Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

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9781573928427: Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy

Emphasizing the complex nature of new religions and the wide variety of "cult" phenomena, this encyclopedic study reviews the history and major tenets of many diverse religious sects across the whole spectrum of belief. With contributions from over three dozen specialists in the area of alternative religions, this is a uniquely authoritative source of information on one of the most important public issues of our time.

Editor James R. Lewis points out at the start that the negative public perception of cults is often an inaccurate and unfair stereotyping which turns nonconformists into scapegoats for repressed public fears. Although there are certainly dangerous or socially pathological cult groups, there are also many unorthodox religious sects consisting of harmless people merely exercising their right to religious freedom. Distinguishing the harmful from the harmless groups has generated much controversy, with outsiders often accusing cult followers of brainwashing and violation of generally accepted mores, and insiders defending their lifestyles on religious libertarian grounds.

Lewis analyzes the characteristics of truly dangerous groups compared to those of the merely unusual but innocuous, and he discusses what people find attractive about membership in minority religions, as well as community suspicions and media hype that lead to misunderstandings.

The bulk of the book is devoted to a broad-based survey of unusual religious groups. Included are minority religious sects stemming from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh tradition, as well as unrelated groups such as the "Moonies," Wiccans, Satanists, Spiritualists, Channelers, Scientologists, the Heaven's Gate cult, a host of New Age and UFO groups, and many others.

This is the definitive sourcebook for understanding and researching the crazy-quilt landscape of free religious expression in America.

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About the Author:

James R. Lewis, Ph.D. (Stevens Point, WI), a world-recognized authority on nontraditional religions, teaches religious studies at the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of over 20 books, including Doomsday Prophecies: A Complete Guide to the End of the World and The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions.

From Publishers Weekly:

This valuable compendium of data about religious minority groups, many of which have been branded as "cults" by the media, challenges commonly held stereotypes and offers objective criteria for determining the actual danger such religions may pose. Lewis (professor of religious studies at the University of Wisconsin and author of Doomsday Prophecies: A Complete Guide to the End of the World) presents an insightful critique of media representation, arguing that American society tends to project its own worst shortcomings on marginalized groups. The book's three dozen (regrettably anonymous) contributors go on to discuss the histories, leaders and theologies of various groups, including the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna movement, Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, the Church of Scientology, Adventists of various affiliations, Koresh's Branch Davidians, numerous white-supremacist religious groups and the so-called "UFO religions." The anthology also addresses popularizations and new interpretations of long-established religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism, and also paganism. The book contains much in the way of legal history, as many of these groups have had battles about their beliefs and practices in court. The contributors are knowledgeable and evenhanded, making this a useful text for anyone who wishes to learn about alternative religions in contemporary America. Overall, this is a thoroughly researched, well-coordinated collection of clear information on a much-distorted topic. (Feb.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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