Cults, Religion, and Violence

Cults, Religion, and Violence

Cults, Religion, and Violence

Cults, Religion, and Violence

Synopsis

Contrary to conventional wisdom, violent episodes involving cults are rare historically. But their potential to affect and disrupt civic life looms large and efforts to manage these incidents involve controversial issues of religious freedom, politics, state intervention, and public security. The interpretive challenge of this book is to provide a social scientific explanation for these rare events. The authors conclude that they usually involve some combination of internal and external dynamics through which a new religious movement and society become polarized.

Excerpt

This book was already in production when another major incident with similarities to those analyzed in this book occurred on September 11, 2001. Agents of an obscure organization named Al Qaeda directed aircraft into the Pentagon (a symbol of America's military power) and the World Trade Center in New York City (a symbol of America's economic power). While the analysis of the events is just beginning and it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, as we move beyond the shock, grief, and anger that the terrorist action produced, the events of September 11 emerge as a dramatic new incident by which the themes and conclusions developed during the five years of work that went into this study of violence involving new religious movements can be extended.

Among the conclusions reached by this study was the very pessimistic prediction that, while they will be rare, in light of the number of groups and people involved in new religious movements, future episodes of violence involving these movements would occur and that “they will occur in a much more complex and politicized environment. ” One could hardly imagine a more politicized environment than that surrounding Al Qaeda and its Amir, Osama bin Laden. For more than a decade, Al Qaeda and the related groups of the World Islamic Front have been involved in an ongoing set of violent incidents that would include among other events: the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the trial and conviction of Sheik Omar AbdulRahman for his role in the Trade Center bombing; the bombing of the U. S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, followed by the United States' retaliatory missile strikes against Al Qaeda in August 1998 and the conviction of four people for the embassy bombings in May 2001; and the bombing of the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 and the subsequent arrest of eight suspects.

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