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date: 26 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reprises an earlier analysis conducted twenty-five years ago of disengagement and apostasy in new religious movements (NRMs). Since then, there has been an impressive expansion of scholarship and an increasing international focus. The chapter begins with an examination of the cultural context in which new religions are viewed. NRMs face contested terrain because they are often seen as challengers to established religions and a threat to the social order. Following this brief prologue, the chapter is organized around three fundamental aspects of NRM disengagement research: (1) conceptualization, (2) theory, and (3) methodological issues. The section on conceptualization attempts to provide some definitional boundaries to terms such as disaffiliation, disaffection, and defection. In the theory section, key theoretical perspectives of disengagement are analyzed. Finally, in the methodological section, three concerns that affect the validity of ex-member accounts are examined: (1) retrospective reporting, (2) temporal variability, and (3) conflicting claims.

Keywords: disengagement, apostasy, new religious movements, defection, withdrawal

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