Mystics and Messiahs

Mystics and Messiahs : Cults and New Religions in American History

3.54 (74 ratings by Goodreads)
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Are religious fringe movements a recent phenomenon in American history? Are widespread fears of mass suicides, sexual abuse, and brainwashing in cults justified? Do marginalized religious groups play any positive role in American spiritual life? Do the panics over such groups follow any discernible pattern? Phillip Jenkins gives fascinating-and surprising-answers to these and many other questions in Mystics and Messiahs, the first full account of cults and anti-cult scares in American history. Jenkins shows that, contrary to popular belief, cults were by no means an invention of the 1960s. In fact, most of the frightening images and stereotypes surrounding fringe religious movements are traceable to the mid-nineteenth century when Mormons, Freemasons, and even Catholics were vehemently denounced for supposed ritualistic violence, fraud, and sexual depravity. As Charles Ferguson observed in 1928, "America has always been the sanctuary of amazing cults." But America has also been the home of an often hysterical anti-cult backlash. Jenkins provides an insightful new analysis of why cults arouse such fear and hatred both in the secular world and in mainstream churches, many of which-Baptists, Quakers, Pentecostals, and Methodists-were themselves originally regarded as cults. Most importantly, Jenkins argues that an accurate historical perspective is urgently needed if we are to avoid the kind of catastrophic confrontation that occurred in Waco or the ruinous prosecution of imagined Satanic cults in the 1980s. While not ignoring genuine instances of aberrant behavior, Mystics and Messiahs goes beyond the vast edifice of myth, distortion, and hype to reveal the true characteristics of religious fringe movements and why they inspire such fierce more

Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 154.94 x 228.6 x 25.4mm | 430.91g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0195145968
  • 9780195145960
  • 1,085,214

Review quote

"Serious and important"-Library Journal "Loaded with intriguing sketches of dozens of cults and distinguished by Jenkins' healthily nonjudgemental attitude, this is a superb historical primer on what, tomorrow, may be a hot topic again."-Booklist "A fascinating look at the importance of the religious fringe in American life. Jenkins argues convincingly that cults and new religions are significant social and cultural contributors to the healthy development of society.... A fresh and thoughtful analysis that sheds much-needed light on an often overheated phenomenon."-Kirkus Reviews "This study offers sweeping cultural breadth and fresh insights into the role of new religions, though it remains to be seen whether Jenkins's prediction of a cult resurgence around 2010 will pan out."-Publishers Weekly "Philip Jenkins has provided a vital historical perspective to the contemporary conflict between new religious groups and those who condemn them as cults that destroy spiritual and moral values. It is a conflict that has persisted through the twentieth century, with roots as far back as the Reformation era of the sixteenth century, and is likely to continue many decades into the future. His research forces all of us to reexamine the price we pay for the freedoms we enjoy, both in our allowance of the creative ferment of new divergent faiths that erode attachments to stable institutions, and in our tolerance of widespread critique of the unfamiliar that ranges from the rational to the bigoted."-J. Gordon Melton, editor of The Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America "An innovative, engaging portrait of recent American religious history that transposes traditional conceptions of foreground and background. Jenkins places religious movements, usually treated as peripheral, front and center. He demonstrates that religious movements have always been a primary source of religious vitality and of what ultimately becomes mainstream tradition. Organized outrage and panic at the challenges posed by these movements are an equally integral part of our tradition. His portrait compels us to see ourselves as representing both traditions and the contemporary cult wars as just the latest cultural rendering of a very ancient theme."-David Bromley, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth Universityshow more

About Philip Jenkins

Phillip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University and the author of Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Social Crisis (OUP). He lives in University Park, more

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74 ratings
3.54 out of 5 stars
5 11% (8)
4 46% (34)
3 35% (26)
2 3% (2)
1 5% (4)
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