America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century
Williams, Peter. America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
This graduate level textbook on America’s religions intertwines a wide multitude of religious belief systems with the multi-faceted movements of American thought. Williams introduces Christian Science with Phineas P. Quimby who “would probably be little more than a footnote in American social history were it not for his influence on one of the most remarkable figures in American religious history,” Mary Baker Eddy (333). He explains Christian Science in the context of 19th– and 20th-century American culture, which includes ‘harmonialism,’ individualism, female empowerment, and cult. He summarizes harmonialism, widely popular in the parlors and lecture halls of the period, as a “belief that the resolution of the conflicts that beset the individual could be found in the recovery of knowledge that contained the key to harmony between the material and spiritual worlds that had taken a variety of forms” (490). Included in his study of the distinctiveness and meaning of Christian Science in American religious thought is his explanation of its association with the term ‘cult’—sometimes understood by evangelists as ominously deviating from accepted Christian belief, and otherwise characterized by charismatic leadership and isolation from the rest of the world. The free-market competition of religions allowed freedom for Christian Science and other domestic movements to evolve into denominations.