An Example of Prejudice Against New Religious Movements


When the members of a new religious movement in the Mojave Desert suddenly disappeared in September of 2010, there was a panic. Members mentioned “taking refuge” and “going to heaven” in the letters they had left loved ones, and the immediate assumption was that the group was about to take part in a mass suicide. After a search that lasted only one day, the five women and eight children were found praying on a blanket in a park.

I found this story compelling, because it demonstrates the public’s negative view of new religious movements. As discussed in class lectures, there have been examples of such movements turning violent or suicidal, but these have been few and far between in the grand scheme of things. The Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate, and Branch Davidians garnered a massive amount of negative media attention. That is entirely understandable, given the tragic ends these movements had. However, many other new religious movements have been grouped in with such organizations, and this is not entirely fair.

The public’s perception of new religious movements, or “cults,” as you can see they are often referred to in the attached article, has been increasingly negative over the years. Academics and professionals alike, such as Margaret Singer, have shown support for the “brainwashing thesis,” which suggests that many members are converted against their will through pressure and trickery. One of the husbands of a member in the group discussed in the attached article seems to believe this, though sociological evidence has increasingly challenged this idea over the years.

There are also remains a negative stigma attached to the archetype of the cult leader. Society tends to assume such characters are deceptively charismatic, power hungry, and maybe even willing to hurt others in order to enhance their cause. However, those who knew Reyna Marisol Chicas, the presumed leader of the new religious movement I have been discussing, describe her as “a good mother” who “always had her children with her.” Her neighbor, Ricardo Giron, said he could not believe she was the kind of person who would do harm to others.

Nonetheless, authority figures immediately grouped this movement in with the most extreme and harmful of its kind. That, in the end, this group was found in a public park (obviously not trying to hide,) “praying to stop violence in schools and for people to abstain from sexual activity until marriage,” makes the danger of such judgments even more glaring. People ought to have the free will to engage in movements they feel are doing good in the world, which these women seem to believe, without being assumed to be unstable or harmful to society.

Jesse T #341


Pope Francis Washes Muslim Woman’s Feet

In an unprecedented move by the new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has washed and kissed the feet of two female inmates, one of them a Muslim, in the traditional foot washing of Maundy Thursday. The tradition, to symbolize Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, has never before seen the inclusion of women or Muslims as part of the washing. The move by the new Pope takes his plans to bring Christianity back to its more simplistic and humble roots leaps forward, as he displays to the world his willingness to act upon his intentions.

The decision to include a Muslim person in the ritual was a particularly bold move by the Pope in the eyes of not only the world of faith, but also all those who have witnessed all the conflict between Islam and Christianity. The constant conflict between the two religions over almost all of their history as neighbours has stigmatized many of both faiths the world from the idea that they can co-exist; This belief only fuelled by the extreme actions of groups claiming to be acting in the name of their religions.

Such malformed views toward particular cultures are not unique. One of the only comparable situations, and had as more impact on human civilization is the perception of the African peoples as sub-human people, with a baser religious and cultural complexity. Studies into this perception traced it back to how early anthropologists viewed the sophistication of a religion on as measurable. This single idea warped the image of African cultures as savage and simplistic. And in the same way this division of peoples has come leaps and bound in reparation, Pope Francis seems to be trying to fix the century old rift between religions.

AKK #205

Harmful Yoga: The latest dangerous New Religious Movement?

New Religious Movements


Eastern Yogic traditions are gaining popularity in Western society, with more yoga studios and places for yogic practices emerging daily. The rapid influx and manipulation of these traditional practices, has resulted in a widespread movement of this ancient knowledge, now seemingly coinciding with the new age movement. Although many of these practices have been altered to a point of inconsistency and separation to the origins, they still claim to provide the benefits, healing and spirituality as the original tradition. However, with western society still differing in values and beliefs from eastern traditions the knowledge, protocols and discipline associated may have been lost in the whirlwind of popularity and synthesized western umbrella practices.

Bikram yoga has already gained a reputation in the west for being one of the more physically challenging types of yoga practice. Bikram founder Bikram Choudhury and Los Angeles hot yoga movement father now has a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him for causing injury and emotional abuse through his teachings ( Choudhury is described as anything but the stereotypical yoga master with a love for material possessions and name dropping. Choudhury promotes himself to possess a charisma and connection to the mysterious that makes him an ideal candidate for a new religious movement leader.

Could this lawsuit against Choudhury for his misuse of authority and trust be the first of many to come in the North American world of yoga practice? It is known that more patients than ever before are requiring physiotherapy and other corrective measures due to injuries caused through misguided instruction by the teacher and lack of self discipline and body knowledge on the part of the student. Is it not the responsibility of the student (member) to be accountable for their own actions and how far they allow their instructor (leader) to push them? This case is highly reflective of many other New Religious Movements and the relationship between leader and member, or teacher and student. Where is one to draw the line with conflicting interests, trust and responsibility within these groups?

-RM 341

Jediism: A Fanboy’s Dream, or a Legitimate New Religious Movement?



            Jediism is a term derived from the popular Star Wars franchise to describe the religion of the fictional heroic warriors known as Jedi’s. While at first glance it may seem that this is merely an attempt for “Fanboys” (slang for an extremely passionate fan of this genre) to live out their childish dreams of being light saber wheeling warriors, in reality Jediism has actually become somewhat of a contender in terms of new religious movements.  According to the results in the 2001census in the UK, 390,000 recipients stated their religion as Jedi. While a fair number of these results are thought to be citizens taking a jab at their government, the Church of Jediism has grown in popularity gaining many devout followers. Jediism spokesperson Chi-Pa Amshe has stated that Jediism is a church and has been growing by hundreds of members each month. There is no doubt in the mind of founder, Daniel Jones, that Jediism is a real religion after a widely publicised run-in with the Tesco chain in which he was asked to remove his hood. Claiming the hood to be part of his religion and comparing it to that of asking a Muslim to remove their turban, Jones felt emotionally humiliated and discriminated against because of his beliefs.

            Jediism also combines many different aspects of dominant religions that would appeal to the masses. Besides being linked to one of the most commercially successful franchises of all time, Jediism incorporates aspects of Buddhism as it has a heavy focus on meditation and peace. The force (core Jediism belief) can also be compared to the Hindu concept of Om, representing a power present in all things. The series main character, Anakin Skywalker, also shares a similar story to that of Jesus Christ. Anakin was prophesized as the chosen one and was born without a father mirroring the story of Jesus as the prophesized son of God and the Immaculate Conception. Even George Lucas has stated in an interview with Bill Moyers, in 1999, published in Time magazine, he created the Force as a device to awaken spirituality in young people.

            Myth is a culturally formative story that is crucial to understand when examining new religious movements. “Understanding Cults and New Religions”, examines that, “Once we realize that myths play an important role in social life and that modern Western society no longer embraces its traditional Christian mythology, we might well ask whether other mythologies have replaced the biblical framework.” (Hexham & Poewe, 1986, pp 28) Western society is facing a mythological vacuum and it appears that Jediism fills that void for a number of people. Myths of technology also play an important role in Jediism as these stories create imaginative worlds in which the fantastic seems possible by using pseudoscientific speculations about space-time physics (Hexham & Poewe, 1986). Projecting Star Wars in a galaxy far away with advanced technology allows this mythology to become plausible for many. While Jediism may seem very silly to some people, to many it represents a mythological fill to the void that has been left by Christianity. And by adapting certain aspects of major religions, it creates a level of familiarity that many people find comforting and desirable.

DW  #341

Freedom of Knowledge: A Dangerous New Religious Movement?

Kopimism is a new religious movement that was founded by 19-year-old Isak Gerson in 2010 in Sweden. The word Kopimism comes from the Swedish words “copy me”. Members of this religious group believe that file sharing, copying and freedom of knowledge is sacred. They believe that everyone has the right to share knowledge and has the right to information.


Kopimism is considered a legitimate religion because it has “fulfilled certain requirements, like writing a charter and filing it with the agency, electing a governing board and paying an annual fee, now about $70.” The Kopimist church even has a priest-like leader that they call ops, short for operators. These operators are in charge of helping people facilitate meetings within the group. They have successfully developed their religious beliefs and have more than 8000 members. Isak Gerson and the co-founders of Kopimism are still working toward building a physical church for their body of believers.


Although Kopimism has passed all requirements to be identified as a religion, to what extent can they live out their mission statement: “Information is Holy. Code is law. Copying is sacrament,” without intruding on people’s privacy?  Does this make Kopimism a dangerous new religious movement?


I personally believe that knowledge is a virtue and that stories and information should be shared among our peers to further expand our minds. However, with the Internet and the quick dissemination of information, there is definitely an issue with the ownership of knowledge and information.


Kopimist believers have committed some acts that have been harmful to people and corporations. A Kopimist group named Anonymous attacked or threatened corporations such as Visa, Facebook, and Sony Entertainment – violating the privacy of the people who use their services. They infiltrated their security because of the corporation’s opposition to piracy.


What makes Kopimism a dangerous new religious movement isn’t that they have a single authoritative charismatic leader, but because they lack one. Because Kopimists communicate with one another online, it is difficult to have control or set rules that everyone will follow because there isn’t a personal attachment. Although some leaders of the Kopimist church have set standards to abide by, who is to say that all the members will listen?


Although the Kopimist leaders do not condone illegal actions, there is nothing the church can do to prevent these rogue hackers from using their mission statement as a way to illegally obtain information. The inability to be on the same page as a congregation is what will make this new religious movement a dangerous one.



GCW #341

Sufi Shrine Bombed in Tripoli

An important Sufi shrine experienced a religious attack in the form of a bomb in Tripoli, Libya on March 28th. The bombing, (to whom responsibility is unknown) targeted the Sidi Al-Andlusi mausoleum, home to the shrine of a 15th century Sufi theologian and is regarded as a national monument protected by law. This is the most recent of several secular attacks that have occurred since the end of the 2011 war that resulted in the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. These attacks have included the destruction of the tomb of a 15th century Sufi scholar in July and the burning of a library in the town of Zlitan. Additionally in Tripoli, a mosque was bulldozed containing Sufi graves in August. This can only be considered an outbreak of sectarian violence targeting the Sufi Islamic condition in Libya.

The escalating violence towards a religious sect on a different continent can lead us to ponder what effect this outburst can have on religion in North America, and around the globe. Often, as residents of a relatively peaceful country, we find ourselves focusing on hostilities that take place on an international or even inter-religious level. However this comes at the price of a disregard for conflict within a religion, including the world religions that are dominant in North America. If we accept that a sect is defined as an “exclusive group that breaks away from a major religious tradition by limiting membership [characterized by their tendency to] live in tension with the parent tradition and society” (Hexam, Jan 22, 2013) we are openly allowing sects to be viewed through a negative connotation. Even though this is only a subtle suggestion that these religions have a tendency for destructive behavior, it permits room for sects to be viewed as an institution to be examined aggressively, possibly escalating to the point of violence illustrated in Libya.

While participating in a course very politically entitled “New Religious Movements” to remove any negative connotation, our definitions of religious institutions in said course are portrayed in a pessimistic light. Although this is necessary to a certain degree to portray basic understanding of information, we must be cautious in our communication of this language, as its popularization in an uniformed mind could lead to a religious attack similar to the ones in Libya, on our home soil.

#rels341 LRN

Say No to Drugs! Brought to you by Scientology’s Front Group, Narconon


Narconon is Scientology’s chartable front group, which dates back to 1966. This organization teaches children and youth the dangers of drug use and it offers a drug rehabilitation program. Normally anti-drug programs are condoned and taught at schools to prevent youth from indulging in drug related activities. However, this organization sparked much controversy when it revealed its association with Scientology. This program was founded and based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, who was also the founder of the Church of Scientology.


Narconon uses unorthodox theories (on the concept of drugs and its effects) that are not supported by the scientific community. In the elementary and high school curriculum, it teaches how the use of drugs will destroy or burn up the essential vitamins and minerals in the body. They claim that as the “drugs move through the blood stream, some of it can get lodged in fat” which would build up in the body through long-term usage. Another bizarre claim is that once the drug is in the individual’s system, it cannot be removed except through their detox methods of remedial vitamins and hot saunas. It is plausible that some of the drugs, especially fat-soluble ones, can penetrate into the fat. However, contrary to their claim, drugs do not remain in the system forever – the body will remove the toxins naturally.


Part of the uproar may have derived from its association with Scientology. As we have learned in class, Scientology does not hold a good impression due to its opposing thoughts against others. In my opinion, I do not agree with Narconon not because of its connection to Scientology because they are not preaching their beliefs but it is because of the material presented in the curriculum. I think most would agree that there is nothing wrong with educating our next generation about the dangers behind drug use. However, it is a problem when the lecture is based on fictitious facts. These “facts” are based on the assumptions of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction novels. Although Scientology is not openly expressed as a part of this group, these wrong and potentially dangerous teachings can seep into the minds of our young people.

#341 JL