Jesus as a teacher, rather than as the unique human incarnation of God.

Judah’s first chapter is devoted to inventorying some aspects of the germinal milieu of the American metaphysical movements. Besides the transcendentalist school and its effects, which he remarks as their foremost precedent and influence, he observes the importance of American religious pluralism, revivalism, deism, Swedenborgianism, Puritan utilitarianism, and occultism (i.e. hermeticism and kabbalah). He then goes on to provide historical sketches, with representations of doctrines and practices, for each of the following metaphysical movements: Spiritualism (with its various institutions and sects), Theosophy “and its allies” (i.e. the Arcane School and the Astara Foundation), New Thought (with the precedent teachings of Quimby and Evans, and the progeny of the Divine Science Church and the Church of Religious Science), the Unity School of Christianity, and Christian Science. A closing chapter treats the effect of the metaphysical movements on Protestantism, especially through the avenue of notions of health and mental healing.

Judah repeatedly cites Frank Podmore’s history of Spiritualism, Charles J. Ryan on Theosophy, Horatio Dresser on New Thought, and several secondary sources on Christian Science. For all of the movements surveyed, he makes extensive use of their own doctrinal literature, and in several cases he has interviewed key leaders or their families. Perhaps it is significant that no secondary sources appear in different sections of the book, since Judah appears to have been the first to tie these various groups and teachings into a coherent tradition.

Judah’s theory of religion is partly formulated in his closing chapter, where he insists that all religions can be analyzed in terms of three chief components: mental/philosophical, conative (relating to aspiration and conduct), and emotional. He insists that the conative component, the religious will as such, must be powered by an emotional experience, and he suggests that the historical transformations in American religion have resulted from the waxing and waning of emphasis on emotional experience. He points to the metaphysical movements as offering an orientation to the religious experiences of the individual during periods when mainline Protestantism has become abstracted into concerns about social justice. (pp. 291-2)

A significant part of Judah’s methodology in The Metaphysical Movements might be best characterized as comparative theology, even though that term has not been in vogue since the mid-20th century. He consistently attends to comparing the theological elements in the various metaphysical movements against each other, and against an implicitly normative mainline American Protestantism. But he has no evident chip on his shoulder, and his foreword includes an accounting of his own past engagements in the study and practice of Theosophy, yoga, New Thought, Spiritualism, and other “metaphysical” systems. The frankness of this passage shows a sort of scholarly reflexivity that is admirable in the early and mid-1960’s when Judah was writing. He cautions that any seemingly negative evaluations of the religions in his book “should be considered as constructive criticism offered in the same spirit in which the writer has also criticized the Protestant churches.” (p. 9) He does in the end refrain from offering either praise or condemnation of the metaphysical movements as a whole, but he opines that there would be ample justification for different parties to view them as revolutionary, restorative, or subversive of more customary institutional religions in America. [via]


Omnium Gatherum: August 14, 2013

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together …

Alton Brown FC The Brewers - Be Afraid...
“In case of bewilderment Crowley Ales were brewed in Alton.” [via]

 

  • Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany” — Victoria Sussen-Messerer, theguardian.com

    “A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.”

    “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”

  • Reza Aslan—Historian?” — Elizabeth Castelli, The Nation

    “Simply put, Zealot does not break new ground in the history of early Christianity. It isn’t clear that any book framed as a “the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” could, in fact, do so. Indeed, if it had not been thrust into the limelight by an aggressive marketing plan, the painfully offensive Fox News interview, and Aslan’s own considerable gifts for self-promotion, Zealot would likely have simply been shelved next to myriad other examples of its genre, and everyone could get back to their lives. As it is, the whole spectacle has been painful to watch. And as it is with so many spectacles, perhaps the best advice one might take is this: Nothing to see here, people. Move along.”

  • Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” — Aaron Swartz

    “With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.”

  • ‘Agrippa Was a Chaos Magician!’ Redux” — Jack Faust, Dionysian Atavism; links to Austin Osman Spare‘s The Book of Pleasure

    “All of this leads us to conclude that Spare – despite his loathing for many magicians – was practicing, at times, highly traditional tactics of magical utility.”

  • Because I Can’t Sleep: Thoughts on Sigils” — Jack Faust, Dionysian Atavism; links to Austin Osman Spare‘s The Logomachy of Zos and Automatic Drawing

    “Any sigil that produces a sense of working for you can be used. All this really requires of you is consistently using it, playing with different means of expressing your desires, or applying the technique where it best fits.”

    “The versatility to the technique lies with you.”

  • The Aim of Magic” — Edred Thorsson, Edred Speaks (a reincarnation of Edred.net)

    “The rites are quite mysterious, but not in the sense that we do not know what they mean, or that they are obscure in their significance. On the contrary the mysteries lie not in what the formulas are, and rather in how the formulas work.”

  • New meta-analysis checks the correlation between intelligence and faith” — Akshat Rathi, Ars Technica

    “Overall, Zuckerman, Silberman, and Hall conclude that, according to their meta-analysis, there is little doubt a significant negative correlation exists (i.e. people who are more religious score worse on varying measures of intelligence). The correlation is more negative when religiosity measures beliefs rather than behavior. That may be because religious behavior may be used to help someone appear to be part of a group even though they may not believe in the supernatural.

    So why do more intelligent people appear to be less religious? There are three possible explanations. One possibility is that more intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. A 1992 meta-analysis of seven studies found that intelligent people may be more likely to become atheists when they live in religious societies, because intelligent people tend to be nonconformists.

    The most common explanation is that intelligent people don’t like to accept any beliefs that are not subject to empirical tests or logical reasoning. Zuckerman writes in the review that intelligent people may think more analytically, which is “controlled, systematic, and slow”, as opposed to intuitively, which is “heuristic-based, mostly non-conscious, and fast.” That analytical thinking leads to lower religiosity.

    The final explanation is that intelligence provides whatever functions religion does for believers.”

  • Confessions of a ‘High Priestess’ in America’s Notorious ‘Love Cults’,” Chapter VIII — Marian Dockerill, St. Petersburg Times, May 2, 1926

    “Gurdjieff believes that almost all people, whether intelligent or unintelligent, are not fully ‘awake,’ either physically or mentally. He believes that the body is capable of something like ten times more skill and coordination and effort than the body ordinarily is able to put forth, and he believes the same thing of the mind. He seeks, in all sorts of ways, with various individuals, to ‘awaken’ and train both body and mind, so that they will be capable of using more of their stored-up, latent capacities.

    He would take pampered society women and put them to work, at hard labor, on coarse food as fare with this final object in view—and if he made the preacher drink champagne, it was for identically the same object, approached from a different way.”

  • The Year of the Witch” — Pamela J Grossman, The Huffington Post

    “Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world.”