Religious Studies | The Cult Controversy
R160 | 3855 | Stein

This course provides an opportunity to examine the controversial
issues surrounding New Religious Movements (a.k.a. "cults") in
contemporary America.  At stake in this process is the definition and
understanding of such alternative religious movements.  Few religious
categories are more inflammatory today.  For many Americans, the word
"cult" conjures up images of deceit, coercion, financial scandal,
sexual misconduct, and violence.  Are New Religious Movements
dangerous and destructive forces in our society?  What functions do
such dissenting religious groups play in America?  Who joins such
groups, and why?  These are a few of the questions asked in this
course which looks at a variety of such religious movements and their
leaders, including the Peoples Temple and Jim Jones, the Branch
Davidians and David Koresh, and Heaven's Gate and Marshall Applewhite.
These communities and others—some well established on the religious
landscape, some of very short duration—provide an occasion to examine
patterns of religious leadership, beliefs, lifestyles, organizational
structures, and rituals in such movements.  This course employs
lectures, video presentations, and discussion sections.  Evaluation is
based on two quizzes, two exams, one short paper, and participation in
discussion sections.