Volume 1, Issue 1, 2013
James R. Lewis
Sects and Violence: The “Standard Model” of New Religions Violence
In contrast with other subfields within religion-and-violence studies, the study of violence and new religious movements (NRMs) has tended to focus on a small set of incidents involving the mass deaths of members of controversial NRMs. Beginning with the suicide-murders of hundreds of members of the People’s
Temple in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, various explanations of such incidents have been offered – some focusing on the psychological make-up of the leaders; others on the near approach of the new millennium. Scholars of violent new religions eventually settled on what might be called the ‘Standard Model’ of NRM violence, a model that takes into account internal factors, external factors and the dynamic polarization between these two sets of influences. Unfortunately, this model is not predictive. However, if the various factors within the standard model are reshuffled, several new factors added and the focus shifted to violent incidents involving group suicide, a modified model emergences that appears to be able to predict mass suicide in NRMs.