So slow-paced, serene and gently contemplative is the campaign of John B. Anderson that it sometimes seems as if the Illinois congressman is running a traveling graduate seminar rather than a race for president.

With his booming voice and erudite style, Anderson is part professor, part evangelist. He talks of building a new coalition of young people, blacks and blue-collar workers. But he uses $50 words and quotes authors long out of fashion.

His decision to drop out of the Republican presidential race and launch an independent candidacy has left him with a puckish exuberance. He is looser, less strident. "I feel unchained," Anderson said over coffee and pastry the other day. "I'm my own man now."

At 58, he is a true believer, filled with self-righteousness. His campaign is unlike that of any other candidate. It is a free-form exercise, more substance than style.

His speeches are a cross between a sermon and a lecture, sprinkled with quotations of the authors of his youth -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Fenimore Copper, Robert Louis Stevenson and others. Often he will rail on for 15 or 20 minutes without being interrupted by applause.

But his audiences do not seem to mind his long-windedness. They seem attracted by his very self-righteousness. Anderson is the new oddity of American politics, the dragon slayer up against impossible odds. People want to hear what he has to say.

"I came to this room a great skeptic. But I was impressed," Toby Wilig, a New York Jewish leader, said after an Anderson speech today. "I think we all will look on his candidacy with a great deal of interest. The American electorate is very upset with the choice between Reagan and Carter. It is looking for a fresh candidate."

There is a whimsical quality about the Anderson campaign. The candidate invited Norman Lear, a television producer, on his first trip, then let Lear ride along for almost three days before asking his advice. Lear sat quietly alone on Anderson's charter aircraft, unsure of his status, while the candidate dozed across the aisle.

In Atlanta, Anderson suggested he might adopt the aardvark as his campaign symbol because the major candidates already have the donkey and elephant. In Detroit, he called the government bailout program for Chrysler an act of "corporate socialism."

He is most comfortable preaching to the converted. He gives only two or three speeches a day, no more.

Unlike most politicians, Anderson, the new-born independent, uses no "set" stump speech. Each differs from the one before. Two of the nine public addresses he has made as an independent have been before students, who provided the foot soldiers for his GOP candidacy. Three have been before Jewish groups, who he desperately needs for financial support.

Today he had a major address before the small, but influential, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It was a blatant appeal for support. In it, Anderson, a born-again Christian, endorsed almost every pro-Israeli cause in the book.

"The speech could have been written by the president's conference," said Howard Squadron, president of the American Jewish Congress. "He said all the right things. He was apparently well advised on what this group wanted to hear."

Skeptics abound, Anderson concedes. "They go back to 1912 and they go back to 1924. They say Teddy Roosevelt and Fighting Bob LaFollette couldn't do it and neither can you. They say the two-party system has a lock on this country. I say no. I say that 1980 is not 1912 or 1924," he roared at Michigan State University.

The crowd cheered. And cheered.

In each of the four states he visited last week, the audiences were impressive; 500 in Atlanta; 325 in Charleston, W.Va.; 3,800 in East Lansing; 1,500 in Detroit; 800 in Boston.

Many came more out of curiosity than conviction. Anderson, once a rather conventional congressman from Rockford, Ill., was unable to convince many that he was anything more than an oddity.

"He did a good job telling us what the problems are, but he didn't give us any more answers than any other politician," said James Reeves, a Georgia State University senior who heard Anderson in Atlanta. "If I had to vote today, I'd probably go for Reagan. I'm afraid of Carter. And I just can't get used to the idea of voting for an independent. It sounds almost un-American to me."

For a man who has been a professional politician for the last 20 years, Anderson lacks some basic political instincts. He seldom shakes a hand; he almost bristles at opportunities to score the easy political point.

He claims to be the candidate of ideas, yet in his first campaign swing as an independent he didn't offer an idea compelling enough to attract attention of the three network television crews following him. He came close only once, offering a vague proposal to "redistribute wealth" generated by oil and natural gas from the resource-rich states of the South and West to the Northeast and Midwest. And he cast the idea out like a shimmering lure one day only to reel it in several days later.

He had an excellent chance to present a strongly worded statement on the nation's economy before the prestigious Detroit Economics Club. Yet he began his address with a bad May Day joke telling the well-heeled businessmen, "Workers of the world unite. Throw off your chains." He went on to give the kind of rambling discourse one might expect from a philosophy professor.

On a television question-and-answer show the previous night, a sympathetic student tried to get the snowy-haired congressman to say something mildly critical of a group of May Day demonstrators. "Would you take a stand for America the beautiful and say their march promotes violence?" the student said.

Anderson refused. Instead, he gave a short lecture on First Amendment rights of demonstrators to free speech.

This is, of course, one of the appeals of Anderson. And there's no doubt that he has a definite appeal to a segment of the electorate that is largely middle class, white, well-educated and liberal -- his critics call it the "chablis and brie set."

This group, however, isn't all that different from the small-town businessmen, political progressives and disillusioned professionals that formed the heart of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose party 68 years ago. Anderson tried to define who they were and what they were looking for last week:

"People have lost trust because they don't believe that in a society as complex as ours they count, or that anyone is listening . . . I believe our troubles have induced a new privatism where everything seems a zero sum game. Heads I win -- tails you lose. Tom Wolfe called the 70s the 'Me Decade.' The 1960s did not produce the greening of America. Perhaps it was more a yellowing in the sense of aging and producing the frustrations that often accompany that transition. People don't feel as useful as they once did."

Today Anderson may play better on campus than in union halls or board rooms of the nation. But producer Lear believes he can broaden his base.

"This man may sound like a professor," he said. "But he never was. You have to remember he's a politician."

Lear envisions a scenario in the fall where "the country is moving towards a precipice. Jimmy Carter is looking a lot worse than he is even today and the good Gov. Reagan is making his 300th mistake. Then eyes begin to wander and there at the edge of the stage, his hair gleaming in the spotlight, stands John Anderson."

Today, however, the scenario is still a television man's fantasy.