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1. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 1
Marianna Ruah-Midbar Shapiro Historians as Storytellers: A Critical Examination of New Age Religion’s Scholarly Historiography
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This study makes a bold statement on the problematic nature of historic academic research, and its implications on our understanding of religion and culture. The case study is New Age religion’s scholarly historiography. It appears that New Age religion plays a part within narrative imagination, which often contains moral allusions as to the heroes or antiheroes, as well as literary allusions to the causal sources of events or to expected developments. We review the conflicts that arise between utterly differing opinions in some of the field’s fundamental issues, and thus evoke several of the challenges historical research on NA faces: when did it debut on the historical stage? Which ideological movements did it draw upon? Who are its unmistakable heralds? Did it already reach the height of its strength, and if so, when? The survey of scholarly studies indicates that the history of New Age is ever-changing. Thus, we argue that though historic discussion may deepen the analysis of a religious phenomenon and its understanding and give it context and meaning—it cannot decipher it. We cannot rely on history in defining a phenomenon, in attempting to comprehend its essence, its power, its importance, and most certainly not its future.
2. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 1
Xinzhang Zhang, George A. Dunn Spiritual Movements, Secret Societies, and Destructive Cults: Panel Discussion, Hangzhou, October 2017
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During September 22–24, 2017, Zhejiang University hosted an International Symposium on the Theoretical and Practical Issues of Faiths in the Construction of the Community of Common Destiny for All Mankind in Hangzhou, China. In the course of this conference, six scholars from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and China participated in an interdisciplinary panel discussion about “Spiritual Movements, Secret Societies, and Destructive Cults.” Covering such topics as the general spiritual situation of the contemporary world, the religious marketplace, the dangerous tendencies within some religious movements, and the role of the state in relation to religious communities, the discussion concludes with an examination of the conflict of Falun Gong with the Chinese government and the faults of the group’s leadership that brought the conflict to a head. The discussion offers a fruitful combination of theoretical insights and concrete case studies that provides a wide and deep purview of our present spiritual situation, setting forth both its dangers and its positive potential. This paper is a transcript of the panel discussion, with a brief introduction identifying its highlights.
3. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 1
Margrethe Løøv Between Religion and Science: Shifting Views on Knowledge in Acem and the Transcendental Meditation Movement
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This article offers a comparative analysis of the relationship between science and religion in Acem and the Transcendental Meditation organisation. Both these meditation movements have their historical origin in the teachings of the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Hindu Advaita Vedānta tradition. Their further development in the West has been characterised by varying degrees of cultural adaptation. The TM movement has retained a worldview which is inherently religious, but has developed its teachings through its encounters with modern science, and developed a panoply of alternative “scientific” disciplines. The TM movement has also systematically employed scientific terms and tropes to communicate effectively with a Western audience. Acem has discarded religious explanations altogether, and sees modern science as the sole source of reliable knowledge. The shifts in what is conceived to be plausible forms of knowledge have been paired with changes in terminology and self-descriptions. It is argued that the increased emphasis on and normative elevation of science can be seen as strategies to gain legitimacy and appeal in a cultural environment that tends to favour science over religion. The article thus sheds light upon some of the challenges that may arise when a body of knowledge moves between different cultural contexts, and strategies used to encounter these.
4. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 1
Stephanie Griswold The Raid is On: Elaborations on the Short Creek Women’s Recollections of the 1953 Raid
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Through decades of anti-bigamy legislation, the practice of plural marriage was officially outlawed. In the first half of the twentieth century, contemporary polygamists faced raids in the 1930s, 1940s, and the largest of the time, in 1953. The 1953 raid in Short Creek, Arizona, executed by Arizona Governor Howard Pyle, was meant to put down the “insurrection” of “white slavery” in the border town now known as Colorado City. Though there was significant media coverage of the raid and subsequent trials, and there have been academic works on the subject, the experiences of the women while in state custody require further conversation. In this article, transcriptions of those recollections are examined in order to continue the discussion started in Martha Bradley’s seminal work, Kidnapped from that Land, with a focus on the female experience in their own words.
5. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 1
Mathilde Vanasse-Pelletier Normal but Peculiar: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Normalization and Differentiation Strategies
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The aim of this paper is to analyse the recent “I’m a Mormon” publicity campaign put forward by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church, or the LDS Church) and its significance in the larger scheme of Latter-day Saints’ public relations history. Since the nineteenth century, Mormons have had to negotiate with mainstream society in order to obtain a comfortable position while maintaining their identity as “peculiar people.” Through a detailed analysis of selected “I’m a Mormon” capsules, broadcasted on the Mormon.org website, this paper presents the recent normalization and differentiation strategies put forward by the Church of Jesus Christ, and exposes the relationship between these tactics and the strategies used by the Church throughout history. We note that while members of the Church of Jesus Christ aim to be accepted by mainstream Americans and viewed as somewhat “normal,” they also seek to maintain an aura of uniqueness associated with their specific religious beliefs and values. This falls under what we refer to as differentiation.
6. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
George D. Chryssides Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain—A Historical Survey
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Drawing on primary and secondary source material from internal and external sources, the author traces the history of the International Bible Students Association, popularly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Britain, from 1881 to the present. The work of colporteurs led to the establishment of early congregations (“ecclesias”) and a branch office in London. The release of the audio-visual production entitled The Photo-Drama of Creation had an important role in bringing the Bible Student movement into prominence. Controversies shortly arose within the London congregation, which were exacerbated by intervention by Paul S. L. Johnson from the Brooklyn headquarters. The transition of leadership to Joseph Franklin Rutherford, following Charles Taze Russell’s death in 1916, caused the organization to change from the federation of independent congregations to a unified Society. Discussion is given to the effects of the two World Wars, the attempts of Bible Students to gain exemption from conscription through legal channels, and the penalties incurred by the conscientious objectors. Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued to expand their activities, through house-to-house visiting which became expected of all members, through expansion of premises, and through increased public visibility. It is concluded that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow their principles to be shaped by popular attitudes and values, believing that the world is currently governed by Satan rather than Jehovah.
7. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
Dell deChant A Perspective on Popular Religious Idealism and Its Cultural Contexts
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This article explores the relationship of two “metaphysical” religious traditions, Christian Science and New Thought. The argument developed here is that the two traditions are closely related, using the category of Religious Idealism to identify similarities. The article offers a departure from traditional, long-standing assessments of the relationship between the movements, which focus on their differences. Specific problems considered are initially posed by questions related to the origins of the movements, and the study of origins is the focus of this paper. Three other categories of relevance will also be noted: (1) theology and cosmology, (2) the centrality of mental healing, and (3) biblical exegesis.
8. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
András Máté-Tóth, Gábor Dániel Nagy Indicators of a Second Wave of Religiosity in Central Eastern Europe
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This article examines religion’s public role in Central Europe by investigating people’s expectations and perceptions regarding distinct facets of religion. The paper analyses factors related to the first wave and the second wave of religiosity along different lines such as church and government policies, the roles of churches in strengthening democracy, etc. According to the Aufbruch data research project and partially from the ISSP (International Social Survey Project), religious depiction of some post-communist countries are brought to the table. A deeper analysis is undertaken for 6 countries (Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland), considering that in the countries previously listed, the distinction in the general level of religiosity differ remarkably, in order of the extremely religious country (Croatia) to the extremely non-religious country (Czech Republic). The discoveries from the various indicators shows that there is a good reason to believe in a possible second wave or different form and kind of religiosity compared to the times of the transition or the mid-1990s in contemporary times.
9. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
Kyungsoo Lee Disillusionment and Mourning in the FFWPU
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This paper will apply Peter Homans’s argument on mourning to the new religious movement phenomena of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU). Homans’s theory focused on the progressive and creative aspects of mourning and extended the discussion from the personal to the social, collective level of mourning. Sifting through the history of the FFWPU, I will show how the emergence, formation, and transformation of this new religious movement (NRM) arose as a creative response to absence, ranging from personal death to the loss of religious values and symbols.
10. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
Susan J. Palmer Media Treatment of New Religions in Quebec: After the Solar Temple
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This article focuses on how NRMs are depicted in the mass media in the province of Quebec, and examines some of the ethical, deontological and legal issues reflected in journalistic coverage of controversial groups known as “sectes” or “cults” in the francophone and anglophone medias. These groups include: Les Apôtres de l’Amour Infini, Le Mouvement Raëlien, L’Église essénienne chrétienne, L’Ordre du Temple solaire, La Cité Écologique de Ham-Nord, la Mission de l’Esprit-Saint, and Lev Tahor. News reports on these groups, collected over a period of fifteen years, will be analyzed within the framework of James A. Beckford’s 1994 study, “The Mass Media and New Religious Movements.” Relying on Beckford and models supplied by other sociologists, this chapter will identify various types of biased approaches used by journalists and analyzes the external pressures that shape their stories. Finally, it will attempt to explain why Quebec’s new religions are consistently portrayed by journalists as controversial and threatening, in a manner that tends to generate and perpetuate conflict.
11. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
Jakob D. Larsen, Mikkel Fruergaard Thomsen Positive Thinking: Cognitive Biases in New Age Religiosity
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Following the ideas of a Cognitive Optimum Position, this paper aims to illustrate how cognitive science of religion can be fruitfully applied to understand the appeal of certain metaphysical beliefs within modern New Age religiosity. By diving into the popular DVD version of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, this paper seeks is to uncover the cognitive mechanism and systematic biases involved when New Age sympathizers engage in ritual practices and beliefs related to positive thinking and the Law of Attraction. We propose to view the visualization rituals highlighted in The Secret as “internalized” similarity magic, possibly triggering the adaptive principle appearance equals reality. We further argue that the mind-over-matter belief promoted throughout The Secret—that thoughts affect or interact with physical reality—in certain cases are strengthened by a human bias to see a mental-physical causal relationship, a causation heuristic. The cognitive processes behind the general metaphysical belief that thoughts can affect reality are elaborated further by the concept core knowledge confusion. Finally we suggest that together with an illusion of control over uncertain future events, an optimism bias may incite people to engage in continual ritual practice.
12. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 10 > Issue: 2
Murphy Pizza Encountering Contemporary Paganisms
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This is the Plenary speech presented by Murphy Pizza, Ph.D, the current president of the Upper Midwest American Academy of Religion, to an audience at the April 2019 Meeting for both the UM AAR and the UM Society for Biblical Literature at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, MN. The speech is an overview of the diversity of Paganisms in the movement, in practice and theological approaches, and it also references the community building efforts of the Pagan Community in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, the research area of the speaker.
13. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Arthur Herman God, Evil and Annie Besant
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This paper is about the impact of a philosophical problem on the life of a most remarkable human being. The problem is the theological problem of evil and the remarkable human being is the one-time Christian, one-time atheist, and all-time theosophist, Annie Wood Besant. Her personal and intellectual encounter with the theological problem of evil changed not only her life but, through her influence, it changed the life of British society in the 19th century and Indian society in the 20th century. Annie Besant's personal encounter with intense human suffering changed her from the wife of a Victorian clergyman and devoted mother into achampion of women's rights, a union organizer, an atheist, and a socialist; and her intellectual discovery of a solution to the problem of human suffering changed her from a free thinking atheist, materialist and secularist into an occultist and theologian and leading light of the Theosophical Society in England and India. In what follows I want to do two things: First of all, say something about Mrs. Besant's extraordinary life in England and India; and then, secondly, say something about the philosophical problem and its solution that played such important roles in her life.
14. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
James R. Lewis The Branch Davidians: Through the Lens of Jonestown
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Ever since Jonestown, part of the “cult” stereotype has been that NRMs are volatile groups, ready to commit group suicide at the drop of a hat. The assumption that the Branch Davidian community was a potential Jonestown may or may not have contributed to the initial ill-advised ATF raid. But, following the fiery holocaust set in motion by the FBI raid 51 days later, defenders of these agencies’ actions uniformly portrayed the Davidians as having been a “suicide group.” The present article presents an overview of the Davidian community, focusing particular attention on evidence that the group was not inclined to suicide. Rather, the Davidians were victims of law enforcement malfeasance.
15. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Inga B. Tøllefsen Ecofeminism, Religion and Nature in an Indian and Global Perspective
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Women tend to take a secondary place in society and also tend to be equated with nature, thus being on the losing end on both fronts, and fighting the same battle against oppression. Ecofeminism has many phases and faces, but one of the most influential is that of spiritual ecofeminism and its many expressions under the New Age umbrella. In an Indian context the picture seems to be different, as spiritual ecofeminism seems to be more closely aligned with “traditional” Hinduism. Vandana Shiva, the most famous Indian ecofeminist writer, faces a massive critique from numerous scholars. Her work is seen as essentialist and as romanticizing history, where a gender analysis perspective would focus on, among others, unequal power relations in society.
16. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Kelly Therese Pollock Working her Magic: How Starhawk’s Language of Spirituality Empowers Women and Revalues Nature
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It would be difficult to underestimate the influence of Starhawk on contemporary witchcraft and ecofeminism. Trained as a psychologist, she utilizes a unique spiritual language that is derived from a reconceptualization of classical psychoanalytic notions. In her use of this spiritual language, Starhawk not only upsets existing worldviews, but she also promotes her ecofeminist agenda. Women are empowered through Starhawk’s teachings because she allows them to see the beauty and worth in themselves. By disrupting comfortable dichotomies and emphasizing the immanent nature of divinity, Starhawk helps women to becomepersonally and socially empowered and revalues nature by recognizing the interconnectedness of all creation.
17. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 1
Jean-François Mayer The Alternative Religiosity Market: Visit to an Esoteric Fair
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Gatherings and fairs promoting alternative beliefs, practices and lifestyles offer a privileged environment for observing the cultic milieu and its functioning. Most people interested in such topics do never join an organized alternative religious group. Written in 1999, this article is based on observations gleaned at a fair that takes place in Zurich every year since 1989. It shows the developments that intervened between the first and second shows (1989 and 1990) and the 10th gathering in 1998. This illustrated how the field has continued to widen, with an increasing diversity of practices and techniques offered. The article observes howvarious reasons lead practitioners to combine techniques and teachings. It also observes a pervading ambivalence toward modernity and the recourse to exotic cultures as a source of relief for Westerners.
18. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Constance A. Jones Metaphysical Religious Movements in the United States: A Comparison of Church Universal and Triumphant, Ramtha's School of Enlightenment, and Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness
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This paper is a comparison of three new religious movements, each of which is a twentieth-century Western religious innovation that draws heavily on Eastern as well as Western traditions. The three movements have a number of beliefs and practices in common and all can be considered metaphysical, esoteric, and gnostic in orientation and function. All three of the movements have headquarters in the western region of the United States: The Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), headed by Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939-2009), is centered at Corwin Springs near Livingston, Montana; Ramtha's School of Enlightenment (RSE), headed by J. Z. Knight (1946-), is centered in Yelm, Washington; and the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), headed by John-Roger Hinkins (1934-), is centered in Los Angeles, California. All three have significant numbers of members outside the United States and translate their materials into non-English editions, although this comparison relates only to members within the U. S.
19. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Anson Shupe The Modern North American Anti-Cult Movement: Its Rise and Demise According to Resource Mobilization Theory
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The emergence of innovative or new religious movements (NRMs), often popularly called "cults," is a feature of religion in virtually every society. So are counter-movement or anti-cult groups (ACMs). Here I examine the rise and fall of the North American ACM enterprise as it attempted over a thirty-year span to mobilize both official and public alarm as well as repressive actions, within a pluralistic society with no official governmental supervisory agencies at any levels, to respond to concerns over possible religious abuses. In particular, the fate of the Cult Awareness Network (based in Chicago, Illinois and one of the two trulynational ACM organizations), employing the concepts of sociology's resource mobilization theory, is delineated. The ultimately self-destructive reliance on violence as an interventionist technique, as well as apparently criminal activities, are explored.
20. Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review: Volume > 2 > Issue: 2
Adam Anczyk Plurality of Belief in Contemporary European Druidry
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There is a common notion, shared by the academics, that all (or most) Neopagan movements are polytheist (or duotheist), magic-oriented religious movements with higher or lower emphasis put on reconstructing – what can be called – “the Old Faith” or religions of ancient Europe. However research practice shows that among followers of various Pagan movements there is a place for plurality of belief. The subject of this article is a brief, survey analysis of contemporary Druidry, which is an example of how the spirituality of contemporary Pagans is constructed: historical, traditional and mythological themes are mixed with new formsof religious expression resulting in creating of a new form of religiosity in which there is open space for the plurality of belief.