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New Religions and the Social Bond  

IRVING Hexham and Karla Poewe



Since the late 1960’s numerous New Religious Movements, often identified as “cults” or “sects” have appeared in Western Society. Until 1979, however, only a few people paid serious attention to such movements. Then on 18 November 1978 over 800 people died in Jonestown, Guyana , in what appeared to be a mass suicide. Fifteen years later vivid television pictures of the last hours of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at their compound in Waco, Texas, on 19 April 1993, reinforced the view that cults may be dangerous. Add to this the Solar Temple suicides in Canada and Switzerland, and the AUM initiated gas attack on 20 March 1995 against commuters in the Tokyo underground and a very scary picture emerges. In this article we explore the implications of new religions for modern society and the social bond needed to hold society together.


New religions - Sects - Cults - Social Bond 


Irving HEXHAM is professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the author of seven books including The Irony of Apartheid (1981), A Concise Dictionary of Religion (1993), and New Religions as Global Cultures, with Karla Poewe (1997). He has edited fourteen other books, most of which deal with African religion. These include Zulu Religion: Texts and Interpretations. Vol. I: Traditional Zulu Ideas About God (1987), Afro-Christian Religion & Healing in Southern Africa, with G.C. Oosthuizen (1989) and The Scriptures of the amaNazaretha of Ekuphakameni,  translated from the Zulu by the Rt. Rev. Londaukosi InsiKayakho Shembe and Hans-Jürgen Becken (1994). He has written over sixty refereed journal articles and chapters in books and numerous book reviews. His research interests centre on New Religious Movements in a global perspective since the Enlightenment.

Karla POEWE is professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the author of seven books including Matrilineal Ideology: Male‑Female Dynamics in Luapula, Zambia (1981), Reflections of a Woman Anthropologist: No Hiding Place (1982) written under the pseudonym Cesara Manda at the request of the publisher, and The Namibian Herero: A History of Their Psychosocial Disintegration and Survival (1985). She edited Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture (1994) and has written over thirty academic papers in leading journals. Currently she is writing a book on New Religions in Germany during the years 1920’s and 1930’s that were associated with National Socialism.


This contribution is a chapter of the book edited by Patrick HUNOUT, The Erosion of the Social Link in the Economically Advanced Countries.


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