For the past four decades my research has frequently found me living in various parts of the world with minority religions who believe and do things that would seem, at least prima facie, to be both incredible and incomprehensible. I have also found myself drawn into taking an active, and often uncomfortable role in the so-called ‘cult scene’. Although it is impossible to generalise about the thousands of religious movements that currently exist, in this talk I shall discuss some of the characteristics that new new religions tend to display and how these are likely to change within a relatively short period. I shall also describe how, when stepping out of the ivory tower, one can find oneself in a Monty Python situation, discovering the familiar in the unfamiliar and the unfamiliar in the familiar.
Prof Eileen Barker, PhD, PhD h.c., OBE, FBA, is Professor Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics. Her main research interest is minority religious movements and the social reactions to which they give rise. Over 350 publications (translated into 27 different languages) include the award-winningThe Making of a Moonie: Brainwashing or Choice? and New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. In 1988, with the support of the British Government and mainstream Churches, she founded INFORM, an educational charity based at the LSE that provides information about minority religions that is as reliable and up-to-date as possible. 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 been invited to give guest lectures in over 50 countries.