This article asks if the West is witnessing a thoroughgoing erosion of belief in the supernatural. Is the loss of faith in otherworldly forces a linear, one-way, inevitable decline, or are there reasons to believe in the reemergence of religion in the West? On the other hand, if there is evidence indicating that the West is witnessing a gradual “sacralization,” should we abandon notions of “secularization?” Or are we in the midst of a much more complex process in which accurate analysis demands that we take account of both secularization and sacralization, disenchantment and reenchantment? It is argued that while disenchantment is ubiquitously apparent in the West, the forces of secularization have never quite been able to stifle the shoots of religion. Although traditional forms of institutional religion have been seriously damaged and do not seem to be able to arrest the process of erosion, cracks are appearing in the disenchanted landscape and new forms of significant spiritual life are emerging.
David G. Bromley
The study of new religions in the making (NRMs) is particularly valuable to the study of religion as it offers a window into the process by which religious organizations develop. This chapter draws on insights in the rich set of case studies of NRMs and on the organizational startup literature to fashion a prolegomenon to a theory of the first generation development of NRMs. The basic premise is that all new organizations encounter similar developmental challenges. The objective is to identify factors that influence alternative levels of development and developmental trajectories during the first generation. The process is described in terms of three non-linear, sequential developmental moments: initial discovery, public sphere entry, and expansion/consolidation.
Armand L. Mauss
The relation between authority and dissent in the Mormon Church cannot be adequately understood from formal statements in official handbooks or public statements by church leaders. Individual cases of dissent are affected by given sociological contexts, which include historical and demographic developments, ecclesiastical imperatives, and both formal and informal relationships, not only within the hierarchy but also between leaders and dissenters. Opening with the celebrated excommunication case of the “September Six,” this chapter traces the developments that culminated in that case, especially the ecclesiastical retrenchment process during the second half of the twentieth century. A relaxation of retrenchment has been apparent during the new century. Several empirical generalizations can be inferred from the relationship between authority and dissent across the entire past century.
This chapter provides an overview of the contents of the Book of Mormon and its reception by both Latter-day Saints and outsiders. Unusually for world scripture, the Book of Mormon appeared before there was a community of believers, and the complete text was regarded as canonical from the beginning, equal in authority to the Bible. The Book of Mormon is also atypical in that it takes the form of a coherent, integrated narrative, related by specific named narrators. The theology focuses as much on the destiny of the house of Israel as on Christian salvation of individuals. Because of its claims of miraculous origins—written by transplanted Jews in the Americas, then translated from gold plates through seer stones—questions of historicity have often preoccupied readers. Although earlier generations of Mormons tended to preach from the Bible, the Book of Mormon received increased attention in the later twentieth century.
James R. Lewis
Unable to comprehend the appeal of New Religious Movements, many observers concluded that the leaders of such groups has discovered a special form of social control which enabled them to recruit their followers in non-ordinary ways, and, more particularly, to short-circuit their rational, questioning minds by keeping them locked in special trance states. A handful of professionals, mostly psychologists and psychiatrists with sentiments for the anti-cult movement, attempted to provide scientific grounding for this notion of cultic brainwashing/mind control, in part by referring back to studies of Korean War POWs who had been ‘brainwashed’ by their captors. This chapter revisits anti-cultism’s implicit ideological assumptions and the empirical studies indicating that conversions to contemporary new religions result from garden-variety sociological and psychological factors rather than from esoteric ‘mind control’ techniques.
Eugene V. Gallagher
Catastrophic millennialism emanates from a deep pessimism towards society, history, and general humanity. This article develops an analysis of the basic descriptive vocabulary of catastrophic millennialism from the examination of a pair of texts from Late Antiquity. It simultaneously emphasizes a catastrophic end to life as we know it and “a heaven on earth”, the new coming of humanity, following the cleansing. The article also states that predictions of the apocalypse always combine certain general but instrumental factors that invariably strengthen the conflict. This article shows how a group of contemporary millennialist movements have used the basic tropes of catastrophic millennialism to create their own distinctive apocalyptic messages. It highlights how these groups differ in their assessments of why the world will soon be destroyed, precisely how it will happen, who will accomplish that destruction, when and where it will happen, and, especially, what their faithful followers must do in the meantime.
David G. Bromley
The concepts of church and sect, along with the related terms of denomination and cult, have been central to religious group classification and theorizing about religious group organization by religion scholars. This classificatory system has been particularly problematic for scholars studying new religious movements. The chapter rehearses the origins and development of these concepts and then considers some of the newer and more inclusive relationally-based typologies that address the ongoing critiques of the church-sect model .
Kathryn M. Daynes
Eternal marriage is embedded in Mormon theology and the temple ordinances Mormons believe are essential for exaltation. Nineteenth-century Mormons believed plural marriage was the highest form of marriage, meriting the greatest glory among those exalted. This chapter provides a brief history of the practice of polygamy, including the following: the experience of living in polygamy changed over time; economically disadvantaged women were more likely than other women to become plural wives; intermarriage between ethnic groups promoted assimilation into Mormon culture; the prevalence of plural families was relatively large but such families were always a minority; and divorce provided a safety valve for unhappy plural wives. Federal legislation facilitating prosecution of polygamists and escheatment of church property prompted change in Mormon marriage practice, and today only so-called fundamentalists not affiliated with the mainstream church practice polygamy.
Using examples from new religious movements ranging from the Children of God to Sahaja Yoga, the chapter takes a multi-disciplinary approach, reviewing insights from sociology, psychology, anthropology, and management theory. It focuses on charisma as the authority to lead and transform religious traditions, reviewing not only identified qualities of leaders, but also the role of followers in creating and maintaining a collective myth, as well as the importance of the situation and culture in which the relationship develops. Key concepts include legitimation strategies, charismatization, and the role of the “charismatic aristocracy.” Attention is paid to factors contributing to instability and violence, particularly related to the institutionalization of charisma known as routinization, as well as optimal conditions for “benevolent” and “diffuse” charisma.
As an introduction, this article presents an overview of the history of childhood. It goes on to point out a selection of topics significant to the discourse on children growing up in contemporary new religious movements such as: parenting styles and abuse, education and religious freedom, and legal matters and state interventions, through examples from the research field. The discussion highlights the polemic between perspectives in the secondary construction of childhood within new religions and concludes that although the study of new religions has turned from first generation converts to second generation children, research based on the notion of children as active agents is still much needed.
Charlotte E. Hardman
This article outlines the main issues and debates surrounding “kids in cults”. It demonstrates how the vast majority of the literature upon which most people's understanding of children in new religious movements (NRMs) has been constructed remains focused on three key themes, which have preoccupied the public and academics alike. The first part of the article puts the understanding of children in NRMs in perspective, pointing out the historical and cross-cultural relativity of the concept of the child. The second part looks at the research and media interest in children in NRMs, which have concentrated on child abuse, including mental and sexual abuse and neglect; child socialization and education; child custody cases and “the best interests of the child.” It outlines the key arguments in each of these three areas. In conclusion, the article argues that, the focus on the scandals involving children in NRMs draws attention away from developing wider research on the ways in which children develop spiritually, how they gain meaning and order from the religious and cultural patterns in which they live, and what they think about religion and spirituality, whether growing up in new religious movements or the mainstream.
Terryl L. Givens
Humans have existed eternally as intelligences in the presence of a Heavenly Father and Mother who created (or adopted) them. Earthly probation and embodiment, entailing sin, are needed to shepherd humans from premortal existence to a life and state like God’s. The atonement is the most important doctrine in Mormon thought. Mormonism denies original sin, but the reality of sin and alienation from God requires a remedy that includes Christ’s death on the cross. Atonement theory must reconcile God’s desire to save all with the sanctity of personal choice. Christ preserves justice, which is another name for a cosmic framework in which choice leads to predictable consequences. His suffering the consequences of human sin, subject to their repentance, safeguards justice, allowing a process that gradually achieves sanctification. Salvation, exaltation, or theosis culminates in a life like God’s, which is principally defined by eternal, loving relationships with a heavenly family.
Douglas E. Cowan
This chapter discusses the Christian countercult movement, which, along with the secular anticult, is one of two major oppositional forces to the emergence of new religious movements in modern society. Following a few concrete examples, it considers the Christian countercult in terms of (a) its fundamental differences from the secular anticult; (b) the constituencies of the Christian countercult; and (c) the sociological importance of the countercult movement as a mechanism for reality-maintenance among conservative Christians. While Roman Catholicism has seen minor countercult activity, this is primarily a conservative Protestant movement. The secular anticult has gained considerably more media coverage since the so-called “cult wars” of the 1970s, but the Christian countercult predates it by nearly a century and continues to influence far more people in their view of new religious movements.
J. Spencer Fluhman
Throughout their tumultuous history, Mormons have sporadically invoked a flexible practice of property donation—or “consecration”—to provide for community needs, to insulate themselves economically from the host society, and to assimilate into that society. This chapter traces Mormon communitarianism across LDS history, from its radical beginnings amidst the ferment of pre–Civil War religious awakenings to its reformulation during the Cold War era, when Mormons largely integrated within the ranks of American political and economic conservatives. Over that span, Mormons were inspired by, fought over, depended upon, ignored, revived, and almost forgot their distinctive communitarian principles. Moreover, the living of the Mormon communitarian vision has been complicated by internal divisions (often involving the communitarian specifics themselves), changing relations with the American nation state, and economic transformations within and outside the church.
This chapter describes and discusses some of the central research into conspiracy theories as related to new religious movements. The first part outlines the area of conspiracy and conspiracy theory. Thereafter, the chapter considers some general and specific topics related to conspiracy theories about and in new religious movements, with reference to both recent and earlier theories, movements, and research.
George D. Chryssides
The chapter explores explanations for conversion to new religious movements (NRMs). Rather than sudden episodic conversion, joining an NRM can be attributed to self-discovery, following a schism, or pursuing a special interest within a religious organisation. There are definite patterns of conversion in NRMs, and notably a disproportion of Jews who join. It is argued that key factors include availability for the requisite lifestyle, and the gaining of “compensators” that the NRM offers. A further factor is offering religious experience and a forum in which to discuss it. The author explores the role of the Internet in conversion, arguing that it accounts the rise of “invented religions”, but otherwise has limited bearing on gaining new members. Finally, the religions themselves undergo change as new converts espouse them.
Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins
A substantial amount of research has transpired regarding patterns of conversion to “alternative religions” or new religious movements (NRMs). A disproportionate amount of this research and related theorizing has concerned the assertion that recruitment to certain “cults” has been essentially involuntary in the sense that powerful techniques of “brainwashing,” “mind control,” or “coercive persuasion” have rendered the processes of conversion and commitment psychologically coercive and nonconsensual, notwithstanding its formally voluntary status. Although various forms of the mind control thesis have been supported by self-proclaimed “cult experts,” most scholars who have actually done research on the topic view their results as contradicting the thesis. This article focuses on the issue of involuntary conversion of the “brainwashing thesis.” It summarizes research on the topic and presents a theoretical critique that will identify its cultural significance.
Seth L. Bryant, Henri Gooren, Rick Phillips, and David G. Stewart Jr.
This chapter first traces the historical framework of Mormon conversion in the nineteenth-century church forward into the twentieth century. Next the chapter analyzes the reorganization of the mission program and the church administration through the 1960s Correlation program. Subsequent sections on contemporary conversion and retention in Mormonism follow a geographical approach, dealing first with the United States and subsequently with Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The conclusion develops ideas on Mormon conversion and traces the origin of the current low retention rates in developing countries to the new policies of the 1960s. More recent changes in mission policies were defined in 1985 and 2004, which consequently had a substantial impact on missionary and convert recruitment.
Douglas E. Cowan
This chapter discusses a variety of ways in which affiliation and disaffiliation occur within new religious movements. It explores the brainwashing and deprogramming debates that shaped much of the early development of new religions study, pointing out that, though the brainwashing hypothesis has been debunked, it was largely responsible for creating the social panic over new religions. It points out how many of the techniques associated by the anticult movement with brainwashing (or thought control) are common in religious traditions that are not the target of countermovement pressure. Most important, it identifies how the brainwashing hypothesis constructs the problem of new religions by ignoring the issue of religious choice among new religious adherents. It concludes that conversion to new religious movements is a complex process that includes a range of variables, including the strength of social networks, the nature of conversion careers, and conversion as a response to popular culture.
Nicoles S. Ruskell and James R. Lewis
This chapter opens with an examination of the journalism issues surrounding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) assault on the Branch Davidian community outside of Waco, Texas, in 1993. The discussion of news media coverage of New Religions then moves on to James A. Beckford’s analysis of such journalistic treatments, and examines several studies that place NRM journalism in a diachronic perspective. This will be followed by a short discussion of the relationship between New Religion journalism and fictional treatments of alternative religions. Finally, we examine the news media’s role in the moral panic about NRMs in the latter half of the twentieth century.