Christian Science is a set of beliefs and practices which are associated with members of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Adherents are commonly known as Christian Scientists or students of Christian Science, and the church is sometimes informally known as the Christian Science church. It was founded in 19th-century New England by Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote the 1875 book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which outlined the theology of Christian Science. The book became Christian Science's central text, along with the Bible, and by 2001 had sold over nine million copies.
Eddy and 26 followers were granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1879 to found the "Church of Christ (Scientist)"; the church would be reorganized under the name "Church of Christ, Scientist" in 1892. The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, was built in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894. Christian Science became the fastest-growing religion in the United States, with nearly 270,000 members there by 1936, a figure that had declined to just over 100,000 by 1990 and reportedly to under 50,000 by 2009. The church is known for its newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, which won seven Pulitzer Prizes between 1950 and 2002, and for its public Reading Rooms around the world.
Eddy described Christian Science as a return to "primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing". There are key differences between Christian Science theology and that of traditional Christianity. In particular, adherents subscribe to a radical form of philosophical idealism, believing that reality is purely spiritual and the material world an illusion. This includes the view that disease is a mental error rather than a physical disorder and that the sick should be treated not by medicine but by a form of prayer that seeks to correct the beliefs responsible for the illusion of ill health.
The church does not require that Christian Scientists avoid medical care—adherents use dentists, optometrists, obstetricians, physicians for broken bones, and vaccination when required by law—but maintains that Christian Science prayer is most effective when not combined with medicine. Most controversially, the reliance on prayer and avoidance of medical treatment has been blamed for the deaths of several adherents and their children. Between the 1880s and 1990s, parents and others were prosecuted for, and in a few cases convicted of, manslaughter or neglect.