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Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review

Volume 5, Issue 2, 2014

Eugene V. Gallagher
Pages 205-224
DOI: 10.5840/asrr2015345

Contra Novum: Continuities in the Negative Discourse about New Religions

This essay argues against the idea, frequently advanced by contemporary anti- and counter-cult writers, that the appearance of new religious movements in the last few decades is unprecedented. It shows that claim to be less a statement of fact than a rhetorical device that has been used frequently throughout history to incite and exacerbate fears about new religious groups that are perceived to be threatening to the status quo. It traces significant rhetorical and substantial continuities in the polemic against new religions not only to earlier American history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but also to the second and third centuries in the ancient Mediterranean world, where early Christian groups were subjected to the same types of criticisms as contemporary “cults.”