Religious Studies | The Cult Controversy
R160 | 3711 | Stein


R160 The Cult Controversy (3 Cr.) MW 12:20-1:10 FA 015 (section 3711 plus
discussion section)(Stein)

Few categories are as inflammatory as "cults." In the popular mind, the
word "cults" conjures up images of deceit, brainwashing, financial
scandal, sexual misconduct, and violence. In this course we attempt a
critical examination of the controversial issues surrounding cults, or new
religious movements, in contemporary America.  At stake in this process is
the very definition of such groups. Are "cults" always dangerous and
destructive forces in our society? What function do such intense
dissenting religious movements play in America? Who joins new religious
movements, and why? These are some of the questions that will occupy us in
this class as we look in depth at a variety of dissenting movements and
their leaders in the United States, including Jim Jones and the Peoples
Temple, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and Marshall Applewhite and
Heaven's Gate. These communities and others--some well established on the
religious landscape, some of very short duration--provide an occasion to
examine patterns of charismatic leadership, outsider community structures
and expectations, ritual patterns among such groups, and issues
surrounding the practice of religious liberty. This class employs
lectures, video presentations, and discussion sections. Evaluation is
based principally on two quizzes and two exams.