This work deals explicitly with the issue of how emerging religions legitimate themselves. It contends that a new religion has at least four different, though overlapping, areas where legitimacy is a concern: making converts, maintaining followers, shaping public opinion and appeasing government authorities. The legitimacy that new religions seek in the public realm is primarily that of social acceptance. Mainstream society's acknowledgement of a religion as legitimate means recognizing its status as a genuine religion and thus recognizing its right to exist. Through a series of wide-ranging case studies James Lewis explores the diversification of legitimation strategies of new religions as well as the tactics that their critics use to de-legitimate such groups. Cases include the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness, Native American prophet religions, spiritualism, the Church of Christ-Scientist, Scientology, Church of Satan, Heaven's Gate, Unitarianism, Hindu reform movements and Soka Gakkai, a new Buddhist sect.
Since many of the issues raised with respect to new religions can be extended to the legitimation strategies deployed by established religions, the book sheds light on classic questions about the origin of all religions.
James R. Lewis teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and is author of The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects and New Religions. He has been interviewed by major media outlets including ABC's World News Tonight, the Los Angeles Times, NBC's Meet the Press, and the Washington Post.
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