A few years ago, the American press began reporting an explosive
increase of books on spirituality. The explosion continues. As I
write, Amazon.com lists 4,747 books on spirituality published in
2006, compared with 1,325 in 1996, and 303 in 1986.
This intense interest in spirituality is the final topic in A
Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American
Metaphysical Religion by religion scholar Catherine Albanese.
Albanese shows that this interest has a history as old as America.
She also demonstrates that many of the seekers who read and write
these books, meditate in church, use psychic methods to aid the
police, and employ alternative healers constitute an important
"third stream" of American religion.
A more familiar stream consists of liturgical forms of American
religion that, according to Albanese, turn "on communally organized
ceremonial action." Think of the church on the town green with its
fixed, orderly worship service.
Another more distinctively American brand of religion consists of
the evangelical forms that favor "the cultivation of strong
emotional experience that is felt as life-transforming." Think of
the tent meeting in the woods with a revivalist preacher.
Harder to pin down and much less studied is the third or
"metaphysical" approach, which "turns on an individual's experience
of 'mind' [and has] privileged the mind in forms that include reason
but move beyond it to intuition, clairvoyance ... 'revelation' and
'higher guidance.' "
In such systems, "the human world and mind replicate ... a
larger, often more whole and integrated universe" within which
metaphysicians "find a stream of energy flowing from above....
Moreover, the influx of energy ... that enlivens their world is a
healing salve for all its ills and - in the strongest statement of
their view - renders [metaphysicians] divine and limitless."
According to Albanese, elements of this third type of religion
were already present among the American Indians and in the cultural
luggage of both slaves and immigrants at the very beginning of
Subsequently, various elements in this third religious stream
combined, separated, and flowed together to appear in Royal Arch
Masonry, Mormonism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Macrobiotics,
American forms of Yoga and Qi, Positive Thinking, crystal power,
spiritualism, the papers of Phineas P. Quimby, early systems of
osteopathy and chiropractic, and, today, in yoga classes, quantum
healing, and hypnotic therapy. …