American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality

Searching for the Higher Self, 1875-1915

By (author) Catherine Tumber

Publication date:

24 September 2002

Length of book:

216 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9780847697489

Contrary to popular thought, New Age spirituality did not suddenly appear in American life in the 1970s and '80s. In American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality, Catherine Tumber demonstrates that the New Age movement first flourished more than a century ago during the Gilded Age under the mantle of 'New Thought.'

Based largely on research in popular journals, self-help manuals, newspaper accounts, and archival collections, American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality explores the contours of the New Thought movement. Through the lives of well-known figures such as Mary Baker Eddy, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Edward Bellamy as well as through more obscure, but more representative 'New Thoughters' such as Abby Morton Diaz, Emma Curtis Hopkins, Ursula Gestefeld, Lilian Whiting, Sarah Farmer, and Elizabeth Towne, Tumber examines the historical conditions that gave rise to New Thought. She pays close attention to the ways in which feminism became grafted, with varying degrees of success, to emergent forms of liberal culture in the late nineteenth century—progressive politics, the Social Gospel, humanist psychotherapy, bohemian subculture, and mass market journalism.

American Feminism and the Birth of New Age Spirituality questions the value of the new age movement—then and now—to the pursuit of women's rights and democratic renewal.
Here is a book that shows, in fresh detail, how what Harold Bloom has called 'the American religion' has been emptying our politics and our private lives of meaning, in favor of tired fantasies of vacuous well-being. Of course this 'new age spirituality' will not prove unique to the United States, but Catherine Tumber helps us see why it is being pioneered here, fungus like, out of our uncontrolled capitalism. Tumber's mentor, Christopher Lasch, would be proud. The rest of us can be warned.