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The Delight Makers

Anglo-American Metaphysical Religion and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Delight Makers

Anglo-American Metaphysical Religion and the Pursuit of Happiness

An ambitious history of desire in Anglo-American religion across three centuries.
The pursuit of happiness weaves disparate strands of Anglo-American religious history together. In The Delight Makers, Catherine L. Albanese unravels a theology of desire tying Jonathan Edwards to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the religiously unaffiliated today. As others emphasize redemptive suffering, this tradition stresses the “metaphysical” connection between natural beauty and spiritual fulfillment. In the earth’s abundance, these thinkers see an expansive God intent on fulfilling human desire through prosperity, health, and sexual freedom. Through careful readings of Cotton Mather, Andrew Jackson Davis, William James, Esther Hicks, and more, Albanese reveals how a theology of delight evolved alongside political overtures to natural law and individual liberty in the United States.

384 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2023

History: American History, History of Ideas

Religion: American Religions, Christianity, Religion and Society


“What if the history of religion in the United States was primarily understood not through piety or respectability but through desire and delight? That is the wager of this startling book by one of the greatest interpreters of American religion. The pursuit of happiness has never been more sensual, mischievous, or weird.”

Kathryn Lofton, Yale University

The Delight Makers has all the makings of a classic: richly researched, theoretically original, never jargony, often funny, intellectually adventurous, ontologically sympathetic, keenly aware of our present academic context and its moral concerns, and, in the end, responsive to all. I set the book down in a mood I much expected: admiration, perhaps even delight.”

Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University

“Here the affections of Jonathan Edwards’s theology, the delights of Emerson’s nature, and the aspirations of William James’s religious psychology commingle with the visions of clairvoyants, the allures of occultists, and the copious promises of mind-cure proponents. The Delight Makers is an expansive and magnetic history of an American cosmology in which longings for beauty, vitality, happiness, and abundance have proven endlessly energizing.”

Leigh Eric Schmidt, Washington University in St. Louis

Table of Contents

Introduction: Lights and Shadows

Part I: God Shed His Grace
Section 1: Divine and Devilish Things
One / The Metaphysical Cotton Mather
Two / Jonathan Edwards: Latter-Day Puritan and Metaphysician
Section 2: Supernatural and Natural
Three / Ralph Waldo Emerson: Supernatural Naturalist
Four / Horace Bushnell: Natural Supernaturalist

Part II: The Fruited Plain
Section 3: Commercial and Un-Unitarian Times
Five / Albert Brisbane and the Metempsychosis of Sex
Six / Andrew Jackson Davis and the Matter of Sex and Spirit
Section 4: Physic and Metaphysic
Seven / Warren Felt Evans: From Methodism to Mind Cure
Eight / William James: From Anatomy to the Science of Spirit
Section 5: Purses, Profits, and Futures Perfect
Nine / Minding Money and Market: Emma Curtis Hopkins and Elizabeth Towne
Ten / Arcanes of Prosperity: The Multiverses of William Walker Atkinson
Eleven: Channeling Delight and Destiny: The Coming of Seth and Abraham
Afterword: And Crowned Thy Good?

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