Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living

Brian C. Wilson
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/18/2014
Format: Hardback 30 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01447-4
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2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards finalistSilver Medal, Biography category, 2015 Independent Publisher Book AwardsWinner, 2015 Historical Society of Michigan State History Awards2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Purveyors of spiritualized medicine have been legion in American religious history, but few have achieved the superstar status of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his Battle Creek Sanitarium. In its heyday, the "San" was a combination spa and Mayo Clinic. Founded in 1866 under the auspices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and presided over by the charismatic Dr. Kellogg, it catered to many well-heeled health seekers including Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Presidents Taft and Harding. It also supported a hospital, research facilities, a medical school, a nursing school, several health food companies, and a publishing house dedicated to producing materials on health and wellness. Rather than focusing on Kellogg as the eccentric creator of corn flakes or a megalomaniacal quack, Brian C. Wilson takes his role as a physician and a theological innovator seriously and places his religion of "Biologic Living" in an on-going tradition of sacred health and wellness. With the fascinating and unlikely story of the "San" as a backdrop, Wilson traces the development of this theology of physiology from its roots in antebellum health reform and Seventh-day Adventism to its ultimate accommodation of genetics and eugenics in the Progressive Era.

Author Bio

Brian C. Wilson is Professor in the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University. His publications include Yankees in Michigan and What Is Religion?


“Much more than the eccentric inventor of corn flakes, Kellogg was the founder of the "San," a combination spa and Mayo Clinic. This fascinating and unlikely story of Kellogg as a physician and theological innovator showcases the health and spirituality endeavours of a charismatic man.”

“This is a thoroughly researched and engagingly written biography of one of the most influential and intriguing figures in the history of American health culture. More, it provides a fascinating exploration of the melding of biological science with religion to create a worldview in which physical well-being is mandatory for morality, with health equated to holiness and sickness interpreted as sin. It is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the evolution of health beliefs and practices in the United States.”
 — James C. Whorton, Nature Cures: The History of Alternative Medicine in America

“Accounts of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of flaked cereals and peanut butter and advocate of sexual abstinence and frequent bowel movements, vary from mockery to adulation.  By focusing instead on Kellogg’s changing religious views, from Seventh-day Adventism to eugenicism, Brian C. Wilson has written the most balanced biography yet:  vivid, perceptive, and meticulously researched.”
 — Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White

“While he may look like a certain Kentucky Fried Colonel, Kellogg was an early advocate of a vegan diet and the intriguing figure behind the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium that paved the way for many contemporary ideas of holistic health and wellness. . . .Wilson’s lively and accessible writing introduces readers to spiritualism, millennialism, the temperance and social purity movements, Swedenborgians, and Mormons. . . . [A] thought-provoking portrait of a charismatic, intelligent medical doctor who never stopped absorbing new information and honing his theories, even when he was faced with disfellowship from his church and ostracism by friends and colleagues.”
 — ForeWord Reviews

“A well-researched biography that seeks to restore the reputation of the doctor satirized in T. C. Boyle’s novel The Road to Wellville and in the film of the same name. Wilson has done much more than provide a sympathetic biography of the man who headed the once-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium . . .There’s much here to interest both adherents to and skeptics of today’s alternative and holistic medicines, as well as fans of American history, especially the history of religions.”
 — Kirkus Reviews

“Wilson’s fresh reading of John Harvey Kellogg illuminates religious and scientific developments that influenced major industries. The book is a welcome addition to literature that connects business and religion.”
 — Business History Review

“Wilson does an admirable job of portraying how the doctor's beliefs shifted and adapted over time. . . . Readers with a keen interest in religious history, particularly as it relates to health care, will enjoy this biography the most.”
 — Library Journal

“Wilson's study succeeds admirably in weaving together Kellogg's biographical details with larger currents in American religious thought. . . . As a work of religious history, this study restores Michigan to its rightful place as a hub of American Protestantism and rescues the Kellogg name from its too -narrow association with commercialism. ”
 — Michigan Historical Review

“[This] is a well-written, even entertaining story of a classic American religious and medical entrepreneur, whose life illumines many of the tensions and contradictions of the American ethos of rugged individualism, radical reform, professionalism, pragmatism, concern for both physical and spiritual empowerment, moralism, and volunteerism. This work is highly recommended for courses in new religions, North American religious history, and religion and science/health.”
 — Religion

“This book is far from a dry intellectual history. Through extensive use of archival sources, Wilson embeds Kellogg’s energetic thought in institutional and cultural history, demonstrating that theological ideas never form in a vacuum, but rather are the result of myriad internal and external forces working on a person. In short, Wilson gets to the heart of what made Kellogg a complex and memorable figure.”
 — Nova Religio

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Table of Contents

1. Battle Creek Beginnings
2. The Rise of the Temple of Health
3. The Theology of Biologic Living
4. The Living Temple
5. Dr. Kellogg’s Break with the Seventh-day Adventist Church
6. Dr. Kellogg and Race Betterment
Conclusion: The Fall of the Temple of Health

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