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Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History Paperback – November 15, 2001
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"For an understanding of cults in America, this is a vital guide ... Rich in anecdotes, this sober and instructive book succeeds in being entertaining as well." --Jeff Guinn, The Wall Street Journal
"Jenkins...possesses the virtue of being able to perceive new and unusual religious sects on their own terms, not through the frequently distorted mirror in which they have been viewed in popular writings for at least a century." --Washington Post Book World
"A valuable tool....A fine resource and starting point for further exploration of a fascinating element of national life."--ForeWord
"A superb historical primer....Loaded with intriguing sketches of dozens of cults and distinguished by Jenkins' healthily nonjudgmental attitude."--Booklist
"Offers sweeping cultural breadth and fresh insights into the role of new religions."--Publishers Weekly
"A scholarly and balanced book on this controversial and explosive topic....Mystics and Messiahs is a much needed...contribution to a topic that has for too long been the subject of public hysteria and distortion. Highly Recommended."--Multicultural Review
About the Author
Philip Jenkins, one of the world's leading religion scholars joined Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion as Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion.
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (November 15, 2001)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0195145968
- ISBN-13 : 978-0195145960
- Item Weight : 15.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 9.36 x 6.26 x 0.85 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #624,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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One might imagine that a work with Jenkins' theme would run a severe risk of being either a polemic or a dreary dissertation-like tome. Mystics and Messiahs evades both risks. Jenkins' writing style is highly readable, and his tone is not that of a pedantic, but of a sympathetic skeptic telling a bit of interesting popular history. The book is well documented, but there is no loss of a good read in pursuit of an "academically-refined text".
America's pulsating religious need in our time is the need for tolerance (as the song says, "what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?"). Jenkins' book illustrates the lessons from our history that past Americans' intolerance has caused us to learn, without interfering with the fact that the story of America's many faiths is a darned entertaining read.
It is refreshing to see a level-headed book which is neither "XYZ Evangelist's Book of Cults" or "What Christians Fail to Get about our Wonderful New JLK Faiths". Instead, in the Dragnet parlance, it's more "just the facts", and whether one is a fervent believer or a casual skeptic, this one is a worthwhile read.
Prof. Jenkins makes all sorts of interesting observations in this history of fringe groups, such as that some practices like women ministers and speaking in tongues were once considered far-out but are now considered mainstream. (Just look at the sorry state of "evangelical" Christianity in the U.S.) But the best part of this book is that it is just good history: lots of interesting facts and colorful characters.
Interesting book. Good book to scan rather than read cover to cover. The first issue for the author was trying to define the word "cult". He points out many established religious groups of today were considered cults (or at the very least were victims of violence) at one time such as the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Science, Quakers and Baptists.
He covers almost every conceivable group. Many I had heard of (Theosophy, the KKK, Voodoo, Cannibalism, Zombies, Witchcraft and Black Muslims, Scientology, Satanism, Wicca and Neopaganism) some I even studied their teachings or attended services (such as Unity, Religious Science, Christian Science, New Age, New Thought, Spiritualism, Rosicrucian) and many I never had heard of.
The author mentions one case about black Muslims. When they were sometimes sent to jail, they would ask for a copy of the Koran. The guards said, "That's what we put you in prison for, read the Bible instead".
One common aspect of all groups was the need to have a leader. He writes about leaders such as Edgar Cayce and Charles Manson. Several leaders claimed themselves as god incarnate, such as Father Divine (whose followers believed he was god). He writes about Harry Houdini, who attempted to debunk séances and mediums. Arthur Bell claimed it was American planes bombed Pearl Harbor. He was arrested for providing false information about the US war effort. Charles Coughlin, a popular Catholic priest, (the Glenn Beck of the day) had a radio program. He was anti-Semitic and pro-German. Roosevelt wanted to silence him without alienating Catholic voters.
Women leaders included Mary Baker Eddy and Sister Aimee Semple McPherson. One of the female leaders said, "The next Messiah maybe a woman. Perhaps she has already been born".
In 1656 Quaker James Nayler staged an entry into the city of Bristol, England mounted on a donkey, while faithful women followers threw branches in his path and cried "Hosanna to the son of David". He said he was reenacting the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He denied he was Christ, but did feel the Christ within.
According to this author, former Vice President and Presidential candidate Henry Wallace referred to Nicholas Roerich as his personal guru. Roerich was involved in occult practices. However, when checking with Wikipedia, there is no reference to Roerich being involved in the occult. There is one reference to Roerich being involved in Theosophy and yoga. The same reference acknowledges Wallace's connection.
Author writes about groups and their unusual practices such as "speaking in tongues" a strange language unknown to linguists usually followed by someone who interprets what was said. Other ideas or concepts include "We are all divine". Some practiced nudism. Other groups felt aliens from UFO's provided them with new spiritual knowledge. Handling of snakes was also discussed in the book.
The author writes about discrimination faced by many, who followed a different path and goes in depth about harassment of Catholics.
Many groups incorporated God as both male and female. Christian Science and Shakers. The author also says Mormonism. David Koresh prayed to God the Father and Mother. Christian feminist groups praying to Sophia.
JW believe government is of the devil and that is the reason for not saluting the flag or voting.
One group dismissed monogamy as "idolatrous love".
Between 1864 and 1974, conservative Christians made several attempts to amend the US Constitution to state very clearly this country is a Christian nation.
Another concept was "There is no separation between your soul and the soul of the universe. In the deepest sense, you are the great universal soul. Man is God incarnate." Ralph Waldo Trine.
The press had a large impact on shaping the validity of many of these groups. With religious bodies, which attracted African Americans, the press would print words as they were pronounced such as "faith'll make it well ag'in", but would not use the same procedure with the way many whites in different parts of the nation spoke, such as when Roosevelt said there was nothing to fear, but "feah itself."
Overall interesting book. Very comprehensive.