Brian C. Wilson

American Religious History
Department of Comparative Religion

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




Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living
(Indiana University Press)

2015 State History Award, Historical Association of Michigan

2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection

Silver Medal, Biography category, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards

Foreword Reviews' 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist in Biography

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 said to be 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.

"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

"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

"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

"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

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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. His latest book project is the spiritual biography of John E. Fetzer supported by a grant from the Fetzer Institute.

Some Recent Publications

• "Religious Studies in the Context of Liberal Education," Religious Studies News: Spotlight on Teaching (May 2012) 

• With Stephen G. Covell, "Graduate Student Pedagogical Training as a Key Component of Stand-Alone MA Programs in Religious Studies," Religious Studies News: Spotlight on Teaching (March 2012)

• "The Dawn of a New Denomination: Seventh-day Adventism Comes to Michigan," Michigan History 96:6 (November/December, 2012), pp. 43-49.

• "The Battle for Battle Creek: Sectarian Competition in the Yankee West," Quaker Theology 12:2 (Summer/Fall 2013): 72-991.