The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

Synopsis

The study of New Religious Movements (NRMs) is one of the fastest-growing areas of religious studies. This Handbook covers the current state of the field and breaks new ground. Its contributors are drawn equally from sociology and religious studies and include both established scholars and "rising stars" in the field. The core chapters deal with such central issues as conversion, the brainwashing debate, millennialism, and modernization. Another section deals with NRM subfields such as neopaganism, satanism, and UFO religions. The final section considers NRMs in global perspective.

Excerpt

Periodically, the growing field of new religions studies pauses to survey the object of its concern. Unlike the major academic disciplines, it is a field more defined by its subject matter than by methodology. It is, in fact, self-consciously interdisciplinary and welcomes insights from a variety of methodological approaches, in spite of the obvious problems in communication such openness generates. This interdisciplinary approach has, however, also inhibited discussions of some of the basic theoretical questions posed by any attempt to define the subject(s) of interest in new religions studies. The variant emphases in the several disciplines lead to primary concerns being directed toward very different reference groups, as any survey of paper topics at recent gatherings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) reveals. Additionally, at the AAR, questions have continually arisen concerning conflicting claims to hegemony over particular topics which seem to overlap with other fields such as Chinese religions (Yiguandao, Falun Gong), Japanese religions (Aum Shinrikyō), and Islamic studies (al-Qaeda).

This essay attempts to address some issues concerning what is or is not a “new religion.” Some fuzziness at the boundaries of the field has grown out of its peculiar history, the field emerging as it did from the pre-1970 study of “cults.” A different approach to the problem was adopted by European scholars who until recently operated without the joint categories of “sect” and “cult” that were implicit in North America throughout the twentieth century. In addition, the cult/

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