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Are social sciences a weapon in the 'cult wars?'

November 8, 2013

A free lecture Wednesday, Nov. 13 at Loyola University New Orleans will explore the role social sciences can play in promoting alternative images of minority religious movements—or “cults” as they are labeled by the media and others. But that label may not be altogether fair, according to lecturer Eileen Barker, Ph.D., of the London School of Economics. Her talk, part of Loyola’s Biever Guest Lecture Series, is set for 7 p.m. in Nunemaker Auditorium located in Monroe Hall on the university’s main campus.

Barker will describe some of the ways her organization, INFORM, is providing objective information about new religious movements.

The word “cult” became a derogatory word, particularly in the 1970s, that conveys a stereotype of “the myth of the passive, brainwashed followers,” according to Loyola’s Catherine Wessinger, Ph.D., the Rev. H. James Yamauchi, S.J., Professor of the History of Religions.

“At Loyola, we teach courses on the religions of the world. New religious movements are usually offshoots of established religious traditions. Some of them may eventually grow into large, international religions,” Wessinger said. “A religion that is considered normal in one cultural context is likely to look very strange when taken to a different culture.”

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