UNDERSTANDING THE NEW RELIGIONS by Jacob & George Baker--Eds. Needleman


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A tolerable specimen of that dismal genre, the published proceedings of an academic convention--in this case the National Conference on the Study of New Religious Movements in America, held at Berkeley in June, 1977. Note the ""on the Study of"": most of the twenty-five papers in this collection are not so much concerned with the new religions themselves as with their impact on theology and other scholarly disciplines. This leads to a great deal of talk about methodology, to essays with titles like ""On Knowing How We Know About the New Religions ' and ""Researching a Fundamentalist Commune."" The non-specialist will find this dreary going, and a few of the pieces, especially the silly maundering article by radical feminist Emily Culpepper, would try anyone's patience. But there are some bright spots. In the Introduction, Jacob Needleman speaks movingly of his personal quest for truth as a professor of philosophy. Theodore Roszak tellingly attacks the divorce of ethics from ecstasy in secular humanism, and looks to the new religions as welcome symptoms of a rejection of modern man's guilt and self-loathing. Robert Bellah sees religious studies as a form of religion, as an attempt to reach what Paul Ricoeur calls ""second naivete,' a position that transcends the critical assault on religion and returns to the ""inexhaustible depth of meaning"" in religious symbols. Harvey Cox pointedly compares the mainline churches' attitudes to the new religions with older forms of bigotry. And so on. All told, a fairly dull show, but students of religion will find parts of it rewarding.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1978
Publisher: Seabury