Gurus, Prophets, and Aliens: Understanding New Religious Movements

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Course Number: 
RELS 030 910
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Course Description: 

This course offers a thematic introduction to the history of New Religious Movements (NRM) from the mid-19th century to the present day. Often labled as "cults" by the state and established religious institutions, new religions offer modern believers alternative spiritual and ideological solutions to age- old problems. In this class, students will be introduced to the teachings and practices of prominent NRMs in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, from wide-spread movements such as Scientology, Mormonism, and the Unification Church to lesser known groups such as the Church of the Almighty God, Neo- Paganism, and Raelism. We will explore the emergence of the anti-cult campaign in the second half of the 20th century, the relationship between apocalyptic sects such as the Peoples Temple and the Branch Davidians and political and social protest, and the role of Asian religions such as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation in the development of New Age religiosity. In addition, we will learn how new religious movements such as Wicca and the Children of God helped reshape gender roles and changed mainstream views about sexuality, and how developments in mass media and popular culture contributed to the creation of new groups such as the Star Wars inspired Temple of the Jedi Order (Jediism), the Church of the Latter-Day

Dude (Dudeism), as well as UFO religions such as Heaven's Gate. Throughout the semester, students will be exposed to a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, from academic articles and scholarly essays to documentaries, feature films, and TV shows. No previous knowledge in Religious Studies is required.

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