A COURSE IN MIRACLES (Religious Movement)

A Course in Miracles (the Course) is a lengthy channelled text, received by Dr Helen Schucman (1909-81) a psychologist at Columbia University in New York city between 1965 and 1972, which became especially popular in New Age circles (see New Age Movement). This entry briefly describes the nature of the Course, its history and leading interpreters in the broader movement it has inspired.

The Course is divided into three parts—the Text, the Workbook for Students and the Manual for Teachers—which were initially published separately but were subsequently collated in a single volume. The Course uses traditional Christian language and imagery, such as Father, Son, Holy Spirit, truth, grace, and forgiveness, but modifies traditional meanings to fit an idealist, neo-Gnostic worldview. Schucman is thought to have understood the entity which channelled the text to be Jesus, although she did not publicize such an interpretation during her lifetime.

The Course describes its purpose as to train the mind to a different understanding of reality (Workbook: 1), and this formulation perhaps owes much to Schucman’s profession as a research psychologist. The material world is said to be an illusory misunderstanding of the ego, both of which are in fact merely aspects of the one God. In the terminology of the Course, it is fear and guilt that creates the perception of a reality separate from God, and forgiveness that overcomes this delusion. Thinking in line with the thought of the Creator God can allow a miracle to happen—not a magical alteration of reality, but a real understanding of the illusory nature of the world.

The purpose of the Course is also described as salvation, and again this word should not be understood in its traditional Christian sense, but instead as attaining healing and wholeness through a correct perception of the world. In the psychological terminology also used in the Course, this is described as sanity, while false ideas or irrational delusions allow belief in the real existence of the material world.

Thus the Course shows some similarities to Christian Science and New Thought. It also owes philosophical debts to Plato, of whom Schucman was fond, Rene Descartes’ method of doubt and analogy of the dream, and perhaps existentialism’s concern for meaning in the world.

Bill Thetford (1922-88), Schucman’s academic supervisor at the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, encouraged and assisted in the transcription of the Course. It was subsequently edited by Kenneth Wapnick (b. 1942), who like Schucman and Thetford came from a Jewish background. While Schucman and Thetford were then both agnostic (officially at least—Schucman continued Christian observances throughout her life), Wapnick had converted to Roman Catholicism and had seriously considered becoming a Trappist monk.

The Course was popularized by Judy Skutch Whitson (then Judy Skutch), and published in 1975. Skutch also had a Jewish background and an interest in parapsychology, having founded the Foundation for Parasensory Investigation in 1971, renaming it Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) in 1975 on the advice of a communication received by Helen Schucman. The Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) was founded by Wapnick in 1983 as a sister, teaching arm of FIP. FACIM does not have members and should not be considered as a typical New Religious Movement in itself.

Wapnick is the foremost interpreter of the Course, and now vigorously defends the copyright interests in it, resulting in a number of lawsuits. Other well-known teachers inspired by the Course include Gerald Jampolsky, Marianne Williamson, and Chuck Spezzano.

There are many other institutions inspired by the Course, including the Miracle Distribution Center, Fullerton, California; The Foundation for Life Action, Los Angeles of Tara Singh; The Interfaith Fellowship, New York of Revd Jon Mundy and Revd Diane Berke; The Circle of Atonement, Sedona, Arizona of Robert Perry; The California Miracles Center, San Francisco, California of Revd Tony Ponticello; the controversial Endeavor Academy, Baraboo, Wisconsin of Chuck Anderson, known as ‘Dear One’; and the Miracle Network, London, England.

The Course is also widely used by lone students, private study groups, many Christian churches—especially Unity churches—and twelve-step recovery programmes. Unlike Christian Science, which was inspired in a similar way by Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875), it has not developed into a hierarchical church or even into a cohesive movement, and its long-term significance remains to be seen.

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