Understanding New Religions and Spiritual Movements

School of Consciousness and Transformation TSD 8132 3.00

The growth of religious and spiritual movements, both imported from other societies and originating in the United States, has implications for the way in which Americans address the sensibilities of spirituality and religiosity. This course offers several theoretical models for understanding the categories of new religions and provides a context for inquiry into why new religions are prominent in American society today. In addition, each student will select one new religious movement (NRM) to study in depth. Students will learn how to describe and analyze new religions demographically, ethnographically, and phenomenologically. Qualitative methods of interview, narrative, and questionnaire will be examined, and each student will gain familiarity with one or more of these methods. Each student will learn how to research an NRM by conducting an ethnography of the movement, including its beliefs, organization, any controversies surrounding the group, the experiences of members, the literature on the NRM, and how the NRM functions in the current religious milieu of the United States. Throughout the course, students will be required to examine their own assumptions, beliefs, and personal stances regarding NRMs. At the end of the semester, each student will have grounding in the literature on NRMs, some sophistication in conducting online research, and a capacity for reporting others’ religious experiences.

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