Cults, Religion, and Violence

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Cambridge University Press, May 13, 2002 - Religion - 249 pages
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This explores the question of when and why violence by and against new religious cults erupts and whether and how such dramatic conflicts can be foreseen, managed and averted. The authors, leading international experts on religious movements and violent behavior, focus on the four major episodes of cult violence during the last decade: the tragic conflagration that engulfed the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas; the deadly sarin gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo; the murder-suicides by the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Canada; and the collective suicide by the members of Heaven's Gate. They explore the dynamics leading to these dramatic episodes in North America, Europe, and Asia, and offer insights into the general relationship between violence and religious cults in contemporary society. The authors conclude that these events usually involve some combination of internal and external dynamics through which a new religious movement and society become polarized.

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Violence and Religion in Perspective
Dramatic Denouements
Challenging Misconceptions about the New Religions Violence Connection
Sources of Volatility in Religious Movements
Crises of Charismatic Legitimacy and Violent Behavior in New Religious Movements
Public Agency Involvement in GovernmentReligious Movement Confrontations
Watching for Violence A Comparative Analysis of the Roles of Five Types of CultWatching Groups
Mass Suicide and the Branch Davidians
Occult Masters and the Temple of Doom The Fiery End of the Solar Temple
Dramatic Confrontations Aum Shinrikyo against the World
Making Sense of the Heavens Gate Suicides
Lessons from the Past Perspective for the Future

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About the author (2002)

David G. Bromley is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Senior Project Director in the Survey Research Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University.

J. Gordon Melton is the director for the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, and is a research specialist with the department of religions studies at the University of California. He is the author of more than twenty-six books, including several encyclopedias, handbooks, and almanacs on American religion, new religious movements, and directories of churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship. He is also an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the American Study of Religion, the American Society of Church History, the Communal Studies Association, and the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion.

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