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

Panel Chair: Eileen Barker |

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.

Beth Singler

When Galaxies Collide: Jediism’s Revisionism in the Face of Corporate Buyouts and Mythos ‘Retconning’

In 2001 thousands of people wrote in ‘Jedi’ for the religious question in censuses around the world. While for many this was a joke or parody, small groups of genuine believers have formed their own Jedi religion, both on and offline. This paper explores their revisionism in response to the rewriting, or ‘retconning’, of the Star Wars Universe by George Lucas, its creator, and by Disney, which bought that universe in 2012 for $4 billion. In 1999 Lucas introduced micro-organisms as the true indicators of Jedi ability. Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has led to a large reduction the size of the universe itself as the new owners make and release new films. This paper will discuss and contextualise the coping strategies of the real world Jedi in response to these changes.

Christian Uhrig

The Masters and the Many Paths – Revisionisms and Diversifications in Theosophy and Beyond

The masters of wisdom, a supposed group of supernaturally gifted men located in the Himalayas, are one of the founding myths of the Theosophical Society which was founded 1875 in New York by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (H.P.B.) and Henry Steel Olcott. H.P.B. claimed that her writings on and insights into the cosmos and deeper meaning of all things came directly from these masters. They were one of the key elements in the attraction of the Theosophical Society. Surprisingly the decline of theosophy did not cause a simultaneous decline of the belief in the masters. The various shifts, schisms and the lively scenery of modern spirituality adopted the idea and altered it remarkably. In some groups a notion of the theosophical backgrounds of the idea can be found, but more often the masters are mentioned without recognizing their origins. Also a lot more masters exist than those named in H.P.B.’s original conception. In my paper I concentrate on the reception of the concept of the masters in the Theosophical Society, the I Am Activity and Share International.

Graham Harvey

From democratized esotericism to edgy animism: revisionism among Pagans

Exemplary mid-twentieth century founders of contemporary Paganism drew significantly on the ritual repertoire of esotericism. Early Wicca and other movements within Paganism illustrate Wouter Hanegraaff’s categorization of a range of “democratized esoteric” developments. That is, they simplified the hierarchies and, perhaps, the arcana of groups like the Golden Dawn. As Wicca and other Paganisms evolved their ritual praxis became increasingly linked not merely with (romantic or esoteric) “nature” but with ecological perspectives and activities. At the turn of the millennium the term “animism” took on new resonances among some Pagans – paralleling similar linguistic changes in academia. Animism’s association with “spirits” (e.g. of trees, rocks or ancestors) diminished in favor of associations with the personhood of a larger-than-human community. Such revisions are aspects of changing Pagan origins stories which have removed claims about witchery and fertility and claimed indigenizing trajectories

Erin Prophet

Revisionism in Church Universal and Triumphant and Related Groups

Revisions of doctrine and transformations of authority in Church Universal and Triumphant (founded 1974) and The Summit Lighthouse (parent organization, founded in 1958) will be reviewed, with a focus on legitimacy, charisma and response to internal and external pressures. The review begins with definition of authority for the leaders (Mark and Elizabeth Prophet) and early members culled from groups such as the ‘I AM’ Religious Activity and the Bridge to Freedom. Both Prophets claimed Messengership, a concept which originated in the ‘I AM.’ How they negotiated the tension between their own inspiration and the individual inspiration promoted in their theology will be reviewed, along with doctrines on race and sexuality. Finally, the paper will review transitions of authority, first after the death of Mark (1973) and the retirement of Elizabeth (1999). Issues will include the routinization of charisma and the rise of new “messengers.”


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