"Lydia Maria Child and the Progress of Religious Ideas"
Carl Sederholm, Associate Professor of Humanities, BYU
In 1855, Lydia Maria Child published her 3 volume study of comparative religion, The Progress of Religious Ideas. This book, which anticipated comparative religion as an academic field of study by almost 30 years, was significant in its day for its equitable treatment of non-Christian faiths. Even more surprising for her contemporaries, Child did not follow the tradition of placing Christianity as the highest of all religious beliefs. Instead, Child pressed her readers to consider her claim that all the major world religions could 1) speak to human needs generally and 2) suggest future development for a series of religious ideas that could respond to human suffering. Child’s long-term hope was for a global religion based on the major spiritual teachings of each religion. My project examines the major claims of Child's long-overlooked Progress of Religious Ideas in light of their major contributions to the study of religion in America. More specifically, I will examine the way Child speaks on the subject of religious experiences.