Harley, Gail M. 1943-
HARLEY, Gail M. 1943-
PERSONAL: Born July 26, 1943, in Parris Island, SC; daughter of Bill and Eleanor McConaughey; divorced; children: two. Education: Florida State University, Ph.D., 1991.
CAREER: Writer and educator. University of South Florida, Tampa, adjunct associate professor of religious studies, English, and humanities, 1992–; Emma Curtis Hopkins College, Clearwater, FL, acting president, 1997–98. Fulbright scholar to Malaysia.
MEMBER: American Academy of Religion, Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion.
Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought, foreword by Danny L. Jorgensen, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2002.
Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America, Facts on File (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to The Historical Encyclopedia of Chicago Women, University of Illinois Press, 1998; New Age Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, Prometheus Books, 2004; and Controversial New Religions, edited by James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard, Oxford University Press, 2005. Contributing editor, Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Spiritual Beliefs and Practices, 4 volumes, edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Bauman, Facts on File, 2003. Contributor to periodicals, including St. Petersburg Times and Tacoma News Tribune.
SIDELIGHTS: Gail M. Harley is a historian and specialist in religion whose main interests include Asian religions, the New Thought movement, and new religious movements. At one time an acting president at Emma Curtis Hopkins College in Florida, she is also the author of the biography Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought. Hopkins (1849–1925) was one of the early leaders of Christian Science, although she has long been eclipsed by Mary Baker Eddy. In her biography, Harley tries to rectify this oversight and fill gaps in research on Hopkins and her contributions as an activist for the rights of African Americans and Native Americans. A student of Eddy's work beginning in 1883, Hopkins served as the editor of the Journal of Christian Science until Eddy fired her from the job in 1885. After moving to Chicago, Hopkins founded the College of Christian Science. Within a few years, the college had become a seminary with several prominent graduates, including Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who later founded the Unity School of Christianity.
Emma Curtis Hopkins not only sheds new light on Hopkins's life and importance but also emphasizes her feminist beliefs. Although Church History contributor Nancy A. Hardesty considered Harley's use of the "feminist" label to be "anachronistic" and concluded that "readers still await a clear analysis of [Hopkins's] thought," the reviewer appreciated how Harley "has clarified many things about Hopkins's life." Carmen Hendershott praised the book in Utopian Studies, declaring that "Harley's research is extremely impressive," and concluding that "the author makes a convincing case for the central position of Hopkins in the New Thought movement and in late nineteenth-century American religious history generally."
In Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America Harley strives to bridge cultural gaps and misunderstandings many Americans might have regarding those who practice the Hindu and Sikh religions. She explains the customs of these India-based faiths, offers brief biographical portraits of significant religious figures, and, according to a contributor to the Sikh Times, provides "riveting … discussions on the racial barriers faced and overcome by pioneering immigrants." The critic appreciated the many "thought-provoking answers" to questions about cultural practices and the differences between the religions and, while noting some errors, particularly regarding Sikhism, called the reference work "an irresistible read that is sure to delight its readers." School Library Journal contributor Coop Renner similarly noticed a few factual errors in the text but concluded that "overall this is an inviting overview of two religions and their adherents."
Harley told CA: "I began to read when I was very young, I lived in a beautiful small town—Beaufort, South Carolina. My grandfather, Jamie Harley was a charter subscriber to National Geographic magazine. I spent many a night on the big arm of his overstuffed chair while we toured the world. We would take maps of far-away places and study them as if we were to navigate there the next day. We never went anywhere exotic but we always went somewhere historic for our family vacations. It was from him I learned to love the history of America and to respect other cultures. Our armchair travels to foreign lands (as they were called in those days) encouraged me to think beyond the box. Today, I have traveled to many of the different places that we traced on those old maps. I think of him when I am climbing the steppe in Turkey or maneuvering myself through the rainforest in Malaysia.
"It was both of my grandparents and my mother who gave me permission to write. My father, Bill McConaughey, encouraged my teaching and learning. My grandmother, Beatrice Harley, took me to the only bookstore in Beaufort and let me pick out my first quality writing pen. I choose a soft yellow Lady Esterbrook. I wrote my first letter to the Editor with that yellow pen. My mother, Eleanor, read movie magazines along with her wonderful books. I read about the actors in Hollywood in Photoplay. The magazine offered one dollar for each letter to the editor that was accepted. I got out my Lady Esterbrook and wrote a letter that said that I liked a fledgling movie star Ben Cooper. My grandmother gave me a stamped enveloped and off it flew through the mail. About six weeks later I received a check from Photoplay, they were publishing MY LETTER! I cashed the one dollar check! I was a writer. Never mind that I was ten years old and I have, as a mature writer, written for a lot less than a dollar!
"My favorite book is the one I spent fifteen years researching: Emma Curtis Hopkins. Hopkins has become a spiritual mother for me. And now she is known in Europe outside of the academic market: a young Danish writer, Tim Ray, has included her as a major and magical figure in his second book Starwarrior. I am still searching for anyone who may have some of her letters and writings.
"I write to open doors to the heart and mind. I teach my students that there is a greater good for all of us when we are sensitive and kind to others. I hope my books will help those who are blind to see. I want my books to be meaningful and open the doors of imaginations. I write history and teach classes in world religions. I hope that my students and readers find themselves in a different place after they know me and my work. I have students who are serving all over the world as teachers, writers, attorneys, doctors, nurses, and in hundreds of fields. I have seen classes come together from many religions, cultures and society and each participant takes something precious away in their consciousness they did not have before—the understanding that we are human and we are also divine. I charge my students as they leave academia to remember to live lightly upon the earth, to be sensitive to all life forms, to honor the ethics of the great ones who have gone before us, and act as humanitarians wherever they go. With the rapid rate of globalization we must have ecological sanity. We will all live here upon the planet or we will all perish here. My grandfather taught me to live in such a way that I would leave the world a bit better for having been here—am working on it!
"When I was a student over the traditional age I met a minister: the Reverend William L. Lamb. His writing and teaching inspired me and it was he who introduced me to my spiritual mother, Emma Curtis Hopkins."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Church History, June, 2003, Nancy A. Hardesty, review of Emma Curtis Hopkins: Forgotten Founder of New Thought, p. 424.
Library Journal, March 15, 2002, Carolyn M. Craft, review of Emma Curtis Hopkins, p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, April 1, 2002, "A New Voice in New Thought?," review of Emma Curtis Hopkins, p. 79.
School Library Journal, March, 2003, Coop Renner, review of Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America, p. 251.
Sikh Times, May 16, 2005, "Yoga, Turbans, and Bindis in America," review of Hindu and Sikh Faiths in America.
Utopian Studies, winter, 2003, Carmen Hendershott, review of Emma Curtis Hopkins, p. 210.