James R. Lewis, who specializes in new religious and New Age movements (Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Wales, Lampeter) has a book published last year by Oxford University Press called Violence and New Religious Movements. Lewis is a professor of religious studies at the University of Tromsø, edits and co-edits Brill’s Handbooks on Contemporary Religion, co-founded the International Society for the Study of New Religions, authored/co-authored/edited some forty scholarly texts and twice that number of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and book reviews.
Violence and New Religious Movements features nineteen essays from twenty-two scholars from varied disciplinary backgrounds (sociology, anthropology, religious studies, law, judicial studies, forensic psychology, and western esotericism). The book takes a look at Millennial and Pentecostal Christian groups in Uganda and Sweden, a Pagan community in Russia, and a Hindu new religious movement in West Virginia; as well as the Peoples’ Temple, Branch Davidians, Solar Temple, Aum Shrinrikyo, and Heaven’s Gate. It also explores violence directed at controversial religious minorities, such as Falun Gong in China and “deprogramming” efforts by anti-cult organizations.
The essays offer ways of understanding controversial religious movements and how they relate to the larger societies in which they exist; and the process of polarization by which religious minorities and law enforcement, anti-cult organizations, government officials, neighbors, and dominant religious groups adopt alienated and hostile stances toward one another -- a process which at times results in violence.
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