Religious Cults Since
the Civil War
THE CULT PHENOMENON, A DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF RELIGION IN THE UNITED States, reached its full flowering in the rise of modern, urban, industrial America. Multitudinous forces contributed to this interesting circumstance in which religious minority groups, most of them on the fringe of Christianity, were nurtured and developed. Most basic was the voluntary principle, which admitted no state church and encouraged the fullest freedom of religious expression. Equally important factors were the heterogeneity of American society, the competitive impulse in religion as well as business, and the spirit of individualism which fostered the development of splinter groups and unique religious emphases. Undoubtedly, the relative lack of traditions and conventions in American life gave incentive for experimentation and made for instability.
Social, economic, and cultural factors played a significant role in the evolution of the cults. For the poor, crowded into vermin-possessed tenements and forced to lead what seemed an inconsequential existence, some of the cults offered refuge and release. They provided an escape whereby the disconsolate might retreat from the sordid world of reality and find