Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis

Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis

Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis

Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis

Synopsis

American society is culturally diverse with a variety of religious denominations, sects, cults, and self-help groups vying for members. This volume analyzes nine of these groups, chosen both for their intrinsic interest and because they illustrate a variety of sociological concepts. The groups included in this study are: Heaven's Gate, Jesus People USA, the Love Family, The Farm, Amish Women, Scientology, El Nino Fidencio, Santeria, and Freedom Park. The contributors are social scientists with first-hand knowledge of the groups they examine.

Excerpt

Robert W. Balch

Rob Balch teaches sociology at the University of Montana, Missoula, where he became interested in alternative religions. His first research on a religious cult was a field study of the ufo cult now known as Heaven's Gate. His interest in the group began when he read a newspaper article describing how 20 people in Oregon had mysteriously disappeared after attending a meeting about UFOs. He later attended a lecture on UFOs, and discovered that the speakers were members of the cult he had been reading about. Because of the media hype surrounding the group, including charges of brainwashing, he decided to infiltrate the group to find out what was really going on. With David Taylor, a graduate student in sociology, he traveled and camped with members, took part in recruitment meetings, and kept a detailed record of everyday life "behind the scenes." Balch and Taylor spent another summer interviewing former members to find out why they had joined and why they had dropped out. During those interviews they discovered that nearly all of the original followers had previously belonged to an equally intriguing cult called Self-Initiation. "Never did we imagine that 22 years after beginning our research, the group would be on the front pages again, this time as Heaven's Gate, whose remaining 39 members committed mass suicide in 1997," said Balch, who is currently on leave, collecting additional data for a book on Heaven's Gate.

On April 9, 1975, about 50 people crowded into Laura Sutton's living room in Hollywood, California. Seated before them were a man and a woman in their . . .

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