A Course in Miracles (also referred to as ACIM or the Course) is a book scribed and edited by Helen Schucman, with portions transcribed and edited by William Thetford, containing a curriculum to bring about what it calls a "spiritual transformation". The book consists of three sections entitled "Text", "Workbook" and "Manual for Teachers". Written from 1965 to 1972, some distribution occurred via photocopies before a hardcover edition was published in 1976 by the Foundation for Inner Peace. The copyright and trademarks, which had been held by two foundations, were revoked in 2004 after lengthy litigation because the earliest versions had been circulated without a copyright notice.
Schucman believed that the "inner dictation" came from Jesus.
Throughout the 1980s annual sales of the book steadily increased each year; however the largest growth in sales occurred in 1992 after Marianne Williamson discussed the book on The Oprah Winfrey Show, with more than two million volumes sold. The book has been called everything from "New Age psychobabble", "a Satanic seduction", to "The New Age Bible".
A Course in Miracles was written as a collaborative venture between Schucman and Thetford. In 1965 Schucman began her professional career at a medical center as Thetford's research associate. When their weekly office meetings became more contentious, Thetford concluded that "[t]here must be another way". Schucman believed that this interaction acted as a stimulus, triggering a series of inner experiences that were understood by her as visions, dreams, and heightened imagery, along with an "inner voice" which she identified as Jesus. She said that on October 21, 1965, she believed that the "inner voice" told her: "This is a Course in Miracles, please take notes." Schucman said that the writing made her very uncomfortable, though it never seriously occurred to her to stop. The next day, she explained the events of her "note taking" to Thetford. To her surprise, Thetford encouraged her to continue the process. He also offered to assist her in typing out her notes as she read them to him. The transcription the next day repeated itself regularly for many years to come. In 1972, the dictation of the first three sections was completed but the dictation of the last two sections of the material lasted until November 1977.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Roman Catholic priest who had studied under Thetford and worked with Schucman, arranged an introduction of Kenneth Wapnick to Schucman and Thetford in November 1972. Groeschel was given a copy of the ACIM manuscript in 1973 and testified that he was instructed by Schucman not to distribute the manuscript; however, with Schucman's permission, he made it available to Wapnick. Wapnick then reviewed the draft and discussed, with Schucman and Thetford, further revisions that he felt were needed in order to place the book in its final copyrighted and published form. Thetford then made a few further editorial decisions and stipulations about the "Principles of Miracles" section, and soon afterwards opted to withdraw from being directly involved with any further major edits to the material. Wapnick and Schucman continued to edit the manuscript by deleting personal material apparently directed only to Schucman and Thetford, creating chapter and section headings, and correcting various inconsistencies in paragraph structure, punctuation, and capitalization. This editing process was completed by approximately February 1975. Wapnick subsequently became a teacher of ACIM, a co-founder and president of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM), and a director and executive committee member of the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP).
The content of A Course in Miracles is presented in the three sections: "Textbook", "Workbook", and "Manual for Teachers":The "Textbook" presents a thought system about truth and illusion on two levels:
It states that everything involving time, space, and perception is illusory. It presents a nondualism which states that God is the only truth and reality: perfect, unchanging, unchangeable, extending only love, though not in time and space, which cannot really be comprehended from a dualistic perspective. The theory further states that all life as we perceive it is actually one life (because God has only one son, sometimes called the collective sonship), dreaming of separation and fragmentation. It claims that eternity is outside time and space and that this dream never occurred in reality and is "already over", though not the (illusory) perception. When addressing the question of how such an illusory dream could arise from a perfect and unchanging God, the Course states that to ask that question is to presume that the time-space dream is real, which it states is not. A Course in Miracles states that to think we exist as individuals is the fundamental error. However, since we experience ourselves in time and space, reading these pages, the course presents its thought system on a second level:
The time-space level, or "perceptory" level, which is referred to as "the dream". A Course in Miracles states that this level was "made" by the "sleeping Son" as an attack on God. Furthermore, the "Son" is regarded as not just Jesus, but as all collective life. In this time-space dream, perception is continuously fueled by what it originated from: separation, judgment, and attack. This results in what the Course calls the "sin-guilt-fear" cycle: we sinned by rejecting God and making a universe of time-space (the Big Bang); this results in guilt over our rejection of our Creator, and subsequent fear of God's wrath. The "sin-guilt-fear" is described as too horrendous to face, and therefore subsequently projected out, so that to Homo sapiens it seems that evil is everywhere except in himself. The world becomes a threatening place, in which we are born only to fear, fight, and die. The thought that keeps this process going is referred to as "ego", or "the wrong mind". A Course in Miracles concludes that happiness cannot be found in earthly time-space life, and urges the reader not to commit suicide but rather to make a fundamental mind shift from "condemnation-out-of-fear" (mindlessness) to "forgiveness-out-of-love" (mindfulness), since our "right mind" is outside time-space and cannot be harmed by worldly attacks. According to the course, seeing "the Face of Christ" in all living things is the way to "accept the Atonement" and ultimately awaken from the dream and return to the eternity of God. Ultimately, this means the end of individuality and of the ego. In this respect, there are parallels with the Indian concept of karma and the Bhagavad Gita scriptures, which Helen Schucman reports that she was not familiar with, although William Thetford was.
The "Workbook" presents 365 lessons, one for each day of the year, which claim to recondition the student's mind from "condemnation-out-of-fear" to "forgiveness-out-of-love". A Course in Miracles defines "miracle" as the conscious choice to make that mind shift, including its "non-observable effects on the minds of others". The workbook lessons attempt to train the reader to see oneness in all living things for a steadily increasing time of the day. The lessons aim at convincing by experience. The core message of the workbook is that, to forgive oneself completely, a person must (a) forgive all living things, and (b) do this by instruction of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the "Voice for God," "right mind," "Inner Teacher," or "intuition"). At the end, after one year, the workbook states that it is "a beginning, not an end".
The "Manual for Teachers" is a collection of questions and answers. It aims at motivating the reader to become a "teacher of God": a human being living in time and space, but at the same time seeing oneness in everything, having let go of all individual and separate interests, and being fully guided by the "voice" of the Holy Spirit.
In the third edition, the two pamphlets "Psychotherapy" and "The Song of Prayer" were added. They elaborate on the parallels with current psychotherapy and on the meaning of prayer, respectively.
The Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) was originally called the Foundation for Para-Sensory Investigations, Inc. (FPI), and was founded on October 21, 1971, by Robert Skutch and Judith Skutch-Whitson as a non-profit organization. Robert Skutch was a businessman and writer, who for many years had been a writer of television plays and advertising copy. Skutch-Whitson was a teacher and lecturer at New York University on the study of consciousness and parapsychology.
Douglas Dean was a physicist and engineer and also a friend of Skutch-Whitson. On May 29, 1975, Dean introduced Skutch-Whitson to Schucman, Thetford, and Wapnick. Soon afterwards, the three of them decided to share the ACIM materials with Skutch-Whitson.
A limited 300 edition release of the first three sections of the book were published and did not contain a copyright notice.
In June 1976 the four of them authorized the publication of the FIP's first edition, the first three sections of ACIM were published in a set of three hardcover volumes in a 5,000 copy run, along with the publication of the supplemental booklet Psychology: Purpose, Process, Practice. The up-front printing costs for this edition were partially paid from a donation by Reed Erickson.
In 1985, FIP began publishing a single volume containing all three of the first books in single soft-cover volume.
In 1992, FIP published its second edition, a hardcover edition. This revision incorporated some minor changes within the first three sections including some editorial content additions and the addition of a verse-numbering system, as well as addition of the "Clarification of Terms" section. At this time, FIP also released the publication of the supplemental Song of Prayer booklet.
In 1995, FIP entered a five-year printing and distribution agreement with Penguin Books for $2.5 million that expired in December 2000.
In 1999, control of the copyrights were transferred to FACIM, which was headed by Wapnick.
In 2004, due to the discovery of the issuance of a copyright, copyright restrictions on the first three sections of the book were removed, however the copyright restrictions on the last two sections remained in place.
In 2007, FIP began publication of its third edition, combining the two earlier booklets, Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process, Practice and The Song of Prayer, as a new "supplemental" section in its third edition.
Since it first went on sale in 1976, the foundation claims that more than 2.5 million copies of A Course in Miracles have been sold worldwide. The text has been translated into 22 languages. The book is distributed globally, forming the basis of a range of organized groups.
Wapnick said that "if the Bible were considered literally true, then (from a Biblical literalist's viewpoint) the Course would have to be viewed as demonically inspired". Though a friend of Schucman, Thetford, and Wapnik, Catholic priest Benedict Groeschel has criticized ACIM and the related organizations. Finding some elements of ACIM to be what he called "severe and potentially dangerous distortions of Christian theology", he wrote that it is "a good example of a false revelation" and that it has "become a spiritual menace to many”. The evangelical editor Elliot Miller says that Christian terminology employed in ACIM is "thoroughly redefined" to resemble New Age teachings. Other Christian critics say that ACIM is "intensely anti-Biblical" and incompatible with Christianity, blurring the distinction between creator and created and forcefully supporting the occult and New Age worldview.
ACIM has been the basis for a number of public speakers such as Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Bernstein, and spiritual leaders such as Jon Mundy's Interfaith Fellowship.
In 2010, A Course in Miracles: The Movie was released featuring Kenneth Wapnick, Gary Renard, Jon Mundy, and several other spiritual leaders.
The skeptic Robert T. Carroll criticized ACIM as "a minor industry" that is overly commercialized and characterizes it as "Christianity improved". Carroll said the teachings are not original and suggested they are culled from "various sources, east and west".
The book "Jesus, My Autobiography", by Jesus and Ananda through Tina Louise Spalding, 2015, refers to "A Course in Miracles" as a supplemental text, and suggested for further study. An essay critical of A Course in Miracles, "A Shortcut to Being God through Thought Reform," appears on the website of Joseph Szimhart.