Perfect Children: Growing Up on the Religious Fringe (Oxford University Press, $24.95), by Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist, sheds new light on the much-speculated subject of “second generation” members of new religious movements—including both those who have left and stayed. Van Twist, the deputy director of Inform, a London-based research center on new religious movements, includes such groups in her ethnographic study as The Family (formerly Children of God), Scientology, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Unification Church, and the communal Anabaptist group the Bruderhof. The conflict for these children, many of who are now in their 20s or older, comes from outside as well as within these movements as many are subject to legal battles over custody, children’s rights laws (especially in Europe) and serious adjustment problems in adapting to the “real world” (fitting in neither with the movement they were raised in or with outside society). Often, those leaving feel a strong sense of “anomie” or normlessness, though there are more support groups and networks forming (often starting out as web sites and showing different degrees of animosity to their former groups).
Van Twist devotes a significant part of the book to the sex abuse crisis that shook and almost brought down The Family. But she does an especially good job in showing how these NRMs are changing, with some better able to meet the challenges and criticisms of the second generation than others; the Unification Church and the Family have proven more flexible to demands for greater freedom and less uniformly communal lifestyles, while the other groups are more resistant to change, either because a bureaucratic structure is in place (especially in the case of Scientology) or strong tradition-based ties (in the case of the Bruderhof).
02: Political scientist Ani Sarkissian focuses on authoritarian regimes and how religious restrictions and regulations function in such societies in her new book The Varieties of Religious Repression (Oxford University Press, $29.95). Sarkissian draws on data from more than 100 authoritarian states, as well as presenting 16 case studies of such societies [see April RW for more on Sarkissian’s research findings]. She finds that there is considerable diversity in the manner in which these regimes restrict religion; no clear connection exists between the extent of authoritarianism and the degree of religious repression (more democratic Malaysia and Turkey being more repressive than more autocratic Swaziland and Cameroon).
Rather than classifying societies as open or closed regarding religious freedom, the author categorizes authoritarian governments as either the state favoring one religion while repressing other ones, high regulation of all religions (such as Saudi Arabia), or selective repression of one targeted religious group (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Singapore). Sarkissian concludes with an examination of the high number of Muslim states repressing religion, noting how various Islamic groups are often on the receiving end of restrictions and regulations by their governments.
03: The Zoroastrian religion has faced the double dilemma of its diaspora in the West rapidly assimilating and discarding its traditions and its home base in Iran undergoing persecution from the Shi’a Muslim majority. In his fascinating new study Reclaiming The Faravahar (Leiden University Press; distributed through University of Chicago Press, $59), anthropologist Navid Fosi looks at the way Zoroastrianism is surviving through recasting its traditions in a more universalistic and contemporary mode while gaining a public face in contemporary Iran. Fosi’s ethnographic study of Zoroastrian life in Tehran examines how religious leaders have to counter Shi’a accusations, such as being worshippers of fire (because fire is a key symbol in their ceremonies) , while at the same time trying to stem the flow of young members to the West.
The author finds that Tehran’s Zoroastrians have reclaimed and emphasized their unique Persian or Iranian identity (predating Islam and other monotheistic religions), which appeals to Shi’a Muslims as they seek to differentiate themselves from Arab Sunni Muslims and cultivate an interest in their pre-Islamic identity. At the same time, religious leaders are also “rationalizing” the faith, stressing its modern, universal and intellectual nature to retain the loyalty of their young people (though retaining their opposition to converts). Fosi sees something of a Zoroastrian awakening afoot: three communal centers have reopened in the city, ceremonies are being adapted along more modern lines, and web sites are being launched, with the most important sign of this resilience being the construction of a massive fire-temple complex in Tehran.