Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America

Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America

Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America

Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America

Excerpt

The year 1972 was a good one for the American scientific community. That year several groups of biologists across the nation created the first recombinant DNA molecules, artificial genetic chains that opened the door for research into human genetics and new medical treatments. In Batavia, Illinois, physicists activated the main accelerator ring of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, inaugurating what would become one of the world’s most productive subatomic particle research centers. At Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, computer scientists invented a new programming language called “C” that allowed them to write more complex programs, reshaping the field of computer science and computer technology more broadly. Such scientific progress contrasted with the harsh realities of politics and international affairs: the Watergate break-ins, the Munich massacre of eleven Israeli athletes, and the Bloody Sunday riots in Northern Ireland all occurred that year as well.

The year 1972 also witnessed developments among new religions in America. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishna movement, released under its publishing wing a new American edition of its founder’s seminal text on religion and science. This short book, Easy Journeys to Other Planets, outlined their leader’s vision of how a science rooted in Indian religiosity could supplant or replace Western materialistic science, not to mention religion. That spring, two spiritual seekers named Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles met in a Houston hospital, bonded over their shared interest in astrology, and founded the movement eventually named Heaven’s Gate. The two would seek to incorporate or absorb science and scientific thinking into the religion that they founded. In the autumn, the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, more widely called the Unification Church, sponsored the first of what would become a series of symposia called the International Conferences on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS). The conferences brought together scientists, ethicists, philosophers, and scholars of religion, and demonstrated how . . .

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