In this course students will become acquainted with the latest research on new religions. We will divide equal attention to institutionalised movements (or ‘cults’) such as Scientology, the Raëlian movement and Wicca (modern Witchcraft) and non-institutionalised alternative forms of spirituality and therapy (‘New Age’). We shall approach these movements from two angles. From a comparative study-of-religion perspective we will look closely at the beliefs and practises of the various new religions, ask such questions as how they legitimise themselves, and seek to locate them within the history of religion. From a sociological perspective we will look at the social profile of those who joins, compare the formal institutionalisation of new religious movements with the loose organisation of the holistic milieu, and consider phenomena such as conversion and spiritual seeking. The course facilitates interaction with the empirical field in various ways: we hope to be able to visit a religious movement and/or to organise a small symposium with guest speakers. The final paper will be based on a visit at a local Mind, Body, Spirit fair.
After successfully completing this course,
• students have obtained knowledge about the ideas, practices and history of a number of new religions.
• students have developed their skills at critical analysis of religious claims, including legitimisation strategies and self-images of new religions.
• students know and understand the most important study-of-religion and sociological concepts and theories about new religions and alternative spirituality.
• students can independently apply those concepts and theories to second-hand and self-collected empirical material.
Mode of instruction
Most classes will take the form of interactive lectures. It is taken for granted that students appear well-prepared in class. Two classes will be used for an excursion and a small symposium with guest lectures respectively.
The final mark will be determined as a weighed average of three marks:
A. A group presentation on a new religious movement. Counts 30% which will be an average of a group mark and an individual mark.
B. Essay on a group or practitioner interviewed at a Mind, Body, Spirit fair (or alternatively, based on the homepage of a group or practitioner). The aim of this essay is to apply concepts and theories discussed in class to the interpretation and presentation of the self-collected empirical material. Max 2400 words. Counts 60%.
C. Active participation and contribution to class discussions. Counts 10%.
To pass the course, the student must earn 5,5 for each separate test, and an average of 6 or higher.
Yes, see Blackboard.
Students are required to buy Hammer, Olav & Mikael Rothstein (eds.), 2012, The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Also, a reader with supplementary literature will be put together. More information about the reader and how and where to acquire it will become available on Blackboard in January 2013.