Nine Books on New Religious Movements:
The following includes notes
on nine main books in the field of New Religions.
These notes are not complete summaries
but highlights of the material covered.
In Gods We Trust edited by Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins
Spiritual Choices edited by Dick Anthony
Religious and Spiritual Groups in North America by Robert Ellwood
How the Swans Came to the West by Rick Fields
Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and Their American Disciples by Marvin Harper
The Cult Experience: Responding to the New Religious Pluarlism by J. Gordon Melton
Understanding the New Religions edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker
Hinduism invades America by Wendall Marshall Thomas
The Encyclopedia Handbook of Cults in America by J. Gordon Melton
Text: In Gods We Trust edited by Dick Anthony and
- American religion is in transition. Mainline Protestant denominations diminish but there is a revival of new churches, including fundamental and evangelical ones.
- During the post WWII with the onset of the cold war there was a need for Christian unity in the face of communism so the differences between groups were downplayed. This period was called the "Eisenhower period" due to the president’s statement that any religion will do. Religion was seen as favorable and even interchangeable. Religion was also less important in politics with the election of a Catholic president JFK.
- Today there is polarization, acrimony, religion in politics and numerous religious arguments between groups.
- The secularization thesis that religion is waning in the modern era relegated to the private realm and not part of larger society is challenged by Stark, Bainbridge and Beckford. A challenge to the secularization thesis is the surge of militant traditionalism; religion alternates between periods of secularization the revival. According to Stark and Bainbridge secularization and modernity actually revitalize the religious milieu as new religions appear to counter them. Beckford contends that religion is not the "wallpaper" of society simply resting in the background but religion is in fact a contender for power and promoter of change and innovation. It has the ability to empower the disenfranchised as it has for women in neopagan groups. Nowadays there is sharper awareness of the deliberate attempts to bring about change in the name of religion. It is a "perceived" source of power and the use of religion is not necessarily unconscious. Lechner argues for the secularization thesis. The new groups manifest unintended modernity and secularization is the consequence. As religion becomes privatized as in the electronic church religion is compartmentalized and differentiated from society. Quasi-religious groups support the secularization thesis since there is a diffusion of the sacred. Despite the fundamentalism surge he supports the secularization thesis. Even fundamentalists groups modernize as they use modern structures of organization: voluntary association, individual choice, activity in the world. When fundamentalism enters the political arena it becomes liberalized. A liberal plural society allows for fundamentalism in the first place. There will be no great awakening, just a more pluralized America.
- Bellah argues there is a civil religion in America with Judeo-Christian symbols and national patriotism. Puritanical moral absolutism, utilitarian individualism and messianic conception of the US as the "chosen"nation with a redemptive world mission depicts civil religion. Today there is a "broken convenant" with the breakdown of the ethos rooted in New England Puritanism and the Old Testament biblical morality. In this crises of meaning there is an attempt to bring about a birth of a new American mythos; the onslaught of new religions supports this. Biblical absolutism and utilitarian individualism seem in sharp contrast to each other but America is tied to both. How? One can pursue selfish material goals as long as one accepts the moral absolutes of society. American capitalism is legitimized.
- Bellah also points out that the founding fathers set up a lassez-faire state and expected powerful churches to set moral consensus. But as this erodes and moral pluralism becomes the norm the state then intervenes and becomes the moral arbitrator of America. Moral issues become public ones as it did in the Row vs Wade decision. Thus, the decline in moral consensus means government regulated morality.
- The trend of religion will be: a decline of mainline denominations; a proliferation of small, specialized independent congregations; increase of new religious movements including new age types; an increase of traditionalism in an attempt to develop utopian enclaves. There will also be numerous civil religion sects; examples are the Unification Church of Rev. Moon and the People’s Temple of Jim Jones. Electronic churches will continue to privatize religion and quasi-religions will continue to diffuse the sacred. The religious scene is an ambiguous one and the jury is still out on what it future will be. Moral ambiguity continues as monistic and dualistic worldviews clash; monistic relativism and dualistic absolutism are polarized positions in America.
- An attempt to solve the ambiguity is to reconstruct civil religion. The evangelical surge combines laissez-faire economy, utilitarian individualism, and messianic triumphalism with a moral covenant. Conservative Reaganism fit this to some degree. Why was there a rebirth of fundamentalism in the 70-80s? Wuthnow argues that when America was no longer as strong of a dominant world power many began to re-examine national culture and identity. But the success of fundamentalism is still minimal.
Text: Spiritual Choices edited by Dick Anthony
- We need a dialogue between transpersonal psychology and the scientific study of religion in a hope to transcend religious reductionism yet still offer a discrimination in spiritual matters. We need neither open ecumenism or reductionism but refined discrimination. Mysticism may be valid but there is a difference between authentic and pseudo mysticism. Some groups are helpful and some harmful. The positivistic-objectivism of the Enlightenment period was replaced in the 60s with a holistic-subjectivism. This epistemological revolution requires a new approach to religion. Examples of harmful groups are: Jones’ People’s Temple, Scientology, Rajaneesh’s group, Unification Church, etc.
- There are three descriptive dimensions to adjudicate religions: metaphysics, practice, interpretive sensibility. The metaphysics are: monism (oneness, world as illusion, exemplary teachers)or dualism (proximity to God only, world as real, ethical prophets, in-out group, millenarian). The practices are: technical (techniques like meditation) or charismatic (personal relationships with leader for spiritual growth). The interpretive sensibilities/interpretations of reality are: unilevel (confuse transcendent with mundane experience, literalistic/univocal, collapsed hierarchy, observable consequences as evidence of spiritual growth), and multilevel (mystical tradition with sensitivity to higher realms, see spiritual growth as lengthy process, not collapse of hierarchy, multivocal).
- Problematic groups fall in the unilevel, dualistic, charismatic category. Greater discrimination is warranted for these groups. Biblical literalistics fit the univocal interpretation.
- Anthony’s typology has eight cells: 1) monism, charismatic, unilevel (Rajaneesh, Manson, Guru Maharaj); 2) monism, technical, unilevel (T.M., Est, Scientology, Hare Krishna); 3) dualism, charismatic, unilevel (Unification Church, People’s Temple); 4) dualism, technical, unilevel (moral absolutism); 5) multilevel, charismatic, monism (Meher Baba, Da, Muktananda); 6) multilevel, technical, monism ( Zen, Shabd yoga, master’s unity with self); 7) multilevel, dualism, charismatic (surrender to master but not one); 8) multilevel, technical, dualism (Gurdjeff).
- Unilevel groups collapse hierarchy, and believing is confused with knowing. Unilevel dualism sees mainstream society as threatening and it offers a utopian vision with in-group belongingness. Unilevel monism supports individual autonomy but Tantric Freudianism can result. Charismatic, unilevel groups follow leaders with possible delusions. Multilevel groups see a distinction between the transcendental and mundane and claim enlightenment is an arduous process. Charismatic multilevel groups are potentially more problematic than technical ones since they rely on particular personalities and the Master needs to be tested.
- The bottom line: we need to distinguish harmful from helpful groups. The less problematic groups are: multilevel, technical, monistic ones.
- Wilber distinguishes between authentic and inauthentic groups and legitimate and illegitimate ones. A legitimate group gives meaning, coherence, social stability, a workable worldview. An authentic group promotes transformation between stages and higher development. Problematic groups are pre-rational ones that require mythic belongingness.
- Needleman argues that the unilevel and multilevel schema is helpful in studying American religions but not non-American ones. He also points out that the other religious types are important because not everyone is ripe for spiritual symbolism and transcendental multilevel ideas. We need tolerance to other types.
- We must resurrect the Greek three categories of wisdom: techne (practice), phronesis (rationality), theoria (transcendental wisdom via contemplation). Theoria is extremely important in religion.
Text: Religious and Spiritual Groups in North America by Robert Ellwood
- Religion can be defined as "a means of ultimate transformation."
- Modern American cults are "old shamanism in modern dress." New religious movements emerge in periods of great stress, frustration, transition. Shamanism resembles modern spiritualism; the shaman communes with the gods and heals and the world is charged with wonder. New religions are generally anti-historical and speak of a paradise time use apocalyptic language, and most reject a personal deity. But unlike shamans who are part of a culture, cults are an expression of alienation and are a fragment of a pluralistic world.
- Troeltsch described three types of religious groups: churches which support social order and more lax morals, sects which have a tension with society and have rigid morals with no compromise, and mystical groups which focus on peak experiences, have no structured organization, and are of a cult type.
- Cults are smaller, ephemeral groups around a charismatic leader. Many are short lived but not all. The focus is ecstatic experience, individuality, non-literalism, and exemplary prophets. The new type of American character, called the "Protean Man", is concerned with experiments, freedom, eclectic philosophy and has dislike for traditional Western emissary teachers and teachings. A sect offers other worldliness and literalism. What new religions have in common today is a rejection of Judeo-Christian norms.
- Modern cults can be placed in three time periods: before WWI, between wars, and after WWII. Before WWI we find Theosophy, New Thought, Spiritualism, Vedanta, etc. Between the wars we have SRF, Meher Baba, Krishnamurti, etc. And after WWII emerges Zen in America, Krishna Consciousness, etc. They all share commonalties: direct experience, interior awareness, a charismatic leader, the idea of God within and a challenge to the pillars of Western culture.
- Cults type ideas go back to the Hellenistic period with interest in meditation and exemplary figures like Pythagoras. In the Middle Ages we have the Kabhalah of the Jews and interest in alchemy and magic. In the Renaissance period the micro/macro concept is very popular; Paracelsus and Pico are well known at this time. In the 18th century Freemasonry combining rational science, Rosicrucian occultism and biblical literalism as well as Swedenborgianism which spoke of a monistic god, the second coming of Jesus in the New Age and mystical travels emerged. St. Germain of the I AM movement and Mesmer were also around at this time. In the 19th century idealism (the mind is all) was popular. Emerson and Quimby fit here. This period was most known for Spiritualism, an American movement, Theosophy, New Thought, and Christian Science. Eastern religions were also making their way to America at this time.
- UFO cults have a commonality with Spiritualism. Both claim superior beings to humans have come to warn us of our folly and rescue us. The shamanistic features are obvious. Jung describes the archetypal natures of UFOs as "technological angels" who have come to usher in a paradisiacal age. An example of a UFO cult is the group Aetherius Society, an apocalyptic movement filled with "space masters."
- Neopagan cults are popular in America. They emphasize cooperation with nature, a return to wonder, and entering a new level of consciousness. Wicca, the great Mother Goddess religion, fits here.
- Alternative religions of Western origins go back to Platonic wonder and shamanism. They may not necessarily grow in the future but have an overall effect on the American religious scene. America is not secular but very religious.
- Eastern ideas affected many American figures, including: Emerson, Schopenhauer, and M.L. King. First to arrive was Ramakrishna’s Advaita Vedanta, then yoga groups like Yogananda’s SRF and finally bhakti devotional groups like Prabhupada’s Krishna Consciousness (who opposed non-dual teachings). Other popular Eastern groups in America are: T.M of Maharishi Mahesh which came to America in 1959 and was made popular by its affiliation with the Beatles and Sai Baba’s Movement. Oriental Eastern religions also made their way to America; Zen, Tantric Buddhism and Nicheren Shoshu are examples.
Text: How the Swans Came to the West by Rick Fields
- There is evidence of Buddhist influence in North America. Trans-pacific travel occurred between Asia and America. Five monks are said to have traveled to Fu Sang (Mexico) in 458 CE. The word Gautemala may have Asian influence; Gautama for Buddha and mala is Sanskrit means rosary. Mayans may have taken their name for Queen Maya. Also, Huichol Indians carry serpent headed staffs and bowls called Sakai-Mona. The Huichol resemble the Chinese and so Mexicans call them Chinois; their dance is even in Chinese style. There is also a rock in San Jacinto, California with a swastika (a Buddhist symbol) on it. Finally, off of Palos Verdes Peninsula there are 30 large circular rocks which a UCLA archeologists says may be ancient Chinese anchors dating back to the 5th century.
- Eastern ideas found their way to Emerson, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and other important Americans. Buddhist writings deeply affected American Transcendentalism. Numerous eastern writings were translated: Charles Wilkens translated the Gita; William Jones translated the Laws of Manu. Sir Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia (1878) made the Buddha story well known and loved in the West.
- 20,000 Chinese came to America in the 1850’s Gold Rush. Anti-Chinese laws made life for them hard. The first Chinese Temple was set up in San Francisco. In the mid 19th century the Japanese came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantation. The move to the mainland came next.
- When the World Parliament was set up in the 1890s, organized by Dr. Barrow, both Vivekananda and Dharmapala were well received. The first American Buddhist initiated on American soil was Charles Strass. Japanese Buddhist missionaries were sent to San Francisco in 1898 and some services were set up in English. Buddhist periodical were set up and Paul Carcus translated the Tao te Ching.
- D.T. Suzuki taught at the University of Hawaii and Claremont Graduate School in the 50s. Zen Buddhism was becoming very popular. Art, music, poetry, theories in psychology were affected. In the 1960s American Zen turns from intellectual to practice as groups spring up all over. Traditional koans were translated into American idiom.
- Tibetan Buddhism also made its way to America. In 1927 the Tibetan Book of the Dead was translated into English by Evans-Wentz. Carl Jung praised the work and American scholars also took notice. Tibetan art fit right into Jungian psychology as it displayed archetypes. Thomas Merton, a trappist monk, got on well with the Dali Lama. The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and receives celebrity status here.
100 years after the World Parliament there were at least one million Buddhist Americans. The attraction for Americans can be the individualistic philosophy, self-reliance, the inclusion of women, the connection between Buddhism and psychotherapy, and the relaxing benefits of meditation. Also, there are similarities between the saving grace of Amida and that found in Judeo-Christianity.
Text: Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and Their American Disciples by Marvin Henry Harper
- Many new Eastern religions are "personality cults" centered around a charismatic figure. In this text Harper looks at nine examples. All of them have made a huge impact on the Western religious scene. The nine groups are: Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi, Upansani Baba Maharaj, Meher Baba, Sathya Sai Baba, Radhasoami, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda, and four holy mothers.
- Why are many Americans attracted to these groups? The religions are non-dogmatic, they see all religions as a valid path, they abandon dualism, they see humans as good and creative, they explain the "problem of evil," and they emphasize individual spiritual development. Many are attracted to the idea of an "expert" with a technique.
- Sai Baba of Shirdi: A Muslim teacher known for miracle work; no formal organization and no books.
- Upanasani Baba Maharaj: His guru was Sai Baba; emphasized Patanjai’s eight steps to enlightenment; he was seen as a paradox since he used vulgar language yet seemed spiritual.
- Meher Baba: His guru was Upanasani; followers were called Baba lovers; he practiced pure silence; ecumenical outlook and Vedantic teachings.
- Sathya Sai Baba: He is looked upon as Shiva and Shakti and is believed to perform miracles; he scorns secularism and materialism.
- Radhasoami: Various gurus and branches fit here; all emphasize surat shabd yoga.
- Ramakrishna: He adopted several sadhana: Tantric, Vaishnava, Vedanta; ecumenical and eclectic. Vivekananda set up mission in the US known as the Vedanta Society.
- Sri Aurobindo: Indian guru with European education (England); married to French women called Mother; he incorporates the theory of evolution and Vedanta and promotes integral yoga (a combination of karma. jnana, bhakti, raja yoga). Margaret Wilson, the daughter of President Wilson, was a disciple!
- Swami Sivananda: He started the Divine Life Society; moderation and meditation highlighted but withdrawal not promoted; ecumenical attitude. The greatest yoga was considered japa yoga; New leader is Swami Chidananda.
- Four Holy Mothers: Sara Devi was married to Ramakrishna and seen as Shakti; Ma Ananda Mayee was called Mataji (or Mother Joyous); Sri Godavari Mataji was a disciple of Upansani Baba and emphasized same teachings; Mother of Ponicherry was Mira Richards, a French women who married Aurobindo.
Text: The Cult Experience: Responding to the New Religious Pluralism by J. Gordon Melton
- Many join cults not because they are brainwashed but for many turning to cults is a healthy transition to discover and express their independence. Victor Turner’s liminal experience explains what a cult member may go through. The three stages of rites of passages and ritual participation are: separation, liminal experience devoid to structure and hierarchy, and aggregation and renewal. Perhaps the cult experience is for many like a liminal experience.
- New religions are not new per se but a new situation where traditional religious power structures are challenged. Many alternative religions are part of American history; there is a history of pluralism here with the separation of church and state and the claim of religious freedom. The growth of alternative religions in the 60s and 70s were due to urbanization and geographical mobility; the city provides anonymity and mobility means a less rooted individual.
- Non-Christian religions grew more slowly due to immigration restrictions and anti-orientalism. The gates lifted in 1965 when L.B. Johnson rescinded the immigration laws. Also, in WWII many soldiers were attracted to the new ideas they were exposed to.
- A cult deviates from traditional faith in society. There is often a charismatic leader., The first generation is most radical. Each generation alters the faith to fit the times. There are 900 difference mainline denominations in the West. In addition, there are about 600 alternative religions. Altogether there are about 300,000 members in alternative religions. While the numbers are small alternative religions are not insignificant. In the future, they will be more and more part of the mainstream, especially Eastern religions.
- There are eight families of alternative religions: Latter-Day Saints, communalists (Church of Armagedon), metaphysicians, psychic and spiritualist groups (Theosophy), ancients wisdom schools/occult, magical groups (Satanism), eastern religions (I.S.K.CON), and middle eastern groups.
- Who joins new religions? Today many urban, middle to upper class, educated young people have joined; they do not necessarily have a higher rates of crises problems than others. The appeal may be spiritual immediacy, personal contact, intense experience, group fellowship, a re-mythologizing of life, a therapeutic aspect, etc. For young people join a different religion may be a way to assert adulthood.
- Melton challenges the popular assumption that members are coerced, in a pathological state, etc. Rather, most are quite healthy; some may have a pathology but no more than those in mainline religions. And pathological leaders are found in all types of religions, even mainline ones; for example, Jim Jones comes from the mainline Disciples of Christ.
- Most who join a cult actually leave it a few months to years after they join. For the young members joining is usually a transition to adulthood. Many may need a break from a strong authoritarian family and instead of turning to drugs, prostitution, etc., many turn to a sensible tactic. Joining a cult may actually be a rational choice.
- Melton claims that a new bias exists: secularism and reductionism. When cults are criticized one may be projecting their own unacceptable qualities unto a target group.
Text: Understanding the New Religions edited by Jacob Needleman and George Baker
- There are several factors that led to new religions in America. To begin with the Puritan Revolution of William Penn promoted the idea of freedom for all. In the Enlightenment period there was contempt for intolerance. Many new religions emerged in the ante-bellum period, such as Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, etc. In the period that followed modernism became the focal point and there was a decline in religious enthusiasm. Yet, in reaction to modernity we witness the rise of fundamentalism and dispensationalistic premillenarianism. In the 1960s and 70s Americans were open to Eastern ideas and critiqued materialism. The charismatic movement also soared at this time. California leads the heterogeneous population.
- In the pre-Reformation period there was much more diversity than one may think. There was never one church but various forms of thought. Later in the Reformation period England saw itself as successor to Israel and this understanding was carried over to New England.
- There is an acceptance of religious pluralism written into the constitution with the separation of church and state in the first amendment. This amendment was shaped by 18th century Enlightenment of pietism, religious pluralism, and a Lockean political tradition. There was a total break with the European heritage since the church-state union and the post-Reformation vision of national Christianity were shattered. Vatican II helped build religious tolerance as well.
- With the rise of the US as a world power it opened eyes to other cultures and more tolerance emerged. The World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is an example of interfaith dialogue in the US. Many Christian Americans were threatened by this new religious pluralism and even the Supreme Court in the 1930s announced that "we are a Christian people." Today Christianity no longer provides the norms for the nation. American is a country of religious innovation and pluralism. Eastern religions, immigrants and missionaries have contributed to the onslaught of new religions.
- Capps argues that an academic study of religion itself contributes to the rise of new religions. Modern works introduce us to different forms of religion. (Bellah also argues that there are religious underpinnings to religious studies.) Capps argues we need a new paradigm to understand new religions. Traditional model assumes objectivity is possible, truth is available, the scientific method is accurate, there are essences to be uncovered, etc. We must realize that religious studies is creative and constructive. The way the scholar puts the material together has a huge impact; patterns and formations are encouraged. Religious Studies must move beyond the Enlightenment method (Enlightenment fundamentalism). What the new method will be is yet to be determined.
- Bellah agrees with Capps. There has been a "museumification of religion," but we should not treat religion as specimens. We must move beyond positivism. Yes, we should remain critical but not assume that we are superior to what we study. Bellah thinks we should see religious truths as symbolic and acknowledge the legitimacy of the religious view. This third approach (other than dogmatism or positivism) is essential to understand religions properly.
- Roszak fears the future of religion as we become more fragmented, secularized, and nihilistic. He sees new religions as hope for growth and health. He argues we are spiritual beings at our core and we thus need spirituality to be fulfilled. New religions generally give the modern person a new sense of self importance.
- Wuthnow argues that there has been a transition in the world order and this radically affects the religious scene. In the 19th century the British dominated the balance of power. A laissez-faire system of government and utilitarian philosophy determined the Western world economy. After WWII there was a reconstruction of the international order. The world was divided between Marxism and Utilitarianism. In response to the crises new religions emerge. Religious groups either align themselves with the new power to legitimize it or decline affiliation and splinter groups form. There is a connection between religion and a sense of national purpose. Religious orientations are related to the nation’s effort to find its place in international order. New religions are influenced by American foreign relations. After WWII there was an uncertainty of world affairs and thus we saw a rise and fall of new religions at this time. After the Cold War there was no longer the just vs. the unjust. Our present day is again in a state of transition and so new religions continue to emerge.
- Civil religion is on the decline. It is highly dualism (saved vs. domed) and morally absolutist. The erosion of the Manichean cold war absolutism has had an affect. As Wuthnow argues, a shift in the world order affects the religious scene. Unconventional religiosity today is a result of détente between cold was nations. Dualism declines as a result of détente. An example of a Manichean civil religion is Rev. Moon’s Unification Church. It is an anti-communist Manichean form of Bellah’s civil religion.
- Donald Stone claims that bias in the study of new religions is inevitable, but we can try to make our bias explicit. The classical conception of objectivity and detachment is impossible since personal preferences and value assumptions enter into study. The choice of topic, the methodology, and the interpretation affect one’s research. Collaborative research and keeping an introspection journal may help to reveal and curb bias. Also, one should ask the respondent to comment to increase confidence in the study; the reactions can be printed in an appendix. Covert research sets up wrong dynamic. And finally, one should use a variety of methods in researching a group. While reductionism should be avoided, one must be careful, however, not to "go native." Bellah opts for symbolic realism which takes seriously the cognitive symbols of the group. (However, this is a difficult method to use if the group is fundamentalist.) One can have cognitive openness without uncritical experiential participation. Maslow suggests that love for the subject can produce "taoist objectivity," that is, non-manipulative, non-interfering perceivers.
- Should be call a new religion new? Yes, if it is based on a religious form of another culture, it offers a radical shift from cultural trends, or if it offers a unique combination of the two. Can we call it a religion? Yes, if it has rituals, myths, doctrines, etc.
- Ellwood argues we need to use the diachronic approach ( emphasizing continuities in new religions and linkages with others) to understand new religions instead of the synchronic model (emphasizes short histories of the movement in its immediate institutional form). Furthermore, he calls new religions "emergent religions," they appear new and sudden but in reality there are common symbols and deep structures often with historical linkages. For example, there is a continuity between Spiritualism, Theosophy, Western Zen, etc.
Text: Hinduism Invades America by Wendell Marshall Thomas
- In 1600 the East India Co. of London ventured to India. It gradually gain control over India and after the 1858 Mutiny the government was yielded to the Crown. Three great universities (in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras) were modeled on the University of London. A modern system of manufacture and commerce with railroads, telegraphs, roads, and law courts was imposed on India. The bridge was set between the East and the West.
- Ramakrishna’s Vedanta Society became the first Hindu cult in America. Vivekananda founded it is 1894 in New York. His stress on the unity of religions and disciplines was well received. The order spread to California. In India in 1897 the Ramakrishna Mission was also established, making its concerns social issues like education, famine, the role of women, etc. Most of the Indian centers focussed on social services and relief work. All of the American centers were responsible to Ramakrishna Matha, the monastic order. Since the Indians spoke English the group easily took off on American soil. Also, the idea that Christianity was a form of Hinduism made the teachings palatable. More than an adjustment of the message is an adjustment of methods. Sunday services, newspaper notices, reading rooms, magazine and journals, paid membership classes and bulletins to colleges made Vedanta Society easily accessible.
- Yogananda came to th4 US in 1920 and set up SRF. The East-West magazine was set up to unify Hinduism and Christianity; the idea that both worship one god was emphasized. Yogananda practiced kriya yoga and moderation. He came to the US as a speaker at a Unitarian Church conference in Boston. He spoke on the "science of religion." He combined his methods with those of other American cults, like New Thought, and Christian Science (Yogananda admired the mental healing found in these groups). Many liberal Christians embraced his ideas. Yogananda published booklets, held classes, developed a magazine, had Sunday services, etc. Western holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas were celebrated. The main center was in L.A. at Mt. Washington. Unlike the Vedanta Society, SRF does extensive advertising.
- Both Vivekanada and Yogananda come to America educated (both from Calcutta) and they speak English. Here they make adjustments so the teachings fit the new environment. All religions are embraced as children of Hinduism. Deliberate attempts are made to reconcile the East and the West. The success of these groups is obvious: Americans found appealing tolerance, the cultivation of the individual, the idea that God and self are one.
- Hindu influence on Western thought: Plotinus held Hindu like ideas of mysticism. Certain mystical ideas were found in Christian theology later on. When scholars translated Sanskrit works into English Indian ideas were made available to all. Thus, Hinduism comes to the US indirectly through classic philosophy taught in US universities of higher learning and directly through American writers and poets such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. Gandhi ordered that the New Testament be read in schools. Eastern Sunday schools with Christian type songs like "Buddha loves me" appeared on the scene.
- There are many American cults of partly Hindu origins. Classic examples would be New Thought, Theosophy, Christian Science, Unity school of Christianity. The latter was founded in 1899 by Charles and Mytle Fillmore who taught an openness to all religions and a belief in reincarnation. There were many traces of Hinduism found in Western thinkers
- Christian Science, founded by Eddy, included ideas of Shankara and the Gita. While the current editions have no Hindu references the older ones do (they were withdrawn). Prior editions contain excerpts from Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Gita. Eddy was familiar with Vedanta thought and classic Gita ideas. Her friend Quimby influenced her Eastern ideas. She also draws from Transcendentalism. Bronson Alcott, a Transcendentalist, attended her services. Yogananda East-West journal looks at the connection between Hinduism and Christian Science.
- Thoreau received 44 volumes of Hindu literature from a friend and gave Emerson access to it. Emerson’s famous Song of the Soul with a Gita theme appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. Emerson’s oversoul idea had obvious Upanishadic elements.
Text: The Encyclopedia Handbook of Cults in America by J. Gordon Melton
- Most writers use the term "new religion" and not cult because cult is quite pejorative.. There are about 600 new religions today in the US. The membership is between 200,000-300,000. (There are about 1000 different Christian groups). If the alternative religion survives it tends to accommodate to mainstream society.
- Who joins cults? Mostly the upper half of the population in terms of economy and education. A lot of recruiting has occurred on University campuses. Many Jews and some Catholics (25% of those in new religions) have joined new religions. About 10% join after a recruiting event and the majority stay less than 2 years; most return to the religion they were raised in.
- By 1985 there are over 800 different Christian groups competing with each other. There are also numerous non-conventional religions (occult, Eastern, metaphysical). Bhaktivedenta founded the Hare Krishnas in New York in 1965; Yogi Bhajan founded Sikh Dharma in LA in 1968; Kirpal Singh came to the US in 1965 and Maharaj Ji in 1971. When young adults joined a group called the Children of God parents grew upset and formed Free-COG (free our children from the Children of God). CAN (Cult Awareness Network) also developed. Are cults dangerous? Melton contends that hostile reports are mainly from parents or ex-members.
- The New Age started in Great Britain via the Theosophical Society. It diverged into independent Theosophical groups with a common vision., The British teachers brought ideas to the US in 1971 via journals, etc. But there have been many precursors: Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, New Thought, Christian Science, Eastern ideas, etc. In the 1970s a leading spokesperson for the New Age was Ram Das. Marilyn Ferguson’s Aqarian Conspiracy came out in 1980 which contained classic New Age ideas. The New Age vision is the transformation of the individual and society. In the 1980s the movement experienced much growth but in the 1990s there was a decline. Why? Secular media’s criticism and the lack of signs of a New Age. Still about 20-25% of Americans accept many New Age ideas.
- Christian Science: founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1875 with a focus on mental healing and faith.
- Mormon: called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; it was founded in 1820 by Joseph Smith who is said to have had a vision of Angel Moroni. He had 27-48 wives. After being accused of molestation and jailed a mob murdered him. Brigham Young succeeded him in 1844 and married 17 wives.
- I Am Group: founded in 1930 by Guy Ballard who claimed to have met St. Germain at Mt. Shasta and was appointed a messenger for the Masters. His initial interest was Theosophy.
- Identity Movement: Anglo-Israelism which claimed to be descendents of God’s chosen people (ten lost tribes); this group is a white supremacy group equal to the KKK. The World Wide Church of God by Armstrong is similar to this group.
- Jehovah Witnesses: founded by Charles Russell in 1881; there is an expectation of the end of the world. Arius’ beliefs are supported. 144,000 will be sent to heaven and there will be a future resurrection. Evolution, the saluting the flag, observing holidays, transfusing blood are all rejected.
- Rosicrucians: symbol is the rose and the cross. There are 8 different orders in the US today. The Order was founded in 1378 by Christian Rosenkreuz, a German, who combined alchemy, cabalism, mysticism and Christian theology. Today there is a link to Theosophy with the acceptance of reincarnation, the Great White Brotherhood, astrology, etc.
- Satanism: this parody of Roman Catholicism peaked in the US in the 1980s.The Church of Satanism was founded by Anthony LaVey; there are about 1,000 members. The group argues for self-gratification and not to harm others unless they harm you. They do not recognize a real Satan figure.
- Spiritualism: a 19th century movement with Swedenborgian and Mesmerian elements. It dates back to 1848 with the Fox sisters.
- Theosophy: there are at least 100 groups in America with links to Theosophy. It was founded in 1875 by HPB, Olcott and W. Judge. When HPB died the group split with Anni Besasnt taking over in England and Judge taking over in the US. In the 1920s Krishnamurti was seen as the Avatar of the New Age but by 1929 he denounced the title. Many new religions grew out of Theosophy, such as I AM, Rosicrucians, St. Germain, etc.
- Unity Church of Christianity: New Thought was founded in 1880s by Emma Hopkins, a student of Eddy, who developed a modified Christian Science group. From Hopkins the Fillmores developed Unity School of Christianity focussing of prayer and healing. Jesus is seen as unity between God and humanity. Reincarnation and vegetarianism are accepted.
- Church of Scientology: founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1965. It emphasizes the goodness of persons and a blocked knowledge or awareness that must be cleared. The highest level is 8; one then has awareness of God and their past lives. In 1988 there are 7 million followers.
- Church Universal Triumphant: also called Summit Lighthouse. In 1952 Mark Prophet was believed to be appointed by Masters as a messenger. Jesus, Buddha, Blavatsky, etc., are seen as the Great White Brotherhood. The goal is the return the soul to "I AM." There is a belief in reincarnation, healing and the end of the world.
- Eckankar: founded by P. Twitchell in 1965. He was once a member of Sant Mat and Scientology. Twitchell declared himself as the 971 ECK Master; he was succeeded by Darwin Gross in 1971. The group has a strong connection to Sant Mat. There are about 30,000 members worldwide.
- Divine Light Mission: also called Elan Vital. When Guru Maharaj Ji’s Divine Light Mission disbanded in 1980 it was replaced with this group. The group has Sant Mat connections. There is much controversy in this group (guru’s use of money, etc.).
- Family of Love (Children of God): it started as the Jesus People under David Berg. The group allows "flirty fishing" (communal sex). The group expects the end of the word.
- Hare Krishnas: the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was developed in 1965 by Swami Prabhupada. The tradition goes back to the 16th century Bengali saint, Chaitanya.
- MSIA: founded by John Roger in 1968; group has ties to Eckankar and Sant Mat.
- Nichiren Shoshu: this group grew out of the 13th century Japanese Buddhist teacher Nichiren who promoted the Lotus Sutras and the mantra namu-myoho-renge-kyo. In 1913 the Nicheren Shoshu branch developed and came to the US after WWII. Converting is promoted.
- Rajneesh’s Osho Foundation: In 1985 Rajneesh had to dissolve his Oregon ashram; he left to India and changed his name to Osho (the Japanese name for the Enlightened One). He affirms the material and sexuality, follows a vegetarian diet and combines Western teachings of therapy and Indian philosophy. He died in 1990.
- Sikh Dharam’s 3HO: Yogi Bhajan went to Canada in 1968 and then to LA. His group utilizes kundalini yoga and meditation. Sikh five ks are enforced.
- Transcendental Meditation: founded by Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. Group received a boost from the Beatles in 1967.
- The Unification Church: Rev. Moon from Korea was the founder; it spread to the US in the 1960s. Group is anti-communist and Christian. Followers expect the second advent to come and Moon to play a role. The 1957, 76, 81 prophecies were not fulfilled. There are 5,000 members in the US today.
- The Way: A 1974 Christian group founded by Wierwille, an evangelical pastor. The group is Pentecostal but does not recognize the trinity, the divinity of Jesus (acceptance of Arius’ interpretation).
- Witchcraft and Neopaganism: this is not related to Satanism; there was a 20th century revival of the Goddess religion. Gerald Gardner, who was in Theosophy, founded it. Many groups focus on feminism. The Goddess is viewed as a Jungian archetype for many. There are 40,000 members in the US today.