“But It’s Just a Bibliography”

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Annotated Bibliography "It's Just a Bibliography"

Back in the 1980s for a variety of unrelated reasons, I began to dig into the history of Christian Science. I was, of course, like any American religious historian, well aware of Mary Baker Eddy, one of the most, if not the most, important person initiating the ongoing discussion of the role of the religious/spiritual life in human health. 

In the 1980s, however, I also discovered that the movement she founded was among the more unknown movements in American history. Of course, the movement itself was well-known, most everyone had heard of it, but almost no one knew much about it apart from the name of its founder. So I headed to my local Christian Science Reading Room and began to look through issues of The Christian Science Journal. Here I discovered that, in fact, Christian Science was a thoroughly interesting movement with a century of history that did not begin and end with its founder.

Eddy is rightly honored for her role in becoming self-aware of her own healing, developing a new appreciation of the metaphysical context in which that healing occurred and then communicating that unique perspective to a suffering world. If that were not enough, she finally constructed a new religious movement to embody that healing message and carry it forward after her own earthly existence came to an end. 

While still alive, Eddy brought some strong, smart and motivated people (mostly women) around her and launched their careers as Christian Science practitioners and teachers. Inspired by her, they went out and remade their mundane existence. Without taking anything away from Eddy, there is also an interesting story to tell about how her students and their students created the movement that became a real monument to their teacher. Over the years, however, their stories have been neglected and largely lost to history.

As I became aware of the relative lack of interest in the post-1910 history of Christian Science, or even the pre-1910 history of the spread of Christian Science beyond the places Mrs. Eddy might have visited, I began to suggest to my colleagues that the story of Christian Science was quite interesting. I felt they were missing a bet for ignoring the life of its founder as well as the life of her students. This bigger picture of the movement represented virgin territory for any religious historian.

My suggestions about the study of Christian Science largely fell on deaf ears. While  the study of new and alternative religions had been around for several decades (the Institute for the Study of American Religion had been founded in 1969 and papers began to be regularly offered at the American Academy of Religion and the Society for the Scientific Study of New Religions in the 1970s), in the 1990s, the brainwashing controversy was still of major concern, scholars of new religions were experiencing a decade of violent incidents and both the Center for the Studies in New Religions (CESNUR) and the Information Network on Religious Movements (INFORM) had just recently been launched.

I would later learn that my colleagues were, like myself, taking the issue seriously, but also, like myself, caught up in the immediate issues surrounding the suppression, misinformation, and scapegoating of many new religious movements.

While new religious movements (NRMs) continue to be defamed and attacked in some places, the level of suppression has declined overall in the West. Space has expanded for the study of new religions as a specialty in the academy (along with dozens of other sub-disciplines).

One result of the arrival of this new expanded space has been some new conversations on Christian Science, and at least one major international conference.  That conference would lead directly to a major new tool for the next generation of religious scholars who might have some interest in Christian Science: An Annotated Bibliography of Academic and Other Literature on Christian Science.

Compilers Shirley Paulson, Helen Mathis, and Linda Bargmann burned a couple of years of their lives to do the homework for the next generation of scholars in their compilation of literature that has been written about Christian Science while annotating each item.

The three now leave us with no excuse to continue the neglect of the interesting and significant history of this new religion. Christian Science did what most new religions only hope for—it made a real impact on the world in which it was born.

And it’s all here at our fingertips. It’s a bit more than I found in the 1990s, but not near as much as there should be. I can assure those who might wander into the field, there is more intriguing stuff to be discovered than you could ever want. And in this age of the internet, you get an added bonus. With the publication of this volume in electronic form, you will regularly get the newest updates, and as additional relevant items appear, they will be added.

What more can we ask of a bibliography?