Christian Science History and Religious Meaning

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A colorful drawing of a student opening a book and having all kinds of interesting idea pop out of it.
by Shirley Paulson

The study of religion continues to fascinate. It engages public interest and cultivates our search for meaning. Why do people believe what they believe? How does their faith help or hinder their lives? What impact do their religious convictions have on their communities, and on the world at large? What is at stake when some religious leaders hold tenaciously to the purity of their original traditions and others strive to adapt to changing times? 

Christian Science history is a compelling case study for exploring the meaning and relevance of religion in the human experience. Many of the authors whose works are annotated in the ABCS website have investigated some of the unique perspectives that Christian Science brings to these contemporary questions..

For example, there are some books and articles that examine the Christian Science perspective of the depth and breadth of God’s role in human experiences, particularly those that relate to healing. Other authors probe the Christian Science contribution to the studies of metaphysics and philosophy. And still others investigate the tension that often exists in the interplay between religion and law in the United States. All of these areas of study contribute to leading-edge thinking and research in the interdisciplinary field of religion.

One of the surprising areas of study that appears in the bibliography is the role of innovation in religion. Finding innovation in Christian Science is especially interesting because its foundational principle is based on an unchanging science of reality. Its unconventional ways of looking at familiar phenomena in life stretches our imagination about the meaning and practicality of God in the world.

For instance, Charlotte Booth recognizes how Christian Science teachings offer a unique perspective in the field of Organizational Development (OD).  Both quantum physics and Christian Science affect organizational development because they challenge common ideas about material reality. These radically different perspectives influence our daily experiences, and Booth sees a beneficial influence of such ideas extending from small moments in home life to the workplace culture.

Massimo Introvigne studies innovation in art expressed through the lens of Christian Science. Art is innovative in and of itself, and Introvigne found several Christian Science artists who not only understood how their beliefs inspired their art, but they also recognized how, through their art, they could teach new concepts undergirding moral values and hope. An example he cites is Evelyn Dunbar, the official UK woman WWII artist, whose powerful work sought to show the goodness of God during the darkest days of war. Her own hope arose from the Christian Science conviction about the nature of the divine Being as able to break through to our human condition— “all that is made is the work of God and all is good” (Dunbar quoting Eddy’s Science and Health, 521). 

Also from an artist’s perspective, Dancy Mason’s PhD dissertation on modernist posthumanism recognized through the poetry of Mina Loy how the teachings of Christian Science enable a break with binary kinds of embodiment. These binary attitudes include such opposites as body versus soul or life versus death.  Mason concludes that these teachings loosen the strong ties to biological determinism and personality.

In a similar theme related to the meaning of body, Alison Piepmeier argues in her dissertation that Mary Baker Eddy’s textbook Science and Health was an important critique of ‘sentimental womanhood’ specifically because of her engagement with the science of her day. Eddy’s work represents a major rethinking of women’s roles and rights.

Body-writing—the way our bodies, and thus our identities, are defined, and by whom—is another field of study where Christian Science offers a unique perspective.  Taylor Nelson’s MA thesis argues that an unintended consequence of biomedicine is its disturbance of the healthy process of body-writing. From a series of interviews, she found that Christian Scientists systematically reinterpret and rewrite the biomedical discourse related to their bodies. This process of rewriting gives them interpretive rights over their bodies, and in doing so, they create spiritual connections to other bodies and to God.

Reading these wide-ranging works broadens our views of religion’s meaning and relevance in our lives. It not only opens thought to more questions and inspires further research, but people of faith find ways to expect more of their own religious experience.