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Paperback 266 pp.
6" x 9"



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Imprint: OUP Canada

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Comprehending Cults

The Sociology of New Religious Movements, Second Edition

Lorne L. Dawson

Tackling popular misconceptions about new religious movements, Comprehending Cults summarizes, synthesizes, and assesses over 40 years of research by historians, sociologists, and psychologists. This excellent introduction to the study of new religious groups offers a balanced treatment of new movements as a source of spiritual satisfaction while confronting issues of violence, sexuality, and brainwashing within religious cults.

Readership : Second and third year undergraduate sociology of religion and new religious movement (cults) courses in religion and sociology departments.


  • "This book is undoubtedly the best introduction to New Religious Movements (NRMs) as sociological phenomena. Not only does Dawson have a gift for summarizing and evaluating the major theories, but, more importantly, he is able to provide structure and meaning to the ways in which we conceptualise the issues surrounding NRMs" -- Dr. Lorenzo DiTommaso, McMaster University

Chapter One: Why Study New Religious Movements?
The Cults in Our Midst
The Hostility Towards Cults
Box 1 They Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Responding to the Suspicions of the Public
Chapter Two: What Are New Religious Movements?
Religion and Its Continuing Significance
Churches, Sects, and Cults
Creating a Typology of Cults
Box 2 How New Religious Movements Change with Success
Chapter Three: Why Did New Religious Movements Emerge?
Asking the Right Question First
New Religious Movements as a Response to Cultural Change
Box 3 Three Models of Cult Formation
New Religious Movements as an Expression of Cultural Continuity
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Four: Who Joins New Religious Movements and Why?
The Stereotypes
Getting Involved with New Religious Movements
The Social Attributes of Those Who Join
Box 4 Why Are American Converts to New Religious Movements Disporportionately Jewish?
Some Reasons for Joining
Chapter Five: Are Converts to New Religious Movements 'Brainwashed'?
The Issue and Its Significance
The Case Against the Cults
The Case Against Brainwashing
Box 5 The Active Versus Passive Convert
Reformulating the Issues in the Brainwashing Debate
Chapter Six: Why Are New Religious Movements So Often Accused of Sexual Deviance?
Sexual Deviance and the Cults
Box 6 Child Abuse and the Social Control of NRMs
Gender Matters
Chapter Seven: Why Do Some New Religious Movements Become Violent?.
Responding to Recent 'Cult' Tragedies
Apocalyptic Beliefs
Charismatic Leadership
Social Encapsulation
Box 7 Surviving the Failure of Apocalyptic Prophecies
Concluding Remarks
Chapter Eight: What Is the Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements?
Our Skewed Perspective
Modernism and the New Religious Movements
Box 8 Factors Affecting the Success of NRMs
Postmodernism and the New Religious Movements
NRMs: Anti-modern, Modern, or Postmodern?
Concluding Remarks

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Lorne L. Dawson is a Professor of Sociology and Chair for the Department of Religious Studies, University of Waterloo.

World Religions - Willard Oxtoby
Making Sense in the Social Sciences - Margot Northey, Lorne Tepperman and Patrizia Albanese
Cults - Marc Galanter

Special Features

  • Surveys the vast literature and sets the key issues in terms of the most basic and commonly asked questions about new religious movements.
  • Takes a critical approach to media portrayals of cults and NRMs, dispelling stereotypes.
  • Treats NRMs as a source of spritual satisfaction.
New to this Edition
  • Examines NRMs as an adaptive response to the new social-psychological presures of living in late modern societies.
  • Explores why NRMs are so commonly accused of sexual deviance.
  • Analyzes controversial issues, such as the accusations of brainwashing, sexual deviance, child abuse, and the vilent behaviour of some NRMs.
  • Looks at survival of new religions after the failure of their leaders' prophecies.
  • Studies the factors that affect the success of NRMs.