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Level 6

6AAT3851 New Religious Movements in Global Perspectives

THIS MODULE IS RUNNING IN 2019-20

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Marat Shterin
Assessment: One 2,500-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This module offers you an opportunity to examine a range of New Religious Movements (NRMs), popularly known as ‘cults’ or ‘radical religious groups’ that have emerged from within and outside major religious traditions in the late modernity.  Many (but by no means all) of these movements have caused public anxieties and controversies, in particular when they are associated with psychologically harmful techniques (‘brainwashing’, ‘mind-control’), social isolation, and antagonism (‘radicalisation’). However, the module invites you to look at these issues from another perspective and explore why and with what social consequences individuals and groups attempt to change human condition through religious innovation and revitalisation.  It looks into the beliefs, practices and histories of a range of NRMs, from the Krishna Movement, Baha’i, and Pagans to the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Rastafarians to addresses issues such as conversion, authority, power, religiously motivated social experimentation, identity, and violence. Finally, you will have a chance to examine how competing understandings of controversial minority religions shape are  shaped by societal attitudes, mass media, law and public policy.

Sample Topics

  • Cults or New Religions: definitions, incidence, and methods of study
  • Conversion or Brainwashing?
  • Authority and Dependence in New Religions
  • How do New Religions Change?
  • New Religions, Cults, and Violence
  • New Religions and Identity
  • New Religions and the Self: New Age and Human Potential Movements
  • New Religions, Power, and Gender Roles: Contemporary Paganism
  • New Religions and the Wider Society: controversies, law, government and public policy.

Past syllabus

Please find syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16. Please be aware that the content of the syllabus will differ each academic year.

Preliminary / suggested reading

  • E. Barker, New Religious Movements: A practical Introduction, HMSO (1989)
  • Lorne Dawson, Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements,  Oxford: OUP (1998 or later editions).

Further information

Module aims
  • to examine the controversial subject of the rise and impact of New Religious Movements focusing on the global character of this phenomenon
  • to ask if the rise of New Religious Movements points to a revival of the sacred or whether it is further proof of increasing secularisation.
  • to investigate the issue of New Religious Movements and violence and the reasons for the generally hostile response of society at large to these movements
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • Develop knowledge of theoretical and ethnographic approaches to the study of religion
  • Develop the ability to evaluate empirical evidence regarding controversial social phenomena application in a sound analytical perspective
  • Raise awareness of how important public policy issues can be addressed through academic research

Module specific skills

  • To examine the theoretical and empirical questions that have emerged following the global rise of new religiosity and New Religious Movements
  • To develop critical skills and methodologically sound approaches to the study of new religious phenomena
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