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New Religious Movements and violence


Melton, Bromley: Challenging Misconceptions about the New Religions Violence ... myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: New Religious Movements and violence

New Religious Movements and violence
  • 08.04.2004

  • Melton, Bromley Challenging Misconceptions about
    the New Religions Violence Connection (in
    Bromley and Melton 2002)
  • Robbins Source of Volatility in Religious
    Movements (in Bromley and Melton 2002)

Discussion topics
  • Types of violence involving NRMs
  • NRMs against themselves
  • NRMs vs society
  • Society/Community against NRMs
  • Theorizing violence and NRMs
  • Factors
  • Endogenous vs exogenous
  • Social psychological explanations
  • Criticism of NRM-violence link

Types of violence involving NRMs
  • NRMs against themselves
  • world-rejecting cults
  • mass suicides
  • NRMs vs society
  • Reformative/transformative/revolutionary NRMs
  • Society/Community against NRMs
  • Anti-cult movements
  • Society / dominant religion
  • eg. Catholicism in Mexico
  • NRMs against NRMs
  • extreme religous fragmentation
  • few religions with rather large following

NRMs against themselves
  • Mass suicides
  • Martyrdom
  • The idea rooted in Christianity and Islam
  • Christianity
  • losing one's life at the hands of non-believers
  • because of one's religious beliefs or practices
  • Suicide
  • Accepted only when saving another life
  • Durkheim Suicide
  • Islam
  • suicide bomber
  • a misnomer
  • a form of "struggle
  • Not a violation of Islamic law

Peoples Temple (Jonestown)
  • November 18, 1978
  • mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana
  • Members of Peoples Temple Christian Church
  • 914 people dead, 276 of them children
  • Including James (Jim) Warren Jones
  • following a killing of Congressman Leo Ryan

The Movement for the Restoration of Ten
Commandments of God
  • Uganda
  • Led by Joseph Kibwetere
  • 2000
  • Mass suicide
  • Up to 1000 (?) members burnt alive

Heavens Gate
  • Bo and Peep UFO Cult
  • HIM ("human individual metamorphosis)
  • Founded in 1975
  • by Do and Ti (aka Bo and Peep)
  • Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles
  • 1997
  • the Hale-Bopp comet
  • spaceship hiding behind the comet
  • would take souls to heaven
  • mass suicide in San Diego, CA (39 dead)
  • castration
  • drinking of citrus juices
  • bodies covered neatly with purple blankets
  • wearing brand new Nike sneakers

Order of the Solar Temple
  • OTS the Cross and the Rose The Solar Temple
  • started by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret in
    1984 in Geneva
  • myth of the continuing existence of the Knights
  • influence by New Age philosophy, Christianity,
    Rosicrucians and Freemasonry
  • Mission
  • to save the spiritual heritages of Earth and take
    it to Sirius
  • Various mass suicides in Switzerland, France and
  • 1994-97
  • Victims
  • drugged
  • in ceremonial robes lying in a circle
  • Farewell letters
  • to escape the "hypocrisies and oppression of this

Branch Davidians
  • February 28, 1993
  • compound at Mount Carmel in Waco
  • raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
    Firearms (BATF)
  • suspected of firearms violations
  • six Davidians and four BATF agents die
  • FBI siege for 51 days
  • April 19, 1993
  • compound attacked with tanks
  • Koresh and 75 of his followers die (including 21
  • Suicide?

NRMs vs society
  • Types of organizations
  • revolutionary cults
  • transformative cults
  • Violence as explicit agenda
  • Aum Shinrikyo
  • Boxer Rebellion
  • Violence as implicit agenda
  • Ghost Dance
  • Cargo cults
  • Nation of Islam
  • Religion as means/cover for political agenda
  • Al Qaeda, Taleban

Manson Family
  • Charles Milles Manson
  • 1967 San Francisco
  • a group of followers ("the family")
  • convinced in a race war and nuclear attack
  • the Book of Revelations
  • a series of murders
  • eg. attempts on Gerald Ford
  • sentenced to death - life imprisonment

Society/Community against NRMs I
  • Pressure by anti-cult movements
  • Mind control and brainwashing
  • Accusations against leaders
  • wealth and greed
  • political ambitions as real agenda
  • satisfaction of lust for power
  • insincerity
  • Margaret Singer
  • Cults in Our Midst The Hidden Menace in Our
    Everyday Lives (1995)
  • mind-control as part of her definition of

Society/Community against NRMs II
  • Pressure by dominant religion
  • eg. Catholics vs NRMs in rural Mexico
  • Reasons
  • Non-participation in communal activities
  • Tequio, cargo system, fiestas
  • Lack of patriotism
  • Jehovahs Witnesses
  • Proselytizing, preaching, loud services
  • Pentecostals
  • Construction of a church
  • institutionalization of non-Catholic faith
  • More tolerance towards groups w/o a church
  • (non-Catholic faith)
  • Non-Catholic faith as foreign

Society/Community against NRMs III
  • Six levels of violence
  • simple division
  • verbal attacks and mutual criticism
  • exemption of communal rights
  • physical aggression
  • expulsions
  • homicide
  • Case
  • Apostolicos of San Juan Yaee

Society/Community against NRMs IV
  • verbal attacks and criticism
  • Most common
  • Catholics - non-Catholics
  • communal / nationalist criticism
  • They bring other ideas and money of other
    nations. They are influenced by other nations,
    these are not their own proper ideas.
  • I believe that these Evangelicals are paid to
    be of their religion. I have heard that they are
    paid 7,000 pesos each. This money comes from the
    United States. Here they come with their Bible
    but what do they eat, where do they get their

Society/Community against NRMs V
  • Non-Catholics - Catholics
  • religious criticism
  • gendered
  • Saints
  • You shall not make yourself a carved image or
    any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth
    beneath or in the waters under the earth you
    shall not bow down to them or serve them.
    Exodus (20 4-5)
  • When I go to a Catholic Church, which of these
    ten wooden figures would explain my existence?
    None of them. (Adventist)
  • Religious ignorance
  • They are very ignorant of the word of God, they
    know only what they are told and do not read the
    Bible themselves. (Pent.)
  • Catholicism is based on traditions and customs,
    they follow them only because their parents did
    so and there is no progress. (Pent.)

Society/Community against NRMs VI
  • Idolatry, lifestyle, customs
  • They have their saints, one day one, the other
    day another and consequently every day is a
    fiesta. (Adv.)
  • From the Church they go to the baile dancing
    party and from the baile to the Church God
    does not like this. (I de D)
  • all Catholicism is customs. We, Christians, do
    not participate in customs, we are different.
  • Catholics are adulterers, fornicators, thieves,
    drunkards. We are clean. If a Jehovahs Witness
    does something bad, he is expelled from the
    group. He is not talked to until he repents.
    That is why we are different. (JW)

Theorizing violence / NRMs I
  • immediate explanations
  • criminological
  • psychological
  • criminological
  • brainwashing and mind control
  • manipulation by leaders
  • psychological
  • insanity/psychopathology of leaders
  • autoritarian, narcissistic
  • problematic personality type of the followers
  • prone to violence under certain circumstances
  • culture and personality school in anthropology

Theorizing violence / NRMs II
  • exogeneous factors
  • hostility, persecution experienced by the group
  • endogenous factors (cultural social)
  • apocalypticism / millennialism
  • catastrophic vs progressive millennialism
    (Wessinger 1999)
  • charismatic leadership
  • Challenges facing religious leaders
  • routinization of charisma
  • internal competition
  • Various strategies
  • deviance amplification
  • Changes in doctrines, policies, physical location
  • Demonization of enemies

Social psychological explanations
  • peoples behaviour in groups
  • 1) normative dissonance
  • 2) groupthink
  • 3) shift-to-risk

Normative dissonance
  • Normal circumstances
  • interplay of inconsistent norms, values and
    conceptions of reality
  • flexibility, compromise, continuous negotiation
  • NRMs
  • total commitment of members
  • by reduction of
  • moral ambiguity or ambivalence
  • low tolerance towards normative dissonance
  • vulnerable and easily disrupted
  • normative homogeneity leads to more violence

  • term by Janis (1972)
  • study of political fiascos of faulty
  • eg. support to the invasion of Cuba in 1961
  • people under pressure
  • susceptible to defective patterns of decision
  • Common scenario
  • each individual wants the approval of all the
  • no one raise controversial issues
  • no one questions weak arguments

  • individuals
  • in groups
  • more inclined towards risky behaviour
  • than on their own
  • snowball effect
  • radicalization of views

Criticism of NRM-violence link
  • Exaggerations about NRMs violence
  • accusations in brain-washing, child abuse
  • violence seldom an explicit policy of NRMs
  • usually an aberrant behaviour
  • Statistically normal
  • cult violence not more common than any crime
  • Religious violence not uncommon in historical
  • child molestation in Catholic Church
  • violence between world religions
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