01: Since the New Age movement emerged almost three decades ago, observers and participants have been proclaiming the death of the “New Age” label, yet it persisted. But when the flagship magazine of the movement, New Age Journal changes its name to Body & Soul in its March/April issue, it could well mean that “New Age” is really passé.
Although the editor doesn’t explain the name change, Body & Soul does fit the increasingly important role of holistic health in the overall New Age amalgam. In recent years a majority of the articles in theÂ magazine has covered alternative health and medical topics, leaving a diminishing role for alternative spirituality. In an article on Religioscope (http://www.religioscope/info/notes/2002_006_New_Agehtm), Philip Johnson notes that bookstores are using the designation “mind-body-spirit” rather than New Age.
Although charismatic and evangelical Americans are likely to have varied views on Islam, the current issue of Charisma (March) reveals how some mission strategists in at least the charismatic world are targeting the Islamic resurgence as a key point of “spiritual warfare.” The magazine interviews five missions specialists on Islam, most of whom criticize American churches for calling the religion peaceful when it is actually violent.
George Otis Jr., a missions speaker and filmmaker takes the most critical view, believing that Islam is “anti-Christ” and is a religion based on “evil spirits.” Although the recent outbreak of terrorism is seen as the most visible manifestation of such a “demon-inspired” faith, throughout the last decade (at least since the fall of communism) charismatic missionaries and evangelists in the Third World have targeted Islam as a battle ground for warfare against such spirits. The Charisma articles suggest that this view is gaining a hearing in the U.S.
For more information, write: Charisma, 600 Rinehart Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746)
02: More than a book about “cults,” Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, $35) actually deals with the scholars researching new religious movements and “cult controversies”. who not infrequently become involved inÂ wider public debates about minority religions. Over the past 30 years, the field has matured, as research has expanded at a fast pace.
Edited by Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins, the book offers a weighty contribution (more than 500 pages) to the process.of, in the words of the subtitle, “searching for objectivity in a controversial field.” The first chapter, authored by Israeli psychologist Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, claims that an unhealthy consensus, “something like a party line,” has developed since the late 1970s among leading scholars (especially sociologists are meant here) in this field.
After this harsh judgment, the following chapters prove that scholars can disagree between each other, with the editors hoping to deflate polarization and find a “moderate” middle ground. A key issue has been the “conversion-brainwashing debate,” which has “polarized scholars for several decades,” notes David Bromley. Thus it is not surprising that some 250 pages are devoted to vigorous arguments and counter-arguments on that issue. What this reviewer found most attractive in the book are the chapters like the one by Susan Palmer, who reports humorously about her experiences “caught up in the cult wars.”
Questions raised by the role of scholars as experts in court cases and public debates are also considered. For people having a limited familiarity with the world of “cults”, the book will introduce them to the practical issues involved on these controversial issues.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer
03: Strength for the Journey by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, $23.95), is part spiritual autobiography and part history.
Bass provides an interesting account of into her involvement with different Episcopal churches in different parts of the country. She covers the range from low church evangelical to charismatic to liberal high church (though there is little of conservative Anglo-Catholic). Butler comes to the conclusion that mainline Protestantism is being reborn as baby boomer members become “intentional” about their spirituality and social action and come to see the church as a community in tension with American society.
Although relying mainly on anecdotal information, She finds that many of the growing Episcopal churches — both liberal and conservative — are often on the outs with the local bishop and not very confident about the workings of the wider denomination. Also noteworthy are her chapters on the battles between old time members who see the congregation almost as an extension of their family heritage and newcomers who stress outreach to the community and the church as a new kind of family.