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Finding God through Yoga

Paramahansa Yogananda and Modern American Religion in a Global Age

By David J. Neumann

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 halftones, appends., notes, bibl., index

Not for sale in South Asia, Afghanistan, or the Maldives

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4863-7
    Published: March 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4862-0
    Published: March 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4864-4
    Published: February 2019

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Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952), a Hindu missionary to the United States, wrote one of the world’s most highly acclaimed spiritual classics, Autobiography of a Yogi, which was first published in 1946 and continues to be one of the best-selling spiritual philosophy titles of all time. In this critical biography, David Neumann tells the story of Yogananda’s fascinating life while interpreting his position in religious history, transnational modernity, and American culture. Beginning with Yogananda’s spiritual investigations in his native India, Neumann tells how this early “global guru” emigrated to the United States in 1920 and established his headquarters, the Self-Realization Fellowship, in Los Angeles, where it continues today.

Preaching his message of Hindu yogic philosophy in a land that routinely sent its own evangelists to India, Yogananda was fueled by a religious nationalism that led him to conclude that Hinduism could uniquely fill a spiritual void in America and Europe. At the same time, he embraced a growing belief that Hinduism’s success outside South Asia hinged on a sincere understanding of Christian belief and practice. By “universalizing” Hinduism, Neumann argues, Yogananda helped create the novel vocation of Hindu yogi evangelist, generating fresh connections between religion and commercial culture in a deepening American religious pluralism.

About the Author

David J. Neumann is assistant professor of history education at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
For more information about David J. Neumann, visit the Author Page.


“Neumann seeks to provide a balanced perspective, presenting Yogananda both as spiritual and religious—as a manwho sought to lead people to spiritual enlightenment and to authentic encounters with God.”--Choice Reviews

“Exceptional on many accounts. . . . Wonderfully written. . . . A powerful and insightful scholarly account that reframes Paramahansa Yogananda in thought-provoking ways that will undoubtedly intrigue scholarly and lay audiences alike.”--Southern California Quarterly

“As the first scholarly biography of Yogananda, Finding God through Yoga makes several important contributions to our understanding of religion, race, and gender in early twentieth-century California and the United States. . . . This extensively researched and evenhanded book should be read by historians interested in the growth of yoga in America, the spread of transnational Hinduism, and the contours of religio-racial diversity in Southern California.”--California History

“Uniformly perceptive and utterly convincing, Neumann reveals Paramahansa Yogananda’s penchant for ‘imaginative reconstruction’ while preserving the guru’s humanity through it all. At once fair, honest, and unflinching, this book will certainly be warmly welcomed and used widely as the standard scholarly source for the life and teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as for the understanding of Hinduism—and religious charisma—in America. There is nothing else like it.”—Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion, Rice University

“In fine style that makes this book fun to read, Neumann’s much-needed study of Paramahansa Yogananda clarifies the relationship between Christianity and Yogananda’s Hindu roots. Highlighting the development of an American Hinduism, Neumann reminds us that the great yogi died as an American citizen buried in the soil of his adopted country but also as a thoroughly global guru well before the term became widely adopted. I will use this book in my classes, too, as an insightful way to understand Yogananda’s ever-popular classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.”—Joanne Punzo Waghorne, Syracuse University

"An interesting study of the cultural phenomenology of a guru and his movement--its light and shadow, its success and contradictions."--William IrwinThompson, author of The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light