The “Seekers of the Light”: Christian Scientists in the United States, 1890-1910

By Rolf Swensen.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Christian Science was one of several distinct religions to appear in the United States in the
19th century, yet there has never been a social history of this American phenomenon. Church mores
precluded such a study for one hundred years, but the opening in Boston of the Mary Baker Eddy
Library for the Betterment of Humanity in 2002 has given scholars a golden opportunity. This paper
makes a contribution to scholarly understanding and dialog by compiling and analyzing the occupations
of over 4,000 Christian Scientists in the United States from 1890-1910. Scholars have long awaited
such an unsealing and examination of the closed membership records. Sources include minute books,
correspondence, and membership roll books of 23 branch, or local, congregations from such diverse places as New York City (two churches); Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Chicago (three churches); Beatrice,
Nebraska; Pittsburg, Kansas; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Diego and Oakland, California; Salem, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. Data from nine other branches, 1910-1925, are added for comparison. Almost 800 testimonies of healing from these localities have been scrutinized to determine why people joined the new fold. While some of these churches followed the often-assumed pattern of middle to upper middle class, other congregations were more than 75% small proprietors, clerical, working class, and farmers. That is, Christian Science initially appealed to a far broader spectrum of society than previous conjecture has allowed. As this church seeks to rebuild itself from a depleted membership base, there are some useful and perhaps controversial lessons to be learned from this study.

Keywords: Christian Science, Metaphysics, American Sects

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.115-144. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 18.010MB).

Dr. Rolf Swensen

Professor, Social Sciences Bibliographer, Rosenthal Library, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing, New York, USA

Since completing my Ph.D. in American Social History from the University of Oregon in 1975, I have held various positions, including University Archivist of Oregon State University, Chief Archivist of the National Archives of Papua New Guinea, and Head of Special Collections/Archives at Montana State University. Since 1990 I have been Social Sciences Bibliographer at Rosenthal Library, Queens College, City University of New York, where I also teach a required graduate History course entitled Introduction to Historical Research. My major research interest, the history of the early Christian Science movement, has resulted in five scholarly articles, one of which won a major award. All of this work should culminate in a monograph.