Brian C. Wilson

American Religious History
Department of Comparative Religion

2011 Moore Hall
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 387-4361



John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age

Available soon from Wayne State University Press

The remarkable story of the spiritual search of one of Michigan’s most successful entrepreneurs.

John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age follows the spiritual sojourn of John E. Fetzer, a Michigan business tycoon. Born in 1901 and living most of his life in Kalamazoo, Fetzer parlayed his first radio station into extensive holdings in broadcasting and other enterprises, leading to his sole ownership of the Detroit Tigers in 1961. By the time he died in 1991, Fetzer had been listed in Forbes magazine as one of the four hundred wealthiest people in America. And yet, business success was never enough for Fetzer—his deep spiritual yearnings led him from the Christianity of his youth to a restless exploration of metaphysical religions and movements ranging from Spiritualism, Theosophy, Freemasonry, UFOology, and parapsychology, all the way to the New Age as it blossomed in the 1980s.

Author Brian C. Wilson demonstrates how Fetzer’s quest mirrored those of thousands of Americans who sought new ways of thinking and being in the ever-changing spiritual movements of the twentieth century. Over his lifetime, Fetzer continuously evolved his worldview by combining and recombining elements from dozens of traditions in a process he called “freedom of the spirit.” Unlike most others who engaged in a similar process, Fetzer’s synthesis can be documented step by step using extensive archival materials, providing readers with a remarkably rich and detailed roadmap through metaphysical America. The book also documents how Fetzer’s wealth allowed him to institutionalize his spiritual vision into a thriving foundation—the Fetzer Institute—which was designed to carry his insights into the future in hopes that it would help catalyze a global spiritual transformation.

John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age offers a window into the rich and complex history of metaphysical religions in the Midwest and the United States at large. It will be read with interest by those wishing to learn more about this enigmatic Michigan figure, as well as those looking for an engaging introduction into America’s rapidly shifting spiritual landscape.

For a free pdf of the first chapter of John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age, go to www.infinitepotential.com.



Professor Wilson earned a B.S. in Medical Microbiology from Stanford University (1982), and, after a stint in the Peace Corps (Honduras, Dominican Republic [1982-1986]), went on to earn an M.A. in Hispanic Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (1990) and an M.A./Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1991/1996).


Professor Wilson routinely teaches REL 3015: Christianity in the United States and REL 3145: New Religious Movements for undergraduates (a course now available on-line). Beginning Spring 2014, Professor Wilson will also be offering REL 5000: Religion and Alternative Medicine as part of the new on-line Graduate Certificate in Spirituality, Culture, and Health.

Courses taught by Professor Wilson at WMU:

Religion 1000: Religions of the World
Religion 2000: Introduction to the Academic Study of Religion
Religion 3130: Religion in America
Religion 3145: New Religious Movements (now available on-line during SSII)
Religion 3150: Christianity in the United States
Religion 4500: Capstone Seminar in Religious Studies
Religion 5000: Alternative American Scriptures
Religion 5000: Religion and Alternative Medicine (on-line)
Religion 6000: Classics in Theory and Method
Religion 6100: Contemporary Theory and Method
Religion 6150: Pedagogy for Graduate Students
Religion 6200: Advanced Seminar in Comparative Religion (Topics taught: American Sacred Space; Western Esotericism; Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design; New England Theology; Mormonism and Adventism; Alternative American Scriptures; The New Age: A Retrospective)
Religion 7100: Independent Studies (ad hoc graduate courses. Topics taught: Introduction to Phenomenology; Ninian Smart's World Philosophies; Max Weber's Studies in Comparative Religion; Mircea Eliade's History of Religious Ideas (3 Volumes); Comparative Philosophy of Religion)

Current Research Projects

Professor Wilson's areas of interest include religion in American Religious History; New Religious Movements; Religion in the Midwest and in the Yankee Diaspora; and Theory and Method in the Academic Study of Religion.

Select Publications

Yankees in Michigan (Discovering The Peoples of Michigan Series) (Michigan State University Press, 2008)

“The Michigan Origins of Seventh-day Adventism,” Michigan History (Nov./Dec., 2012): 43-49

“The Battle for Battle Creek: Sectarian Competition in the Yankee West,” Quaker Theology 12:2 (Summer/Fall 2013): 72-91

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living (Indiana University Press, 2014)                               
2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards finalist
2015 Silver Medal for Biography, Independent Publisher Book Awards
2015 Historical Society of Michigan State History Award
2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

John E. Fetzer and the Quest for the New Age (Wayne State University Press, 2018)