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Comprehending Cults

The Sociology of New Religious Movements

Second Edition

Lorne L. Dawson

Publication Date - 25 January 2006

ISBN: 9780195420098

272 pages
6 x 9 inches

In Stock

Completely revised and updated in this second edition, Comprehending Cults, Second Edition, provides a sociological interpretation of the phenomenon of new religious movements.


Comprehending Cults, Second Edition, provides a sociological interpretation of the phenomenon of new religious movements. While the author does not offer an apologia for cults--in either a religious or a sociological sense--he does attempt to replace suspicion and misinformation with a greater knowledge of the facts (as best we know them) and a measure of sympathetic understanding.
Completely revised and updated in this second edition, the book examines all aspects of cults, while striving to delineate the very real limits of our knowledge. In addition to dealing with the troublesome aspects of the subject, including issues of violence, sexuality, and brainwashing, the author also considers the possibility that new religious movements are a source of spiritual satisfaction to their members. Offering up-to-date social science research about contemporary religious cults, Comprehending Cults, Second Edition, is ideal for undergraduate sociology of religion and new religious movements courses.

Previous Publication Date(s)

December 1998

Table of Contents

    1. Why Study New Religious Movements?
    The Cults in Our Midst
    The Hostility towards Cults
    Responding to the Suspicions of the Public
    Box 1: They Come in All Shapes and Sizes
    2. What Are New Religious Movements?
    Religion and Its Continuing Significance
    Churches, Sects, and Cults
    Box 2: How New Religious Movements Change with Success
    3. Why Did New Religious Movements Emerge?
    Asking the Right Question First
    New Religious Movements as a Response to Cultural Change
    New Religious Movements as an Expression of Cultural Continuity
    Concluding Remarks
    Box 3: Three Models of Cult Formation
    4. Who Joins New Religious Movements and Why?
    The Stereotypes
    Getting Involved with New Religious Movements
    The Social Attributes of Those Who Join
    Some Reasons for Joining
    Box 4: Why are American Converts to New Religious Movements Disproportionately Jewish?
    5. Are Converts to New Religious Movements "Brainwashed"?
    The Issue and Its Significance
    The Case Against the Cults
    The Case Against Brainwashing
    Reformulating the Issues in the Brainwashing Debate
    Box 5: The Active versus Passive Convert
    6. Why Are New Religious Movements So Often Accused of Sexual Deviance?
    Sexual Deviance and the 'Cults'
    Gender Matters
    Box 6: Child Abuse and the Social Control of New Religious Movements
    7. Why Do Some New Religious Movements Become Violent?
    Making Sense of the Seemingly Senseless
    Apocalyptic Beliefs
    Charismatic Leadership
    Social Encapsulation
    Concluding Remarks
    Box 7: Surviving the Failure of Apocalyptic Prophecies
    8. What is the Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements?
    Our Skewed Perspective
    Discerning a New Religious Consciousness
    Modernism and the New Religious Movements
    Post-modernism and the New Religious Movements
    Concluding Remarks
    Box 8: Factors Affecting the Success of New Religious Movements