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Children in New and Minority Religions: Questions and Cases

Panel Chair: Liselotte Frisk | Thursday, August 27, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Growing up in a minority or new religion is a subject which has been much discussed during the last few years. Fears have been expressed about potential harm to children of parents who are members in different religious groups. Naturally, the conditions for children in minority religions vary a lot depending on the religious group in question and also depending on the parents´ kind of engagement. This panel investigates some of the questions and special conditions for children growing up in some minority religions.

Susan Palmer

Children in New Religions: The Question of Harm

The presence of children in so-called “cults” is a controversial issue. They are often portrayed in the media and anticult literature as underprivileged and uneducated captives, or victims of medical neglect, forced labour and psychological, physical or sexual abuse. Questions of religious indoctrination/conversion and “individual choice” are often raised. Drawing on data collected through fieldwork in contemporary NRMs and from reading memoires by second generation members of utopian communes, this study focuses on examples from Ecoovie, the Anthill Kids, the Solar Temple, the Oneida Community, the Gurdjieff movement and other spiritual communities. This paper addresses the question of whether, and under what doctrinal, ritual and social conditions, children growing up in new, unconventional religions might be exposed to various dangers or disadvantages.

Liselotte Frisk

Growing Up in Controversial Minority Religions: Constructions of Childhoods

This paper discusses patterns and structures in different constructions of childhoods in some controversial minority and new religions. The study is based on life story interviews with young adults who grew up in religious groups such as the Church of Scientology, The Unification Church, Jehovah´s Witnesses, and Knutby Filadelfia in Sweden. The sample consists of interviewees who decided to join the religious groups of their parents, as well as those who decided not to. The method used is that of narrative analysis.

Sanja Nilsson

"She sees the smallest ones ...": Children´s Construction of Love and Longing for the Charismatic Leader in Knutby Filadelfia, Sweden

Knutby Filadelfia is a Christian congregation of approximately 85 members residing outside Uppsala, Sweden. The group became publicly known in January 2004 when a pastor allegedly persuaded a young female member to shoot two other members, one of whom died. The perpetrator of the crime was under the impression that she acted according to God’s will. The murdered member’s sister, pastor Åsa M Waldau, called “the bride of Christ” by the media, has a unique position as the group´s charismatic leader. Since 2008, Waldau has gone into seclusion, leaving her post as pastor as a result of the media coverage. Her role in the congregation is still, however, of great importance. This presentation aims at describing the children in the congregation with special focus on how they perceive their relation to Waldau, and argues that her role as a charismatic leader was enhanced by her withdrawal from the group.

Peter Åkerbäck

Children without Original Sin: The Perception of Children in the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification

The Family Federation is a firmly established and internationally well-known new religious movement. Since its start in the mid-1950s the group has developed into a denomination that stresses the importance of the nuclear family and children. Even though the group has been studied from a number of interesting points there are few studies of the upbringing and socialization of the groups’ children. Internationally, it has been difficult to find any substantial material produced by the movement that addresses child rearing. However, the Swedish movement has produced an extensive material for use in the teaching of children. This paper aims to present this material in order to investigate how the group is socializing its children into its teachings and how to be a good citizen. The material has also been complemented with interviews with young adults growing up within the movement who have had firsthand experience of these teachings.


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