ICSA Annual Conference: Peace, Violence and New Religions

Eileen Barker; Friday, June 24, 2022; 11:00 AM-11:50 AM -online

New religious movements frequently give rise to conflict with other sections of society. Occasionally this conflict develops into violence which could be initiated by either the NRM or its opponents, but could also be the result of a growing spiral of polarisation between the concerned parties – a process that sociologists have termed deviance amplification. A few NRMs do commit horrific acts of violence – as have representatives of almost all the older, traditional religions. Many NRMs express a yearning for peace and have tried, in a wide variety of ways, to achieve it. Few, however, have shown signs of being successful at achieving peace for society, though some could be as successful (as are some of the older, traditional religions) in offering their members an inner peace. It could be argued that, given the potential tension between NRMs and the rest of society, it is not all that surprising that the very process of attempting to bring about peace can, directly or indirectly, occasionally result in less rather than more peace. Examples will be offered with the aim of illustrating the enormous variety to be found among NRMs in their approaches to both violence and peace. It will be stressed, however, that there are thousands of other NRMs that are not particularly noteworthy so far as their attitudes to either peace or violence are concerned. Most manage to co-exist with the rest of society without being noticed by those not directly affected by their presence. However, when they do engage in acts of violence, this is likely to be noticed in the media, giving rise to the assumption that NRMs are disproportionately violent.

Eileen Barker, PhD, PhD h.c., FAcSS, FBA, OBE , is Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics, University of London.

Eileen Barker

London School of Economics / INFORM, Professor Emeritus
Eileen Barker, PhD, PhD h.c., FAcSS, FBA, OBE , is Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics, University of London. Her main research interest is minority religions and the social reactions to which they give rise. Following the Fall of the Berlin Wall, she became interested in the religious situation in Eastern Europe and since the start of the 21st century her interests have extended to East Asia. She has over 400 publications (translated into 29 different languages), which include the award-winning The Making of a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice? and New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. In the late 1980s, with the support of the British Government and mainstream Churches, she founded INFORM, an educational charity, now based in the Theology and Religious Studies Department at King’s College, London, which provides information about minority religions that is as accurate, objective and up-to-date as possible. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth appointed her as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for ‘services to INFORM’, and she received the American Academy of Religion’s Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. She was the first non-American elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. A frequent advisor to governments, other official bodies and law-enforcement agencies throughout the world, she has made numerous appearances on television and radio, and has given guest lectures in over 50 countries. In 2013 Dr. Barker received ICSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2020 she received the Association for the Sociology of Religion’s Lifetime Achievement Award.