Kira Ganga Kieffer

Marianne Williamson


1952 (July 8):  Marianne Deborah Williamson was born in Houston, Texas.

1973:  Williamson dropped out of Pomona College after her junior year and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a cabaret singer.

1973–1983:  Williamson lived in New York City and Houston.

1977:  Williamson discovered A Course in Miracles on a friend’s coffee table at a party but disregarded it.

1978:  Williamson was given A Course in Miracles by her then-boyfriend and studied it intensively while living in New York City and then Houston.

1983:  Williamson moved to Los Angeles and worked at the Philosophical Research Society, where she began lecturing publicly on A Course in Miracles.

1987:  Williamson cofounded the Center for Living in Los Angeles to support HIV/AIDS patients and other terminally ill people.

1989:  Williamson started The Project Angel Food Program as part of the Los Angeles Center for Living. The Project’s goal was to provide food for people with life-threatening illnesses, particularly those with HIV/AIDS.

1989:  The Center for Living opened a second branch in New York City.

1992:  Williamson stepped down from the management of The Center for Living and The Project Angel Food Program.

1992:  Williamson published A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.

1992:  Williamson appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. With Winfrey’s endorsement of A Return to Love, the book jumped to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for thirty-nine weeks.

1994:  Williamson published A Woman’s Worth.

1995:  Williamson published Illuminata: A Return to Prayer.

1997:  Williamson published The Healing of America.

1998:  Williamson became pastor of the nondenominational Christian Church of Today outside Detroit, Michigan. The church is a member of the Association of Unity Churches.

2001:  Williamson published Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships.

2002:  Williamson published Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles.

2004:  Williamson co-founded The Peace Alliance nonprofit organization to encourage peacebuilding nationally and internationally.

2006:  Williamson published The Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for Living Your Best Life.

2008:  Williamson published The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife.

2009:  Williamson moved back to Los Angeles and began lecturing on A Course in Miracles weekly at the Saban Research Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

2012:  Williamson published A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight.

2014:  Williamson launched campaign for California’s thirty-third congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as an Independent.

2014:  Williamson published The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles.

2015:  Williamson published A Year of Miracles: Daily Devotions and Reflections.

2017:  Williamson published Tears to Triumph: Spiritual Healing for the Modern Plagues of Anxiety and Depression.

2018:  Williamson launched the “Love America Tour.”

2018:  Williamson published Healing the Soul of America, 20th anniversary edition.

2019 (January 29):  Williamson announced her decision to run for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

2019:  Williamson moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to focus on her presidential campaign.

2019:  Williamson published A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution.

2020 (January 10).  Williamson suspended her presidential campaign.


Marianne Deborah Williamson [Image at right] was born July 8, 1952, in Houston, Texas to Samuel Williamson, an immigration attorney, and Sophie Ann (Kaplan) Williamson, a homemaker. Raised in a conservative Jewish home, Williamson received early religious and political educations (Williamson 2019). In 1965, when Williamson was thirteen-years-old, her father brought her family to Vietnam to experience war and to “make sure the military-industrial complex did not ‘eat my kids’ brains,’” as she has described (Peele 2019). This early experience of war led Williamson to become an ardent antiwar activist during her high school and college years during the height of the counterculture.

Williamson attended Pomona College in Claremont, California for two years, where she studied comparative religion and philosophy, but she dropped out during her junior year in 1973 and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a cabaret singer. According to her biographical accounts, Williamson lived the “wild life” replete with “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll” and antiwar protesting (Peele 2019). As Williamson describes in her books and lectures, she experienced deep depression, feelings of aimlessness, and destructive romantic relationships during her years in New York. As she wrote in A Return to Love, “My negativity was as destructive to me as alcohol is to the alcoholic” (Williamson 1992).  In 1977, Williamson remembers, she saw a copy of A Course in Miracles on the coffee table at a friend’s apartment during a party. While the blue cover and gold lettering enticed her, Williamson did not read the book until a year later when her then-boyfriend gave her a copy during one of her lowest points.

For Williamson, 1978 was a year of transformation. She threw herself into A Course in Miracles and began to find what she describes as a sense of profound relaxation, an antidote to the years of unhappiness she had endured previously. In her first book, A Return to Love (1992), Williamson describes the effect of A Course in Miracles, noting that, “For me, this was not just another book. This was my personal teacher, my path out of hell. . . . I could feel almost immediately that the changes it produced inside of me were positive. I felt happy. I felt like I was beginning to calm down” (Williamson 1992:xv). Williamson moved back to Houston and continued studying the Course while working at a spiritual bookstore.

In 1983, Williamson moved back to Los Angeles, taking a job at the Philosophical Research Society, where she began lecturing publicly on A Course in Miracles. According to Williamson, many members of her newfound audience were gay men suffering from HIV/AIDS during the height of the AIDS epidemic: “Gay men in Los Angeles––suddenly terrified––were looking for miracles, and for good reason,” she writes in A Politics of Love (Williamson 2019:2). Engaging with the gay community and, in particular, the horrors of AIDS, led Williamson to co-found the Center for Living in Los Angeles (1987) and The Angel Food Project in (1989). These organizations, backed by Hollywood insiders and self-help celebrities, including David Geffen, Shirley MacLaine, and Louise Hay, provided nonmedical support and free meals to terminally ill patients. In 1989, the Center for Living opened a second branch, in New York City, but by 1992, Williamson had stepped down from her management positions at both organizations due to “internecine conflicts” (Appelo and Spotnitz 1992).

1992 was another transformative year for Williamson. After publishing her first book, A Return to Love: Reflections on A Course in Miracles, Williamson was invited to be a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show on February 4. In front of a studio audience, she explained concepts from A Course in Miracles and outlined her beliefs about how the power of individuals’ intentions and “surrendering” to God could create meaningful change in their own lives as well as help solve global problems. Winfrey announced to her audience that she had already purchased 1,000 copies of Williamson’s book, launching A Return to Love to the top of the “How-to, Self-Help, and Miscellaneous” section of the New York Times bestseller list for thirty-nine weeks.

After the success of A Return to Love, Williamson continued teaching in Los Angeles and went on to publish twelve more books, including a treatise on women’s empowerment (A Woman’s Worth 1994), as well as explanatory guides to self-help in the arenas of weight loss, career advancement, and relationships. During the early 1990s, Williamson also raised her young daughter, India Emmeline Williamson (b. 1990), as a single mother. She has declined to share publicly the identity of her daughter’s father.

In 1998, Williamson, looking for a change of pace and a move out of her comfortable California lifestyle, took the job of minister at the Christian Church of Today outside Detroit, Michigan, for four years. She expanded the church and its bookstore, but eventually left her post after trying to sever the church’s ties with its parent organization, the Association of Unity Churches (Harel 2014).

After her stint as minister, Williamson turned her attention to applying the principles of A Course in Miracles to politics. In 2004, she cofounded The Peace Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose goals include grassroots campaigning for a U.S. Department of Peace and lobbying for peacebuilding policies at both the national and international levels (Peace Alliance).

In 2009, Williamson moved back to Los Angeles, where she began lecturing weekly on A Course in Miracles at the Saban Research Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, [Image at right]which she livestreamed on her website. Williamson also released a number of online courses and headlined talks and conferences at spiritual retreats and other New Age style gatherings, including Winfrey’s “SuperSoul Conversation” podcasts.

Williamson’s political turn came in full force in 2014 when she launched an Independent campaign for California’s thirty-third congressional seat in the United States House of Representatives. She came in fourth, losing to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). In 2018, Williamson embarked on the “Love America Tour,” in which she pitched an alternative way of thinking about politics via a “revolution in consciousness [that] paves the way to both personal and political renewal” (Sister Giant n.d.). In doing so, Williamson challenged critics and observers of the self-help and spirituality movements who have historically viewed these movements in American religious history as fundamentally narcissistic and incapable of focusing on social change (Winfrey 2019). This tour led to Williamson’s January 2019 announcement that she would run for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign. In April 2019, she also released A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution, which outlines policy positions by “applying spiritual wisdom to solving our political problems.” Warning of a “moral and spiritual crisis” in the United States due to cleavages in contemporary American life, as well as global endemics, such as climate change, war, terrorism, and racism, Williamson opened her campaign based on “harness[ing] love for political purposes” (Williamson 2019:10, 13, 14).

On January 10, 2020 Williamson announced that she was suspending her presidential campaign. In an official statement, she concluded: “Finally, these are not times to despair; they are simply times to rise up. Things are changing swiftly and dramatically in this country, and I have faith that something is awakening among us. A politics of conscience is still yet possible. And yes….love will prevail” (Williamson 2020).

Williamson is best known for her work as a spiritual teacher and practitioner of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). This text, first published in 1975 in the United States by the Foundation for Inner Peace, is an unauthored set of teachings attributed to Jesus that were revealed to and transcribed by Dr. Helen Schucman (1909–1981) and her associates at the Columbia University Psychology Department beginning in 1972 in New York City. Despite having written over a dozen books herself, Williamson falls under the category of disciple rather than creator. In fact, all of Williamson’s work, both written and public speaking, is based on the teachings in A Course in Miracles. She is widely considered to be ACIM’s most well-known translator of the text for mass audiences, and she claims not to have originated any new religious content or belief structures. Iin fact, she denies that A Course in Miracles is a “belief structure” at all. In a 2019 interview with Winfrey, she made this point plainly, referring to it simply as “the Truth” (Winfrey 2019).

A Course in Miracles, though dictated to Schucman via an unknown voice in her head, known as “The Voice,” utilizes Christian terminology and concepts, such as God, atonement, crucifixion, miracles, and resurrection, as well as western psychological ideas of love, inner peace, and shifts in individuals’ mental perceptions to create changes in their lives. Williamson describes the Course in perennialist terms, referring to it as a “self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy [that] claims no monopoly on God. It is a statement of universal spiritual themes. There’s only one truth, spoken different ways, and the Course is just one path to it out of many” (Williamson 1992:xv). Williamson explicitly de-Christianizes the Course in A Return to Love, where she argues that while Jesus was the voice who spoke the Course to Schucman, readers do not need to relate to him personally in order to absorb and integrate the teachings. One of Williamson’s most significant teachings, then, is that of perennialism, the view that a single truth and source underlies the religions of the world.

Williamson’s primary teachings or takeaways from A Course in Miracles center on the profound power of love to change people’s perceptions and shift them away from fear. She argues in A Return to Love that, “When we think with love, we are literally co-creating with God. And when we’re not thinking with love, since only love is real, then we’re actually not thinking at all. We’re hallucinating” (Williamson 1992:23). Williamson claims that there is one Truth, which is love, and that all else in the world or in people’s minds is illusory, or unreal. This unreality is not harmless, however. For Williamson, then, living in illusion causes not only personal unhappiness, but also widescale dysfunction that, in the twenty-first century, is leading toward destruction on a global scale. She urges readers and listeners to meditate on surrendering themselves to becoming “God’s instruments,” which she equates to embodying love (Williamson 1992:67). Williamson claims that in doing so, people will realize the ultimate reality, that all living things are made up only of one interconnected spirit. When people buy into the illusions of fear, hatred, disappointment, or materiality, they deny this truth, and their spirit is unhappy, dysfunctional, and incapable of showing love to others or themselves. The opening lines of A Course in Miracles state: “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.” Williamson translates these concepts for readers in three maxims:

1. Love is real. It’s an eternal creation and nothing can destroy it.
2. Anything that isn’t love is an illusion.
3. Remember this, and you’ll be at peace (Williamson 1992:23).

Although some of the core tenets of the Course, as Williamson states them, would seem to have clear connections to non-dualist thinkers in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religions, Williamson’s lectures and interviews typically reference these connections passingly as related to “Eastern” or “Asian” beliefs (Winfrey 2019). More often, Williamson references psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in her application of the beliefs to daily teachings. Comparing the Course to Jung’s concept of the collective unconsciousness in A Return to Love, Williamson writes that,

The Course goes one step further; if you go deeply enough into your mind, and deeply enough into mine, we have the same mind. The concept of a divine, or “Christ” mind, is the idea that, at our core, we are not just identical, but actually the same being. “There is only one begotten Son” doesn’t mean that someone else was it, and we’re not. It means we’re all it. There’s only one of us here (Williamson 1992:30).

According to Williamson, internalizing the nondualist concept of oneness with all conscious beings results in love and, in turn, miracles. According to both A Course in Miracles and Williamson’s work, miracles are not supernatural or unscientific occurrences. Rather, they are shifts in cognitive perception of the self and the surrounding world. For Williamson,

Miracles themselves are not to be consciously directed. They occur as involuntary effects of a loving personality, an invisible force that emanates from someone whose conscious intention is to give and receive love. As we relinquish the fears that block the love within us, we become God’s instruments. We become His miracle workers (Williamson 1992:67).

Williamson’s books and lectures are aimed at instructing audiences in the ways to achieve the proper mindset for miracles of love to occur, whether they be in the individual’s relationships, physical appearance, health, or even in collective political works aimed at changing major systems of structural inequality, climate change, or economic inequity.

Perhaps Williamson’s most well-known quotation is one that is commonly misattributed to Nelson Mandela (Nelson Mandela Foundation 2007). It appears in A Return to Love, where she states: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us….As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” (Williamson 1992:190). Here, the idea that bringing light into the individual allows others to be illuminated as well, demonstrates a core facet of Williamson’s teachings about self-improvement but makes plain the ways in which she views spirituality as a collective project.


The primary practices that Williamson espouses are meditation, visualization, and intentional prayer. Williamson implores her audiences to meditate for at least five minutes as soon as they wake up each morning on the topic of being “used by God” as an agent of love (Winfrey 2019). [Image at right] She explains that this practice sets the correct intention for the day and centers the mind on reality rather than illusions. Williamson also encourages people to use similar meditations and prayers during difficult situations, particularly when upset, angry, or sad in order to achieve miracles.

In her book A Year of Miracles, Williamson provides 365 “daily devotions and reflections” for each day of the year. Examples include: “I can be whoever I choose to be today” and “Today I seek to do one thing that interrupts a pattern of fear.” Each intention is accompanied by a brief explanation and a prayer to God on the topic (Williamson 2013).

Williamson advocates visualization techniques for helping to solve personal problems as well as global crises. In A Return to Love, she discusses “loving” practices she worked on with AIDS patients during the 1980s. Referencing the Star Wars movies, she writes,

Underneath Darth Vader’s ugly mask lay a real man with a real heart. AIDS, for instance, can be thought of as “Angels-In-Darth-Vader-Suits”. . . . Imagine the AIDS virus as Darth Vader and then unzip his suit to allow an angel to emerge. See the cancer cell or AIDS virus in all its wounded horror, and then see a golden light, or angel, or Jesus, enveloping the cell and transforming it from darkness into light. . . . A scream responds to love. That is when it calms down. That is when it stops (Williamson 1992:241).

In an interview in 2016, Williamson also shared a visualization technique that individuals with no connection to the crisis between Israel and Palestine could do in order to put love out into the world and send it toward Israelis and Palestinians (Audlin 2009).


Williamson has led as a teacher, author, public speaker, and political candidate. Her primary media are her bestselling self-help books, her television, magazine, and podcast interviews, her association with Oprah Winfrey, as well as her weekly lectures on A Course in Miracles and her online courses for purchase.

In addition, Williamson cofounded three nonprofit organizations whose missions were supporting terminally ill people and peacebuilding efforts. She was also the minister of the Church of Time in Detroit, Michigan, for four years.

In 2019, Williamson announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 U.S. [Image at right] Presidential election. In doing so, she adapted her focus on spiritual teachings and self-help to a broader audience and the goals of policymaking. In a 2019 interview, Williamson discussed her qualifications and decision to run for president as such:

I’ve worked up close and personal with people for over 35 years who are dealing with crises in their lives, seeking to navigate those crises, to transform them into opportunity. And, I have recognized, particularly over the last 20 years, how many of those crises are at least indirectly, if not directly, a result of bad public policy. So not only do I have a real visceral sense of how bad public policy affects peoples’ lives and which bad public policy affects peoples’ lives, but also a deep passion for what needs to change (Crooked Media 2019).

Williamson outlined her progressive political beliefs and strategies in A Politics of Love, in which she advocates for Medicare-for-All, financial reparations for African Americans, a U.S. Department of Peace, and a transition to a “loving” capitalist economy.


Not much is known about the issues that Williamson encountered in her leadership positions at the Centers for Living, The Angel Food Project, or the Church of Time. She is no longer affiliated with these centers, but the first two do credit her with cofounding them in their online histories. Williamson’s break with the Church of Time was due to her desire to disaffiliate the church in Detroit from the Association of Unity Churches, which was ultimately not supported by a majority of church members and led to her leaving the church (Harel 2014).

After announcing her presidential candidacy in 2019, Williamson’s work underwent increased scrutiny in the mainstream media. As an explicitly spiritual candidate, she was routinely lampooned pejoratively as “woo-woo” in news articles covering her campaign (Abramovitch 2019). Williamson’s views on the validity of modern medicine, mandatory vaccination, and the process of healing debilitating illness were also questioned. Based on her prior writings about healing through mental and spiritual means, critics on the political left have questioned her commitment to biomedicine (Kaplan 2019; Michaelson 2019; Reese 2019). She has also been labeled a vaccine skeptic. In response, Williamson issued a rebuttal via her social media platform:

I’m a modern woman; of course I go to the doctor. Of course I take pharmaceuticals when they’re called for & I’m as grateful as anyone for the advances of modern medicine. . . . What I do criticize—and I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t—is predatory practices on the part of big pharmaceutical companies (Williamson July 20, 2019, Instagram).


Williamson is significant to the study of women in religions because of her popularity for more than twenty-five years with audiences interested in spirituality, self-improvement techniques, and the study of A Course in Miracles. Her message of discounting anything that is not based in love reflects the longer history in American religion and spirituality rooted in the metaphysical tradition (Albanese 2007). Williamson’s metaphysical beliefs take on many of the characteristics of the New Thought movement of the late nineteenth century and its mid-twentieth century incarnations in the “power of positive thinking” and self-healing by offering audiences a way to change the circumstances of their lives through mental and spiritual work alone. As a spiritual leader, Williamson has also offered important critiques of patriarchy and the traumatic effects of structural misogyny on women for millennia by emphasizing feminine energy’s potential for balance (Williamson 1993).

Williamson’s presidential campaign, launched in 2019, is also a landmark endeavor for an overtly spiritual woman who embraces nontraditional religiosity and notably alternative ideas. Her work in A Politics of Love and throughout her campaign appearances demonstrates a novel approach to invigorating the “Spiritual But Not Religious” population that has grown substantially in American life over the past thirty years. Her political agenda, consequently, injected a new type of logic into the oft-overlooked “Religious Left” in American politics.


Image 1: Marianne Williamson in 2017.
Image 2: Williamson delivers a lecture as part of Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations series in 2009.
Image 3: Williamson in conversation with Oprah Winfrey in 2012.
Image 4: Williamson’s official campaign poster for her 2020 presidential run.


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 Post Date:
24 July 2019