A Republic of Mind and Spirit


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A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion

Catherine L. Albanese

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This original study of metaphysical religion is the little known history of a fascinating, unique form of American religion 

This path-breaking book tells the story of American metaphysical religion more fully than it has ever been told before, along the way significantly revising the panorama of American religious history. Catherine L. Albanese follows metaphysical traditions from Renaissance Europe to England and then America, where they have flourished from colonial days to the twenty-first century, blending often with African, Native American, and other cultural elements.

The book follows evolving versions of metaphysical religion, including Freemasonry, early Mormonism, Universalism, and Transcendentalism—and such further incarnations as Spiritualism, Theosophy, New Thought, Christian Science, and reinvented versions of Asian ideas and practices. Continuing into the twentieth century and after, the book shows  how the metaphysical mix has broadened to encompass UFO activity, channeling, and chakras in the  New Age movement—and a much broader new spirituality in the present. In its own way, Albanese argues, American metaphysical religion has been as vigorous, persuasive, and influential as the evangelical tradition that is more often the focus of religious scholars’ attention. She makes the case that because of its combinative nature—its ability to incorporate differing beliefs and practices—metaphysical religion offers key insights into the history of all American religions.

Catherine L. Albanese is professor and chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, and former president of the American Academy of Religion. She lives in the Santa Barbara area.

"Albanese recovers the fascinating story of American metaphysical religion, documenting its manifold expressions in American history. She unlocks its complexities, signals its significance, and thereby expands the canon of American religious history."—Stephen J. Stein, author of The Shaker Experience in America


“The magnum opus of one of our most distinguished interpreters of U.S. religion, this book traces the rich history of the 'metaphysical' tradition and points toward new historical narratives, stories that emphasize religious exchange and acknowledge this important but neglected strand in American piety. Indispensable for all those interested in America’s religious past.”—Thomas A. Tweed, Author of Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion



“Albanese dramatically opens deeply metaphysical and spiritual traditions in American religion to a breadth of vision captured by no previous historian. This is a landmark book of infinite fascination and spectacular range—a testament simultaneously to the true delights of scholarship and America's amazing and seemingly unending spiritual inventiveness.”—Jon Butler, Yale University

“A masterpiece of deep erudition and historical imagination. The history of modern religion in the United States and around the globe will never look the same again.”—Robert Orsi, Warren Professor of American Religious History, Harvard University

"A superb book challenging the notion that histories of denominations and of evangelical movements tell the only central story of religion in the United States”—R. Laurence Moore, Cornell University

“A monumental synthesis.”—Leigh Eric Schmidt, Princeton University

 “A tour de force history of the ways in which Americans romantically and pragmatically imagined religion as healing and salvation, mind and consciousness, flux and stasis, all vibrantly interwoven beneath the sheltering canopy of metaphysics.”—John Corrigan, author of Business of the Heart: Religion and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century

 “Magisterial.”—Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

“The plot thickens! Catherine Albanese's prodigious research and provocative interpretations will convince even the most skeptical that metaphysical religion has always been and will continue to be a major, dynamic player in American religious history.”—Mary Farrell Bednarowski, author of New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America

"Albanese tells an untold narrative of American religious history, one which promises to reshape the way we think about the field."—Ann Taves, University of California, Santa Barbara

"In this groundbreaking book . . . [Albanese] delivers a first-rate and much-needed religious history of American metaphysical tradition."—Publishers Weekly

“With her impeccable credentials, Albanese is in a unique position to produce this authoritative tome. Comprehensive and thorough . . . it catalogs the permutations of distinctly American metaphysical religions, covering everything from the earliest offshoots of Christianity to the modern New Age movements. A definite heavyweight contender in its field of study.”—Library Journal

"Anyone with an interest in American belief systems and contemporary trends will be well rewarded by reading Albanese's book."—David Nartonis, Christian Science Monitor

"Fascinating. . . . Magisterial. . . . A leisurely, informative, and frequently entertaining tour of spiritual flights, frauds, cults, enthusiasms, and experiments, ranging from the flaky to the admirable, along with mixtures of both, that have variously hovered around, fed off, and infused, in ways both subtle and garish, religion in America."—Richard John Neuhaus, First Things

"Magisterial. An astonishing gift from one of our most accomplished historians of American religion, definitively demonstrating the creative combinative nature of American religion and its half-millennium weaving of mystical, Hermetic, alchemical, occult, African, Native American, Mesmeric, magical, Spiritualist, psychical, and Asian strands to create the mature tapestry of American metaphysical religion. The final result is a work of both profound scholarship and historical hope for all those who would prefer to live in a mystical Republic of Spirit and Mind rather than a religious State of Faith and Belief. . . . For those who study or participate in that broad sweep of alternative religious movements that have gone under the rubrics of human potential, New Age, or just 'spirituality,' this is a must-read."—Jeffrey J. Kripal, Shift: At The Frontiers of Consciousness

"A major contribution. . . . Albanese has written a definitive summary of the metaphysical movement in America."—Richard Kyle, The Journal of American History

"Albanese masterfully interweaves diverse strands to demonstrate that metaphysical religion has been and continues to be a profoundly influential aspect of American culture. The book will become a classic scholarly study that will be discussed and debated for decades. . . . Essential. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."—Choice

"A significant addition to the body of American religious historiography."—Jeremy Rapport, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Alchemist that she is, Albanese creates or uncovers combinations that will surprise everyone who reads this book. . . . This book remains important as an act of recovery and a remarkable demonstration of how a very talented historian of religion employs her own metaphysical-like imagination."—David D. Hall, American Historical Review

"This is a magisterial book, one that synthesizes and extends a richly productive career of research and publication on [metaphysical religions]. . . . Albanese emphasizes that metaphysical religion is a "republic" of mind and spirit, participating fully in the nation's populist democratic sensibilities during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries."—W. Clark Gilpin, The Journal of Religion

"With this stunning historical narrative, Catherine Albanese assumes the mantle of our era's most gifted interpreter of the American religious landscape. . . . Albanese is a master of historical synthesis. . . . Brilliant. . . . This is a book rich with historical detail. . . . It tells a fascinating story of the change and innovation that have defined American spirituality. . . . A historical narrative as imaginative as the spiritual lives it seeks to chronicle."—Robert C. Fuller, Church History

Co-winner of the 2007 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Historical Studies category

Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2007 by Choice Magazine
ISBN: 9780300136159
Publication Date: April 29, 2008
640 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4