Topics In Religion: Cults and New Religious Movements

Course Number
RELS 501 940
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Primary Program
Course Description
The course offers a thematic introduction to the history of New Religious Movements (NRM) from the mid-19th century to the present day. Often labeled as “cults” by the state and established religious institutions, new religions offer modern believers alternative spiritual and ideological solutions to age-old problems. In this class, students will be introduced to the teachings and practices of prominent NRMs, from global movements such as Scientology, Mormonism, and Hare Krishna to lesser known groups such as the Source Family, the Church of All Worlds, and Raëlism. Main topics will include the emergence of the public discourse on cults, brainwashing, and deprogramming, the role of mass media in framing the relationship between NRMs such as the Peoples Temple and the Branch Davidians and violence, and the rise of populist cults of personality in the 21st century. In addition, we will learn how NRMs such as Wicca and the Children of God helped reshape gender roles and change mainstream views about sexuality, and explore the role played by race in shaping public perception of Asian-inspired religions such as Transcendental Meditation and the Unification Church. Throughout the semester, students will be exposed to a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, from academic articles and scholarly essays to documentaries, feature films, and TV shows.  
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