Gnostic America Conference Day: Catherine Albanese

I thought it would be fun to track the papers at the conference and post a few words about each one with a photo. 

Catherine L. Albanese (Keynote)

“The Gnostic in Us All: Thinking from the Macrobiotics of Michio Kushi”

Abstract: Way back when in graduate school, I wrote a paper on the Gospel of Thomas, one of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945.  The debate over its gnosticizing elements was alive and well, and I weighed in with an argument that its thorough oblivion to history rendered it Gnostic—in the capital-“G” sense.  Of course, there were other Gnostic elements cited then by scholars—such as Thomas’s turn within to a self on divinity’s edge and its enigmatic sayings with their salvific and mystical secret.  Later, in 1976, I published the paper in an academic journal.  That was the end of my Gnostic story.
Or so I thought.  But in 1986, I began the practice of macrobiotics.  As I studied the teachings of Michio Kushi, its foremost American teacher, I began to smell more than a whiff of religion.  His wife, Aveline, had published a cookbook with the subtitle For Health, Harmony, and Peace.  Michio Kushi himself, with longtime political interests in world government,  elaborated on a cosmological spiral, with humans descending from a “unique principle” as it divided into yin and yang.  Finding balance with yin and yang energies through diet and lifestyle would lead to alignment and peace.  What lay ahead, if macrobiotic principles were followed, was “one peaceful world.” 
Somewhere on the road to one peaceful world, Kushi discovered the Gospel of Thomas.  He began to use it regularly, incorporating it into popular “spiritual” seminars.  I will leverage an account of the gnostic (here small-“g”) content of macrobiotics on Michio Kushi’s commentary on the Gospel of Thomas—The Gospel of Peace (1992)—and also on related works.  My task will be to think through the gnosticism of brown rice and a peaceful world in terms of late twentieth-century American society and culture, to find the lines of connection, and to explore them as encrypted signs—in the twenty-first century still—of the gnostic in us all.

Catherine L. Albanese is J. F. Rowny Professor Emerita and Research Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  With a Ph.D. in American religious history from the University of Chicago (Divinity School, 1972), she is former department chair at UCSB Religious Studies (2005-2010) and former president of the American Academy of Religion (1994).  Her award-winning book, A Republic of Mind and Spirit:  A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, was published in 2007 (Yale).     She is the author of numerous other books and articles, including America:  Religions and Religion, now in its fifth edition (Cengage, 2013).  In 2014, she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.