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Revisionisms and Diversifications in New Religious Movements (1/2)

Panel Chair: Eileen Barker | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

New religious movements tend to start their lives with a number of unequivocal statements, not only of a theological nature but also about the world and appropriate behaviours for the believer. Yet these apparently inalienable Truths and their interpretation frequently become revised, "adjusted" or selectively adapted by different believers. This panel explores different ways in which, as new religions develop, stagnate, fade away, or abruptly ceased to exist, certain orthodoxies and practices have, for one reason or another, been dropped or radically altered. Sometimes such changes are adapted by only a section of the movement, resulting in schism.

Eileen Barker

The Changing Ways and Means and Beliefs of New Religious Movements

Concentrating primarily, but not exclusively, on the Unification Church (the ‘Moonies’), the Children of God/The Family International, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and the ‘Exclusive Brethren’, this paper will compare ways in which these and other new religious movements have changed their beliefs and practices as a result both of inevitable demographic changes (such as the death of charismatic leaders, the ageing of converts and the arrival or second and subsequent generations) and other internal dynamics (such as failed prophecies), and of external pressures (such as attention from governments, the so-called anti-cult movements and the media) and general external changes, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of the Internet.

Gordon Melton

Revisionism in the New Age Movement

Significant change in the belief/practice of religious movements can be attributed to a variety of agents both internal (leadership changes, fresh revelation) and external (social pressure, failed expectations). The New Age movement inadvertently set itself up for change by erecting beliefs on falsifiable claims capable of refutation by both the nonappearance of predicted events and scientific research. Such claims within the New Age movement of the 1980s included broad predictions of social change (the coming of a New Age) as well as particular changes such as the many predictions made by channelers or the claims of vast power stored in crystals for healing. By the end of the 1980s, however, the falsification of a spectrum of New Age claims resulted in a host of revisions of its beliefs, a massive loss of credibility, and ultimately the end of the New Age Movement.

Eugene Gallagher

The Prophetic Paradigm and Revisionism in New Religious Movements

Many new religious movements in the 20th and 21st centuries have not only been founded by individuals who claimed prophetic status but they have also seen challenges to leadership based on claims to prophetic inspiration. Appeal to prophetic authority is one of the most prominent causes of revisionism and diversification in new religions. Using the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, particularly the Davidians and Branch Davidians, and Satanism as a baseline, this paper will also investigate innovation within the Satanic tradition, focusing on Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set, and the LDS tradition, concentrating on the contemporary Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ founded by Matthew Philip Gill. Analysis will focus on how each group negotiates the tension between proclaiming dramatic innovation and retaining continuity with a parent group. It will argue that each new group draws on a “prophetic paradigm” incorporated most evidently in the Christian scriptures.

Massimo Introvigne

"The Sounding Cosmos" Revisited: Kandinsky, the Theosophical Tradition and Religious/Artistic Innovation

Prominent artists' association with new religious movements was once regarded as disreputable, and revisionist accounts of the career of painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) were produced, where his association with the Theosophical Society, Anthroposophy and other alternative religious traditions was downplayed or edited out. In 1970, however, Finnish historian Sixten Ringbom (1935-1992) published his influential book The Sounding Cosmos, where he argued that Kandinsky's artistic innovation was crucially influenced by the Theosophical Society's esoteric tradition. In fact, so influential was the book that a new historical revisionism gradually emerged, making Theosophy the main if not the sole interpretive key for most of Kandinsky's innovations. Recent studies and exhibitions show an evolution toward a more balanced approach, identifying the esoteric tradition, including Theosophy, as one source among others of those innovations of Kandinsky that effectively created the modern concept of abstract art.


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