USA Today –May 29, 1996
By Deirdre R. Schwiesow
If it were an album, it would’ve gone platinum.
But, despite selling more than 1 million copies since 1975, A Course in Miracles remains relatively unknown outside the consciousness movement. Now Viking, an imprint of Penguin USA, hopes to change all that.
The publishing house has taken on the underground phenomenon – previously published by the not-for-profit Foundation for Inner Peace headed by Judith Skutch Whitson – in order to make A Course in Miracles accessible to a wider audience.
A course in what? “This is a course in miracles,” states the book’s introduction, which goes on to summarize the 1,000-plus pages that follow with the postulates: “nothing real can be threatened,” and “nothing unreal exists.”
These ideas are the basis of A Course in Miracles, a dense tome explicating a “spiritual thought system” stressing the awareness of love and the illusory nature of fear. Though Christian in language, the Course is nonsectarian and doesn’t attempt to supplant organized religions.
The book literally comprises a “course” with three books: a 669-page Text, a 488-page Workbook for Students and a 92-page Manual for Teachers.
Popular authors in the consciousness movement inspired by the Course include Marianne Williamson, author of A Return to Love, and Gerald Jampolsky, author of Love Is Letting Go of Fear. Countless other books draw on material from the Course.
With Viking now making the somewhat obscure text easily available, those who have avidly read new age flavor-of-the-month books can return to the source. But after 20 years of publishing the Course, what led the Foundation for Inner Peace – dedicated to disseminating the Course – to turn to a commercial publisher?
According to Whitson, the process was directed by the same internal voice that in 1965 began “dictating” the Course to Helen Schucman, a professor of psychology at Columbia University.
Schucman’s scribing of the Course, aided by her colleague William Thetford, took seven years, and ultimately resulted in the material being published by Whitson and the Foundation for Inner Peace.
“We were given very, very specific directions (by the voice) as to how to handle it,” says Whitson, adding she had always known it would be published professionally, “because that’s what the guidance was.”
Whitson had known Peter Mayer, CEO, and chairman of The Penguin Group, for several years, and felt that Mayer would treat the project with the appropriate dignity. But the foundation’s stipulation was that Penguin couldn’t advertise the Course in the usual way; the publisher could only “announce it.”
Despite these restrictions, Mayer thought the project would be profitable for Penguin because the book basically sells itself. “This movement has grown organically,” he says. “It has not happened through efforts of the foundation to find people who would join them or be interested… They did everything possible to not market” the Course.
Mayer notes that “the very fact that we have taken it over from them will itself be a kind of marketing and publicity… What we want to do is the kind of promotion to bookstores that will have the stores recognize that interest in this movement is growing… Our goal is to help it along by making the book increasingly available.”
It looks like Viking’s gamble has paid off; Mayer says that sales of the Course have already exceeded expectations. In fact, the advance orders for the Course were so strong that an additional printing of 50,000 was made before the books went to stores.
Where will this all go? As the voice told Schucman, who died in 1981:
“In years to come, you will not even recognize the forms that it will take.