(Prepared in 2003)
Alan gained his first, fragmentary, understanding of New Thought (although probably not by that name) when he was a teenager--or perhaps pre-teenager--in the 1940s, when his mother borrowed from a neighbor The Game of Life and How to Play It, by Florence Scovel Shinn, and some Unity pamphlets.
Perhaps Alan's only New Thought achievement in that period of his life was his gaining some awareness that mind or belief has some power in shaping one's life, and that God is always practically available in daily living. Alan does not recall that he then tried to apply New Thought to any specific challenge, but his overall attitude toward life may well have been improved by his knowledge of New Thought and of the views of Norman Vincent Peale, to whose NBC weekly radio broadcast, "The Art of Living," he listened; Alan did not know at that time that Peale had been influenced by New Thought. When Alan learned of New Thought under that name, Alan remarked that it was "super-Norman-Vincent-Pealeism."
Alan began his most serious study of New Thought in 1955, when he was given Emmet Fox's Alter Your Life and Power Through Constructive Thinking. It was a reference to P. P. Quimby at page 207 of Alter Your Life that gave Alan a clue that led to his discovery of New Thought under that name. Alan searched in the Hartford public library and found A History of the New Thought Movement by Horatio W. Dresser (1866-1954). That opened to Alan the great world of New Thought, at least as it had been up to 1919, when that book was published. It was about a year too late to find Dresser himself, but his writings were to be important to Alan for the rest of his life.
The two Fox books were given to Alan by an elementary school friend, whom he had not seen in more than a decade, during which time she moved to New York City, where she began an acting career and discovered New Thought in the form of the Society of Pragmatic Mysticism, founded by an Emmet Fox student, Mildred Mann. Like Emma Curtis Hopkins a few decades earlier in New York, Mrs. Mann taught mostly in her apartment. Over the next several years Alan took the train from Hartford to New York many times to talk with Mrs. Mann, and to make his way to the used book stores then on Fourth Avenue.
At the time that he was given the two Fox books Alan had just been graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law and had decided that he did not want to practice law, so was planning to undertake graduate study to prepare himself for teaching. First he took courses that led to his getting a University of Connecticut Master of Arts degree in education in 1957. As his interest in New Thought grew, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree in philosophy, primarily in order to be able to deal most adequately with the metaphysical teachings that he found in New Thought.
In the same year (1955) that he was given the two Fox books (perhaps only days or weeks later), he discovered in the library of the University
of Connecticut another book (see below) that was to be decidedly important to him in its own right and in providing him with ideas that he later
realized could be incorporated into New Thought, to its advantage. He earned his Ph.D. degree in philosophy at Boston University in 1963 (40 years
ago this spring), with his doctoral dissertation "Horatio W. Dresser and the Philosophy of New Thought" (perhaps the only dissertation in the field
of philosophy, as distinguished from religious studies-,ever to deal with New Thought, somewhat as his paper, The Healing Idealism of P. P. Quimby,
W. F. Evans, and the New Thought Movement almost certainly was the only formal philosophical recognition of New Thought in connection with the
Bicentennial of the United States; Alan presented that paper at the Bicentennial Symposium of Philosophy, held in New York City in 1976. (Alan's
dissertation, in somewhat expanded form, was published in 1993 as Healing Hypotheses, and fairly soon went out of print, but now is available
without charge on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ppquimby.com/anderson/healing.htm
(the Bicentennial paper is at http://ppquimby.com/alan/healism.htm).
While studying at Boston University, Alan looked up some members of the Dresser family, and was very favorably impressed by them, as he was by various associates of Dresser. He also made contact with the granddaughter of Quimby, and was shown the portions of the Quimby writings then still in possession of the Quimby family. Alan helped to arrange to have these papers moved to Boston University, where they remain in the part of the library dedicated to preserving rare writings.
Also while working on his Ph.D. degree in Boston, Alan met Charles S. Braden, who was there gathering information to be included in his New Thought history, Spirits in Rebellion. Alan supplied him with some information about Warren Felt Evans. Braden also was interested in the pioneering New Thought organization known as the Metaphysical Club of Boston, of which Alan was a member during its final years of existence. Alan helped to save that organization from extinction at one point, but that reprieve lasted only a few years. As part of his doctoral research, Alan also located and talked with the last person in Salisbury, MA (where Evans, who had been a Quimby patient and student, had a healing center) who had any recollection of seeing Evans; he also interviewed a member of the Evans family in Salisbury.
While still living in Connecticut, Alan listened each Sunday evening to a WOR, New York, radio program devoted to the religion of healthy-mindedness, as William James and the broadcaster referred to it. This broadcaster was Dr. Ervin Seale, onetime President of the INTA and longtime minister of the Church of the Truth, in New York. When he announced on his program that he was going to be in Meriden, CT, for the opening of a Divine Science church, Alan decided to drive to Meriden to meet him. Alan did this, probably on Halloween in 1957. It led to many meetings with Dr. Seale in his office in New York, and to Alan's playing an important part in the Seale project of publishing everything that Quimby had written. Horatio Dresser's The Quimby Manuscripts (1921) was not an exhaustive and totally accurate collection. It was Alan's task to locate all handwritten copies of Quimby writings and to make a directory of them that was used in preparing copies of texts for publication, which was achieved in 1988, two years before Dr. Seale’s transition. He helped to pave the way for Alan's contacting the Quimby family, and eventually he ordained Alan, under the authority of the Quimby Memorial Church and Foundation. Alan's activity in research, writing, and speaking about New Thought, as well as his college teaching, has constituted his ministry. Alan considered it an honor and privilege to be associated with Ervin Seale, whom he recognized as one of the most outstanding people he ever had met.
A byproduct of this relationship was Alan's being inserted at practically the last minute into the 1963 INTA Congress, held in New York City. Alan there told about his research and his dissertation. Alan's second speaking at a Congress was a similarly late-inserted lecture, on the day after human beings first reached the moon, in 1969, with the Congress again held in New York.
The Quimby Foundation was dissolved after Dr. Seale's transition in 1990. However, the Canadian branch of it continues, under the leadership of one of Alan's best friends, Dr. Herman J. Aaftink, and Alan is one of the Directors of that organization.
The book that Alan found in the University of Connecticut library (in such a prominent position that one might suppose that it had been placed in such a way as to make it impossible for Alan to miss it) was Philosophers Speak of God, edited by Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese. The outlook that it emphasized was process philosophy, based largely on the work of Alfred North Whitehead and Hartshorne, who had been Whiteheads assistant at Harvard University. Eventually Alan realized that New Thought and Process Thought (or philosophy or theology, which in a process context are practically identical) are too good to be kept apart. It took Alan perhaps two decades to work out more or less completely his ideas for an adequate amalgamation of the very practically oriented New Thought and the highly theoretical process philosophy.
If Alan is remembered in the future, most likely it will be primarily for his efforts to bring about a thoroughgoing reconceptualization of New Thought in terms of process thought. Even if this never were to be widely accepted in New Thought, Alan at least would be notable as an example of one who took full advantage of New Thought's dedication to freedom of thought--to the point of challenging some assumptions that many New Thoughters might consider essential, but which others are coming to recognize as impediments to New Thought's taking its rightful place as an outlook that can meet other religious and philosophical thinking and be recognized with equal seriousness by the academic world.
All too briefly put, process philosophy interprets mind as process (meaning any experience, such as feeling, thinking, remembering, desiring, and willing), rather than stuff or substance that has experience, rather than is experience. The building blocks of the universe are momentarily developing units of experience. God and we, and everything else, are successions of experiences. The universe is a collection of mingling minds (to use a bit of Quimby’s terminology). Incidentally, in a paper on Quimby that Alan presented at last summer's SSMR session, he pointed to some parallels between Quimby and Whitehead, although Whitehead in considering developments within occasions of experience was dealing with vastly shorter periods of time than was Quimby, and Whitehead did not apply his philosophy to healing. In process philosophy God is recognized as guiding each unit of experience from within by means of the experience's prehending--feeling, nonsensory awareness, of God's wisdom specifically related to that experience in its unique setting, but we are free to reject Gods guidance, in favor of influences from the past. God is changeless in constant perfect wisdom and morality, but God is growing in experience.
In recent years, a few other people have advocated process reconceptualization of New Thought metaphysics, but sometimes process has been understood in a popular way distinguishing a line of development from the outcome to which it leads, rather than in a philosophical way emphasizing what has been called panexperientialism (all is experience, but not all collections of experiences are, as such, experiencing). In technical terminology, process philosophy (and therefore the metaphysics of Process New Thought) is qualitatively monistic (there is only one quality or type of reality--mind, experience) yet is quantitatively pluralistic (there are innumerably many units of mind or experience (not just one mind, as pantheism holds); this pluralistic type of metaphysical idealism traditionally has been called panpsychism, but that term does not necessarily suggest the basic importance of activity recognized by process philosophy--panexperientialism. Whitehead realized that science had reinterpreted the units of the universe as process, as activity, but had failed to recognize the basic status of life. Whitehead maintained that the units of universe are living, rather than lifeless, as science regularly assumed. Some have emphasized that Whiteheadian process philosophy has revived, but greatly updated, ancient animism, the belief that all things are ensouled. As process philosopher David Griffin points out, process philosophy has reenchanted the world (or recognized its "enchanted" nature, yet without an old supernaturalism that violates the orderliness of the creative process).
From the volume, edited by Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, that Alan came upon in the University of Connecticut library Alan started learning about something that the undergraduate philosophy courses that had taken missed (as many such courses still do): panentheism (all is in God and God is in all without being all) and the process philosophy with which it is associated. For some years Alan accepted the common New Thought pantheistic belief that God is all, but gradually he came to realize that a process panentheistic interpretation of reality can account for the positive aspects of New Thought without the difficulties involved in God-is-all pantheism. Horatio Dresser long ago rejected pantheism as being ethically unacceptable, but process philosophy does an even more comprehensive job of dispensing with pantheism.
Although Alan's most far-reaching contributions to New Thought have been in relation to philosophical and historical matters, he also has had accomplishments of a more obviously valuable sort.
For some years he was New England District President of the INTA. He and his wife, Dr. Deb Whitehouse, have served, and still serve, as members of the INTA Executive Board. On the Board Alan has been especially active in helping to draft amendments for the Bylaws and to rewrite the Declaration of Principles.
In the 1980s Alan was a co-founder of a Religious Science Church in Massachusetts and frequent speaker and participant in the services and other activities of a then new Religious Science church in Rhode Island. For many years around this time, or somewhat after it, Deb and Alan fairly frequently spoke in a Unity Church in Massachusetts; Alan earlier had done some teaching there, and was the church's Academic Director. They also spoke rather frequently in the new Religious Science church in Rhode Island.
In INTA Alan has done some speaking at Congresses and he originated and has presided over the Rethinking New Thought sessions held at most Congresses during the past decade or so. Such rethinking is not limited to theoretical considerations. It can relate to any side of New Thought. The overall aim of that undertaking is to make New Thought practically unique among religions by remaining flexible and self-renewing, rather than falling into petrified decrepitude and irrelevance.
In the 1980s Alan and several other scholars, mostly New Thoughters associated with the American Academy of Religion, founded the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, the chief meetings of which are held in connection with INTA Congresses. Alan has been a member of the SSMR Board and Program Chairman since the founding of the organization.
For many years Alan has been Chairman of the INTA Educational Standards and Accreditation Committee. Originally it was very active, and offered guidelines for New Thought curricula. It has been relatively inactive in the last few years, perhaps because some New Thought schools have come to realize the importance of educational excellence and accreditation by universally recognized accrediting agencies.
In the 1970s Alan wrote his first book apart from his doctoral dissertation. The publisher gave the book its title, The Problem is God (published in 1985), in the belief that that would be attractively controversial. Instead, it apparently scared away most people. It subtitle, A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God is essentially its original title. It was written in a somewhat lighthearted way, which Alan hoped would show New Thoughters and others that learning about philosophy and related matters could be fun. The title assigned by the publisher is derived from a quotation, given in the book, from a scholar who maintained that rightly understood, the problem of God is not one problem among several others; it is the only problem there is. Alan called this book a God book written on the pattern of a dog book. In it he created a divine kennel containing competing breeds or views of what God is like: Alan called them the Archaic Terrorer, the Yapping Heel-Nipper, the Purebred High-Nosed, the World Woofer, and the Mixed Breed. While the book scarcely became a New Thought classic, it contained much about and for New Thought. It has been out of print for many years.
Alan and Deb jointly have written two books: New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (recently republished in a revised edition) and Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes. Both books are available in electronic and paperback forms.
For many years Alan has headed the INTA Educational Standards and Accreditation Committee, which during the past two years has been inactive, but which at one point drew up standards that it encouraged New Thought schools to follow. The Committee was started after a New Thought denomination found that graduates of its school were denied admission to military chaplaincy because they were not graduates of an accredited institution. It now seems likely that a few New Thought schools will achieve conventional accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools and/or the schools will require their students to complete programs of study in such accredited schools.
In the mid 1990s Alan came upon he World Wide Web, and taught himself to put material onto the Web. He was one of the pioneers in giving New Thought, including INTA, a place in cyberspace. He continues that volunteer work.
In 2000 he retired from Curry College, in Milton, MA, after teaching there since 1966, and was given the rank of Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion. The next year he and Deb moved to Holiday, FL. Recently both have been involved in teaching at Emma Curtis Hopkins College and Theological Seminary, in Clearwater, FL. This is one of the New Thought institutions dedicated to achieving full accreditation.
Despite having had a stroke in January 2003, Alan has continued to think and to write about New Thought, much as he has done for many years. He and Deb remain members of the INTA Executive Board, as well as the joint INTA-SSMR Archives Committee, are active participants in the 2003 INTA Congress, and anticipate that they will be similarly active well into this century. Thursday afternoon Alan will preside over the SSMR session, at which Deb will be one of the speakers. Deb also presented New Thought for Newcomers this afternoon.
Alan believes that whatever achievements he has made in relation to New Thought should be considered only what any New Thoughter reasonably might be expected to do over half a century or more. He hopes that his greatest achievements will come about in the future. He keeps working in that direction.