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IS THE STUDY OF NEW RELIGIONS IMPORTANT?

OR ARE ACADEMICS INVOLVED IN FRAUD?

The following discussion took place on NUREL-L

David di Sabatino wrote the following post that was cross-posted from CETA-L, a Canadian theology list:

I have a question pertaining to the 1960s and the emergence of the New Religious Movements. Perhaps someone can assure me that I am on the right track.

From what I've read, the 1960s are being cast as the turning point away from the Judeo-Christian religious hegemony to a more fragmented landscape where thousands of New Religious Movements now dot the landscape. This, I believe, began with Drs. Glock and Bellah and has been continued by people such as Robert S. Ellwood. J. Gordon Melton and even Robert Wuthnow.

 

But I can't for the life of me understand where these NRM's are. They don't show up in Gallup Polls or Angus Reid polls there are no Nichiren Buddhist Temples in Mississauga, nor are there any in Wyoming (yes, I checked).

 

My sense is that the NRM scholars have perpetrated a huge fraud, carving out their own departments and whatnot. .. but it is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The only person that I can find that takes these people on is Andrew Greeley but I don't see him showing up in their bibliographies (small wonder).

I can buy that there was some movement away from the Protestant-Catholic-Jew category but the more and more I read about this new ethic the more I am convinced that it is hooey.

Can anyone shed some light on this ??? Is Greeley the only one to take notice of this or am I missing someone?

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Irving Hexham replied:

They show up in Bibby's work. Take a look at Unknown Gods, Toronto, Stoddart, 1993:48-58, which seems to support some of your observations. But then read Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge's The Future of Religion, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985, the provide solid stats to get a broader picture before turning to the journals Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and Sociology of Religion. You are right most new religions "don't show up." But, there are Nichiren and other Buddhist Temples in Toronto and you do find believer in various faiths in Wyoming.

Sure the numbers are small. But, after fifty years of mission work among the Zulu in South Africa there were only 10,000 believers. This led the historian The Scottish missionary and Lovedale President, James Stewart (1831-1905), in his book Dawn in the Dark Continent, Lovedale, Lovedale Mission Press, 1903:307-328, devotes an entire chapter to what he calls the "Slow Progress of Missions." He admits apparent numerical failure. Seventy years later Norman Etherington in Preachers Peasants and Politics in Southeast Africa, 1835-1880, London, Royal Historical Society, 1978:24, drew similar conclusions about the "failure" of Christian Missions in nineteenth century South Africa. But, today you will be hard pressed to find a Zulu or any other African in SA who is not nominally Christian. In retrospect the missions were a great success.

The problem with the conclusions drawn by both Stewart and Etherington is that their maths were wrong. Religions grow exponentially. This point is made by Rodney Stark and Lynne Roberts in their excellent article "The Arithmetic of Social Movements: Theoretical Implications," Sociological Analysis, Vol 43, No. 1, 1982, pp. 53-67. So I'd say you are simply wrong and that the comment: the NRM scholars have perpetrated a huge fraud ...

is mistaken.

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From David di Sabatino:

Thank you, Dr. Hexham, for your answer. Straight to the point. So I'd say you are simply wrong and that the comment: the NRM scholars have perpetrated a huge fraud is mistaken.

OK but, Can you place Andrew Greeley in perspective for me then? I drew much of what I wrote from his writings. Is he simply a pop sociologist or does he have something valid to say? I don't find him in many people's bibliographies but he has written some in this area. And he seems to believe that the NRM and their proponents don't have much evidence to support itself (I emailed him once about this and he had some choice words about them).

Wondering

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From John M. Bozeman <

Subject: Re: Are NRM's an Academic Fraud?

 

It is true that the NRM's of the 1960's and early 1970's

were rather small as I recall, there have never been

more than 10,000 members of the Hare Krishna's, Unification

Church, or Children of God active at at any one time, even

at peak membership. However, I would offer up the following

points:

 

1. We may be a bit too much of a hurry for results. Dr. Hexham pointed out the slow growth of Christianity in Africa; I would point out that certain NRMs languished in obsurity before bursting forth later. Consider the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), who in the late 1800's were pretty hard up. They now number in the millions, and are growing quite nicely. Christian Scientists, Adventists, and JW's also began as NRM's during the 1800's, and are now formidable religious forces.

 

2. On the other hand, the NRM's of the 1800's that many (on both sides of the fence) thought would triumph are currently languishing. Traditional spiritualism looked really hot for a while, only to enter a long decline (though perhaps it perked up a bit in the form of New Age "channelling." Another hot contender was the Swedenborg's Church of the New Jerusalem, now quite small.

 

3. So we might have spent a lot of time looking in the wrong places. While the "old favorites" (COG, "Moonies, HK, etc.) are pretty small, other NRMs have grown fairly large, yet for the most part unnotices. A few: the Church Universal and Triumphant (claims about 50,000 members world wide). The Raelian UFO worshippers (claim about 20,000 world wide).

 

4. Finally, groups can have influence that exceeds membership numbers alone. Consider the Jesus Movement. Relatively few people ever ended up becoming hard core Jesus Freaks and/or lived in Jesus communes during the early 1970's, when they were at their peak. HOWEVER, they DID give rise to countless youth revivals, and "Jesus Music" is still sung in mainline church youth group meetings. And let's ask... what proportion of "new age" people joined some sort of official group? Yet how many people bought (and still buy) crystals, tarot cards,and have professional horoscopes cast?

 

Just a few thoughts.

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Sender: Michael York

Subject: Re: Are NRM's an Academic Fraud?

 

My understanding of Greeley has been that his work is bona fide or at least as bona fide as most other writers on NRMs. His Unsecular Man: The Persistance of Religion (1972, reprinted 1985) I believe ranks as an important work, and he has significant articles in such journals as Social Research, Sociological Analysis, American Journal of Sociology, among others.

There can be all sorts of reasons why a particular author does not appear in others' references, the less reputable including jealousy, competition, appropriation. I do not have access to my own books at present, but I have referred to Greeley in my work on the New Age, The Emerging Network (1995). Another author who refers to him is Michael Hill in his A Sociology of Religion (1973). Also, in James Lewis and Gordon Melton's Perspectives on the New Age (1992), in `An Update on Neopagan Witchcraft in America' (appearing immediately before Irving Hexham's `The Evangelical Response to the New Age'), Aidan Kelly refers to Greeley as "a voice crying in the wilderness and a prophet without honor in his own country" and lists some of Greeley's research on altered states of consciousness in America - drawing from his Sociology of the Paranormal (1984) which he co-authored with Nancy McCready. Kelly also refers to Greeley as a novelist (with, incidentally, popular appeal), and this might constitute a factor against citing him as a credible academic source.

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From: MJDonahue <MJDonahue@aol.com>

Subject: Re: Are NRM's an Academic Fraud?

 

I published a review of Greeley's work recently ("Catholicism and Religious Experience" in Handbok of Religious Experience, Ralph W. Hood, Jr., ed.) and did not in the process run across anything by him on NRMs, so I would also be interested in what he has to say on the subject. Andy is quite prolific; so much so that he has been criticized for that ("no thought left unpublished").

 

I certainly do not consider Greeley a "pop sociologist"; he has, for example, used profits from his fiction works to fund items on the General Social Survey on religion. It's my impression his work is more likley to appear in book form than in journals (although his journal list could get him tenure anywhere), covers a wide array of topics, and in terms of academic debate he sometimes chooses to remain "above the fray" (one is reminded of B. F. Skinner). Interpersonally, however, he responds with a genuinely amazing speed to inquiries about his work.

 

I, too, have bewailed the degree to which his work is ignored (see the above reference). He goes largely uncited in the psych of religion, in spite of his fascinating research linking Catholic-Protestant theological differences to differences in various individual difference variables.

_____________

From Steve Hayes:
5 May 98 04:14:24:

> Well yes, perhaps that is the problem - understanding what NRMs are.

Perhaps it is a problem of definition, or perhaps it is a simple misunderstanding. Or perhaps it is a matter of North American white chauvinism. Or perhaps it is all three.

For a start, the AICs are a new religious movement, and started a long time before the 1960s. Only perhaps because they are not North American and not white, they don't count? Is that it?

The AICs, taken together, are one of the largest and fastest growing religious movements in Southern Africa, and probably in the rest of Africa too. They certainly show up in population censuses.

Even when NRMs get closer to North America, they still don't seem to count if they are not lily white... why, for example, on the New Religions Mailing list (NUREL-L), is there so little discussion of Rastafarianism or the Nation of Islam? The former is "Judeo-Christian" (a term which is highly offensive to Jews, by the way), though the latter is not.

That seems to indicate that there may be a circle of NRM scholars that is fairly closed, and indeed suffers from the kind of problems that the writer of that message points out, or it may be that the writer of the message has only been exposed to a narrow range of NRM scholars.

It is something I have wondered about, since I've been participating in the NUREL list (and one reason for starting a separate AIC list) - is that the people on NUREL-L seem to major in white, western, middle-class NRMs, and largely ignore the others, though there was a couple who seemed to be interested in Santeria and Vodun, but they have disappeared.

One answer is that not all NRM scholars are saying this.

Has Turner ever said it, or Daneel, or Sundkler, or Anderson?

The figures given to Antony d'Andrea's paper in the NUREL seminar also seem to indicate that a substantial percentage of people, even in North America, have been influenced by the New age movement, and bodies that are broadly described as coming under that umbrella. Though his paper also confirms my impression that the NAM is primarily a middle-class movement.

__________

Sender: William Shaw

I must admit, during the previous thread about UFOs I was surprised that groups like Nation of Islam, the 5% Nation and the Ansaarah Allah Community weren't mentioned. Don't they all - in various degrees - believe in the existence of spaceships?

I'm interviewing a number of young African-Americans at the moment for a project that has nothing to do with NRMs, but the millenarian notion of a returning "mothership" seems fairly common.

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From Andrew Wilson
Re John Bozeman's comments:

Also, there is the issue of what defines a member. For a long time, the UC's membership was a small cadre of hard-core activists who were willing to sacrifice much for the cause. Now, however, the church is on a campaign to extend the Blessing of Rev. Moon to 360 million couples worldwide. Already, in November of last year, more than 40 million couples were blessed. Most are not necessarily members of the UC, some regard themselves as members of the interreligious "Family Federation for World Peace and Unification," but theologically, they are all regarded as spiritually connected, "saved" in fact. They are also expected to be open to receive additional instruction in Unification teaching as the opportunity arises, either on earth or in heaven.

In some African countries, I have heard that there are literally millions of people who have joined the FFWPU and are active in it. They have been organized through networks of volunteers who work at the village level in providing health services (e.g. AIDS prevention and dietary guidance) and assistance in farming techniques.

In this regard, the meaning of membership of the UC and its sister organization the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification is changing. It may be becoming more like that in more established churches, where only a few priests serve the faith full-time and service many hundreds or thousands of parishoners who may attend church weekly or once a year, and yet are counted on the rolls. Unlike other Christian churches, however (but more like among Japanese new religions), membership in the FFWPU is not exclusive, and extends to people who maintain their existing religious affiliation at the same time.

Anyway, if the definition of "membership" in the UC and FFWPU is suitably broadened to reflect the current situation, it may actually run in the tens of millions worldwide.

Furthermore, if economic strength is any indicator, the annual budget of the UC, to fund its various projects, runs in the six figure range. If publicity is any indicator, certainly the Blessing in RFK stadium last November 29 did not go unnoticed by the press.

Why, then, are NRMs like the UC thought to have disappeared? Does Greely have tunnel vision? Or does he have an agenda?

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