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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


New Religious Movements

 The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions edited by James R. Lewis (Prometheus) Surpassing the scope and the thoroughness of the first edition, this new edition of The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions is the most wide‑ranging and accessible resource on the historically significant and more obscure, sinister, and bizarre religious groups, from the early days of alternative spirituality to the currently practicing sects. Including many entries by scholarly specialists, this volume explains more than 1,000 diverse groups and movements, from such well‑known sects as the Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrikyo, and Heaven's Gate, to obscure groups like Witches International and the Nudist Christian Church of the Blessed Virgin Jesus. In addition to an exhaustive index ‑r and handy cross‑references, the second edition includes over 100 new topical entries on subjects relevant to understanding sectarian movements, from snake‑handling and satanic ritual abuse to brainwashing and exorcism.

This book, a must for all libraries and schools, will endure as the first and only point of reference for researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in fringe religious groups.

 This reference provides a useful snapshot of a wide variety of new religions, mostly in the USA. There are approximately 1,000 religious groups represented in this volume, ranging from small churches with less than a hundred members like Kailas Shugendo and the Chishti Order of America to organizations such as the Assemblies of God and the Mormans that number in the millions. Most entries are relatively short. The more controversial religions, as well as religious groups that have had a high profile lately, receive more lengthy treatments. Also included are entries on broader religious movements such as the New Age and the Charismatic Movement. Some of the longer entries are signed, although no affiliations or credentials are supplied for the authors. For the second edition many of the entries have been updated but many of the smaller groups that no longer exist, information is carried forward without adequate revision. Given the volatility of small new religions there is no surprise here. Foe example the entry for Kailas Shugendo, a small group (never more than 35 members and associates that thrived in the San Francisco circa 1967-1980) became disassociated from Buddhism, and the founder, who probably wrote the entry himself, declared himself a Russian Orthodox Bishop some 6 to 7 years before his death. The group still exists but as a private collective involved in cottage industry. I am in sympathy with the editor who tried to track down these groups using the phone book and public mail. The introduction offers a balanced enough account discussing the connotations of the terms cult, sect, and new religion, elucidating that they were used in his title because "they represent the most commonly used terms for non-mainstream religious groups." The introduction does not specifically address how the included groups were chosen and why others were left out, except that all are "non-mainstream." Emphasis is on the U.S., although some non-U.S. groups are included, such as Aum Shinrikyo and Wiccan Church of Canada. Starting with the Aaronic Order, an offshoot of the Mormon Church, and ending with Zion's Order, Inc. (also of Mormon derivation), the book covers a very broad range of organizations. Gnostic, Theosophist, Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Native American, New Age, and occult groups are profiled. Examples of entries include channeling movement, Druids, Hare Krishna movement, Hasidism, Heaven's Gate, Salvation Army, Satanism, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and Voodoo.

Each major article to some degree outlines the history of the group, its founders and leaders, its main teachings, and an approximate number of followers or congregations. The explanations are clearly written, interesting and understandable, without too much scholarly jargon. There are a number of pictures, most provided by the religious groups. There is a table of contents, but no cross-references though the new index is useful. Alternative name and historic information is pretty hit and miss. There is nothing to direct the reader searching for Nation of Islam to American Muslims (which the entry claims is the current name), or to link names like Jim Jones and Herbert W. Armstrong to the entries for People's Temple and Worldwide Church of God. There is a 67-page bibliography of books, pamphlets, and periodicals. A few entries included Web addresses, but none are in the bibliography. The advantage of this volume is that it does include especially small groups that have otherwise fallen through the cracks of reliable data. Much of the information was supplied by the groups themselves.

New Age Religion Soviet Style

What happens when an atheist sees an angel? Or dreams about something which then happens in reality? Many people brought up as `atheists' in the former USSR and Mongolia report such experiences but do not know how to interpret then. Now they are also asking questions of a `spiritual' nature about the meaning of life and whether or not there is a life after death. In trying to answer these questions, people are beginning to turn either to traditional religions such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or `paganism', or else to various `new' religions and `New Age' groups and ideas. To some extent the search for a religious identity can also be an attempt to find their `roots' by rediscovering some of the lost elements of their cultures.

Tausha: The Life and Teaching of a Russian Mystic by Ilia Beliaev, Foreword by Stephen Larson shows how this turn began during the decline of the Soviet Union in now St. Petersburg. Tausha is the factual account of the brief life and mystical teachings of a Russian mystic and healer, channeler during the 1980s, told by a disciple now living in the USA. Presenting fascinating and original spiritual teachings, is suspenseful and intriguing story about a small group of spiritual seekers during the last decade of the Soviet Union. It offers insight into the famous "psychic discoveries behind the iron curtain" and the KGB's nefarious involvement with paranormal phenomena. Its strange tale unfolds during the final decade of the Soviet regime, evoking the struggles of people seeking esoteric knowledge. Beliaev’s weaves the teachings of the charismatic Tausha with his own understanding of the mystical challenges facing our world today. This document should be especially important for those attempting to grasp the massive spiritual revival that is taking place in former Soviet Union states.

UNDERSTANDING NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS by John A. Saliba ($18,00, paper, 240 pages, notes, index, Eerdmans, ISBN: 0-8028-4226-7)

New religious movements—or "cults," as they are often and pejoratively called—are constantly in the news. Few books from a Christian background are anything but hostile to the vast expansion of these new ways of expressing religious sentiment. But UNDERSTANDING NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS is different. John A. Saliba, who has been writing on new religious movements since 1976, here offers a dispassionate, balanced analysis of new religions.

After opening with a broad overview of the new religious movements in contemporary Western culture and critically examining the various definitions and generalized features commonly applied to such movements, Saliba surveys a few select religious movements that have appeared throughout the history of the West— Gnosticism, the Cathars, the Flagellants, the Ranters, the Shabbatean Movement, and Mormonism. In the main body of the book Saliba examines new religious movements from a variety of perspectives—sociological, psychological, legal, and theological. Readers encounter such groups as the Hare Krishna movement, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, and the Unification Church. Finally, Saliba offers principles and practical suggestions to psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors who may be called on to advise cult and ex-cult members and their families.

This volume is a serious study of interest to anyone who has contact with new religious movements or who seeks to understand the underlying motivations that may lead people to join them.

JOHN A. SALIBA, S.J., is professor of religious studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. He recently took part in a three-year study of new religious movements conducted for the Vatican by the International Federation of Catholic Universities, and he has written Two major bibliographies on the new religious movements, Psychiatry and the Cults and Social Science and the Cults.

CHANTING DOWN BABYLON: The Rastafari Reader edited by Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, William David Spencer, and Adrian Anthony McFarlane (457 pp. Temple University, $69.95 cloth Press ISBN 1566395836; $29.95 PAPER ISBN 1566395844) An Afro Caribbean religious and cultural movement that sprang from the streets of Kingston, Jamaica in the 1930s, today Rastafari has dose to one million adherents. The basic message of Rastafarithe dismantling of all oppressive institutions and the liberation of humankind even has strong appeal to nonbelievers who are captivated by reggae music, the lyrics, and the "immortal spirit" of its enormously popular practitioner, Bob Marley. Probing into Rastafari’s still evolving belief system, political goals, and cultural expression, the contributors to this volume emphasize the importance of African history and the Caribbean context. "Long before the term ‘Afrocentricity’ came into popular use in the United States, Jamaican Rastafarians had embraced the concept as the most important recipe for naming their reality and reclaiming their black heritage in the African diaspora."

Introduction to the Rastafarian Phenomenon, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell

Part 1. Ideology and the Cultural Context
1. Dread "I" In a Babylon: Ideological Resistance and Cultural Revitalization, Ennis B. Edmonds 2. Rastas’ Psychology of Blackness, Resistance, and Somebodiness, Clinton Hutton and Nathaniel Samuel Murrell 3. Rastafari and the Exorcism of the Ideology of Racism and Classism in Jamaica, Barry Chevannes 4. Gender and Family Relations in Rastafari: A Personal Perspective, Maureen Rowe 5. Rastawoman as Rebel. Case Studies in Jamaica, Imani M. Tafari Ama 6. The Epistemological Significance of "I-am-I’ as a Response to Quasbie and Anancyism in Jamaican Culture, Adrian Anthony McFarlane

Part II. Roots and Historical Impact
7. African Dimensions of the Jamaican Rastafarian Movement, Neil J. Savishinsky 8. Marcus Garvey and the Early Rastafarians, Continuity and Discontinuity, Rupert Lewis 9. Who is Haile Selassie? His Imperial Majesty in Rasta Voices, Eleanor Wint in consultation with members of the Nyabingi Order 10. The Rasta-Selassie-Ethiopian Connections, Clinton Chisholm 11. Chanting Down Babylon Cluter-national: The Rise of Rastafari in Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, Frank Jan van Dijk 12. Chanting Down Babylon in the Belly of the Beast. The Rastafari Movement in Metropolitan United States, Randal L. Hepner 13. Personal Reflections on Rastafari in West Kingston in the 1950s, George Eaton Simpson

Part III. Back-O-Wall to Hollywood, The Rasta Revolution through the Arts
14. From Burru Drums to Reggae Ridims: The Evolution of Rasta Music, Verena Record 15. Bob Marley: Rasta Warrior, Roger Steffens 16. Chanting Change around the World through Rasta Ridim and Art, William David Spencer 17. Towering Babble and Glimpses of Zion: Recent Depictions of Rastafari in Cinema, Kevin Aylmer

Part IV. Religion: Livity, Hermeneutics, and Theology
18. Discourse on Rastafarian Reality, Rex Nettleford 19. The Black Biblical Hermeneutics of Rastafari, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell and Lewmi Williams 20. The Structure and Ethos of Rastafari, Ennis B. Edmonds 21. The First Chant. Leonard Howell’s The Promised Key, with commentary by William David Spencer 22. Rastafari’s Messianic Ideology and Caribbean Theology of Liberation, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell and Burchell K. Taylor

Appendices A. An Interview with Professor Leonard Barrett, Indego Bethea, Michael Bruny, and Adrian McFarlane B. Who Is Who in the Rasta Academy: A Literature Review in Honor of Leonard Barrett, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell

 BOB MARLEY: Songs of Freedom by Adrian Boot, Chris Salewicz, Rita Marley ($19.95, paperback, 288 pages, Penguin Studio, ISBN: 0140244131) Rising from humble beginnings yet guided by his talent and an inborn mysticism, Bob Marley became an international figure who helped to introduce the music of Jamaica to the world and, with it, his own metaphysical message, "One World, One Love." The force of his personality, his music, his message, and his tragic and too early demise in 1981 at the age of thirty-six all established him in the firmament of individuals whose brief time on earth left the most lasting of legacies behind them.

Created with the cooperation of Marley’s family and friends, Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom is the story of Marley’s life and music, beginning with his birth in Trench Town, Jamaica, and chronicling his rise to the pinnacle of his popularity. A deeply loving, private man, Bob Marley possessed a poet’s understanding of life. Songs of Freedom reveals the gentleness, humor, and charisma of this unusual performer, as well as the sources of inspiration behind his songs. Included here are in-depth discussions of each album and recording session, descriptions of life on the road, and all the events Surrounding the world tours. It is also the story of The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, and, later, Family Man and Carlton Barrett, Wire Lindo, A] Anderson, Tyrone Downie, Seeco Patterson, junior Marvin, Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths as well as of Rastafarianism and Jamaica itself.

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