Controversial New Religions

Controversial New Religions

Controversial New Religions

Controversial New Religions

Synopsis

This book complements Lewis's O xford Handbook of New Religious Movements. The former provides an overview of the state of the field. This volume collects papers on those specific New Religious Movements (NRMs) that have generated the most scholarly attention. With few exceptions, these organizations are also the controversial groups that have attracted the attention of the mass media, often because they have been involved in, or accused of, violent or anti-social activities. Among the movements to be profiled are such groups as the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, Aum Shinrikyo, Solar Temple, Scientology, Falun Gong and many more. The book will function as a reference for scholars, as a text for courses in NRMs, and will also appeal to non-specialists including reporters, law enforcement, public policy makers, and others.

Excerpt

James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen

At the time of the Jonestown suicides in 1978, the field of new religious movements (NRMs) was little more than a specialization within the sociology of religion. There were a few nonsociologists active in the field (such as Gordon Melton, Timothy Miller, and Robert Ellwood), but it took a long time for the academy to accept NRMs as part of religious studies. As I have discussed elsewhere (Lewis 2004), it was not until after a series of high-profile tragedies in the 1990s—the Branch Davidian siege, the Solar Temple murdersuicides, the Aum Shinrikyo incident, and the Heaven's Gate suicides—that the religious studies mainstream truly embraced new religions as a legitimate field of study.

At the time of this writing, the NRM field continues to expand. Some indicators of this growth are the increasing popularity of the sessions of the New Religious Movements Group at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the growing number of prominent academic presses publishing NRM titles, and the emergence of NRMs as a recognized field of study in graduate programs in a number of European countries, particularly in the United Kingdom. Additionally, an increasing number of NRM academicians are beginning to subspecialize—hence one now encounters self-identified scholars of the New Age, Pagan specialists, historians of Western esotericism, and the like. One advantage of these subspecialities is that they focus on a reasonably well-defined subject matter. The same cannot be said for the NRM field as a whole.

Although the field of new religious movements has achieved the status of a recognized specialty, it is a very odd field of specializa-

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