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An Interview with Alan Anderson

New Thought: Alan, how did you first get involved with New Thought?

Anderson: My serious interest in New Thought began when I was in my twenties. A girl whom I had known in elementary school gave me two Emmet Fox books, one of which contained a reference that helped me to find A History of the New Thought Movement, by Horatio W. Dresser, in the Hartford public library. It seemed to me that New Thought was either the greatest thing in the world or the nuttiest, and I decided to get a Ph.D. degree in philosophy in order to help me to decide which it was, by putting this popular metaphysics into the context of academic metaphysics as well as other areas of philosophy. Although I could have found some form of New Thought in Connecticut, my native state, my old school friend had moved to New York City, where she introduced me to Mildred Mann, the founder of the (essentially New Thought) Society of Pragmatic Mysticism. For some years I traveled to New York almost weekly to study with Mildred, who had established the Society after studying with Emmet Fox.

A few years after becoming acquainted with New Thought in its various organizational forms, and after earning degrees in political science, law, and education, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Boston University, which at that time still had something of its alliance with the idealistic philosophy known as personalism. I found that many of the teachings of the personalist philosophers, along with the process thought of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and others, despite being out of the philosophical mainstream, made the soundest metaphysical underpinning for New Thought. Eventually I combined process philosophy and New Thought under the name Process New Thought, which I have described in some detail at http://www.neweverymoment.com .

New Thought: Tell us about your doctoral dissertation.

Anderson: It was titled Horatio W. Dresser and the Philosophy of New Thought. It may well be the only dissertation in the field of philosophy (as distinguished from religious studies) to deal with New Thought. Dresser could be called the first baby born into the New Thought movement, although it was barely beginning to be a movement when he was born in 1866, and it did not receive its name until about three decades later. His parents met when they were both patients of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who has been called the father of New Thought, although Quimby did not attempt to start a movement (that came later largely through the work of Emma Curtis Hopkins). Dresser earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard, which gave him more standing in the academic community than most New Thoughters. I interviewed descendants of Quimby and Dresser, such as Dresser’s daughter Dorothea, who had been a librarian at Harvard; and I arranged to have the Quimby family put into a Boston University library many Quimby writings similar to those earlier put into the Library of Congress.

New Thought: What would you say are your greatest contributions to New Thought in general and INTA in particular over the years, in addition to your dissertation?

Anderson: I suppose that my chief contribution is the combining of the practical principles of New Thought with the highly theoretical process philosophy and theology. It’s an updated form of idealism that says that the basic building blocks of the universe are experiences (including ideas) and that they are living, not lifeless. Since process thought is consistent with quantum physics, this helps to bring religion and science into harmony with each other instead of conflicting with each other or just ignoring each other. I was one of the founders of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, an academically oriented group that works in cooperation with INTA and helps to draw the attention of other scholars to New Thought. It meets at each INTA Congress. I created the Rethinking New Thought sessions held at most INTA Congresses in recent years. I head the Educational Standards and Accreditation Committee of INTA to help to raise the standards of New Thought education. I have spoken and written about New Thought and Process New Thought all over the country, including the 1976 Bicentennial Symposium of Philosophy and the Parliament of the World Religions in 1993. I am a Life Member of INTA and a Lifetime INTA Archives Steward. For many years, I was INTA’s New England District President. I currently serve on the INTA Executive Board and have had much to do with the overhauling of the Bylaws that becomes necessary at times. But I am perhaps most widely known as the web master of various New Thought web sites, including that of the INTA and the New Thought Movement Home Page. I was something of a pioneer in creating the New Thought site in 1995, with the help of Brad Jensen, who generously donated the space for http://websyte.com/alan on his web site. He chose the name, not I! The spiderweb that I have managed to build on the Internet has brought me into contact with people all over the world looking for information and help of various kinds.

New Thought: Are you a minister?

Anderson: Yes; I was ordained by the late Dr. Ervin Seale, former INTA President, with whom I had worked on editing the complete Quimby writings. My calling is in the academic side of philosophy and religion, not in being the leader of a church, although I helped to establish two New Thought churches in New England. They also serve who only sit in an armchair and think. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!

New Thought: But what have you done for us lately?

Anderson: I recently was appointed President of Emma Curtis Hopkins [Divinity School], one of the first New Thought institutions seeking to earn academic accreditation. This puts us in harmony with the rest of the academic world. Not everyone needs to be a scholar in order to grow spiritually in New Thought, just as one doesn’t have to be able to take the engine apart in order to drive a car. But the world needs at least a few good mechanics and a few good philosophers. As President, I still can teach a little, and I am currently teaching an online course titled Religion and Ethics. I’d hate to be entirely out of teaching at a college level after nearly 40 years of it. Somebody has to bridge back to the mainstream in religion and philosophy in order for New Thought to be taken seriously by other academics and just plain thoughtful people, so New Thought can spread more rapidly. It’s fine to have New Thought denominations, but New Thought was originally intended as leaven for the loaves of traditional religions, especially Christianity, from which it largely sprang. To the extent that New Thought embraces process thought, it will have improved ground for fellowship with many churches that have done likewise.

New Thought: Tell us about your books.

Anderson: I have co-authored, with my wife, two books on the New Thought movement. The first, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, has just come out in a slightly revised paperback edition. The second, Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes, expands on some of the themes that got short shrift in the first book, which was intended as a brief overview. People said, "You didn’t say enough about this or that," so we tried to remedy that. Both books are available print-on-demand through your bookstore or at www.authorhouse.com [or from Amazon, reachable from the Book Store page of this site].

In addition, my doctoral dissertation was published in somewhat enlarged form as Healing Hypotheses, and is now reproduced, free of charge, at http://www.ppquimby.com/anderson/healing.htm.

New Thought: In a movement that seems to put more emphasis on feeling than on thinking, how can you justify your emphasis on academics?

Anderson: Intuition is fueled by input from both thinking and feeling, from both hemispheres of the brain, not to mention the Christ mind, or (in process terms) God’s initial aim. Half of the population leads with the intellect; the other half with the emotions; but we all eventually need to blend both together. "Head and heart meet in the gut," as Deb puts it. I am able to do what I do because I am fueled by my longstanding, playful, nurturing relationship with the Ultimate Person (but not human being), whom I like to call God. The highest value we know is love, and only a person can love. It’s the work of a lifetime to try to understand the unchanging, loving, dependable character of this non-gendered, non-anthropomorphic Person who nonetheless grows as we grow, suffers when we suffer, and rejoices when we rejoice. I’m working at producing more rejoicing.