Religious Studies | The Cult Controversy
R160 | 4123 | Stein

Religious groups labeled as “cults” evoke strong responses from a
wide variety of Americans, some influenced by their own religious
views, others informed by what they read in the media, and still
others reacting without any sense of the particular beliefs and
practices of the groups in question.  In this case we will explore
the grounds on which controversial religious organizations are
labeled in this fashion.  We will attempt to understand the problems
involved with such stereotyping.
In order to accomplish these goals we will examine a variety of
historical examples of religious communities in the American
experience which have been so labeled, including some that have
subsequently gained widespread acceptance and respectability (e.g.
Shakers, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Christian
Scientists, etc.) and others that more recently have attracted all
kinds of hostile attention and commentary (e.g. the Unification
Church, Jonestown, Waco, Heaven’s Gate, the Raelians, etc.).  This
course employs a variety of video resources that feature these
religious movements.