Debating New Religions : the German Discussion in International Perspective

Marburg, Alte Universität (Lahntor), March 27-29 1997


From March 27 to March 29 a conference on new religions will take place in Marburg, Germany. The conference will be organized by REMID (Religionswissenschaftlicher Medien- und Informationsdienst e. V., Marburg) and CESNUR (Center for the Study of New Religions, Turin).

The German debate on new religions is rather biased. New religions are supposed to be perilious "sects" which mentally and materially exploit their followers. On the other hand, findings published by scholars of the academic study of religion are rarely noticed by the public. Those results do not claim that the appearance of new religions does not cause any social problems. Scientific approaches might, however, contribute to a more rational discussion of the topic by empirically investigating the reproaches and by placing those critical claims in a broader context in order to compare them with other social phenomena.

In other countries, especially in the United States, the debate on new religions appears to be very different. The scientific study of new religions in those countries has both a long tradition and a considerable political impact, and the public discussion reveals an open mindedness and tolerance that is hardly known in Germany.

In order to describe and analyze the academic achievements in an international perspective, REMID and CESNUR are organizing a conference in Marburg (Germany) in March 27-29, 1998.

Scholars from Germany and other countries will compare results and deficits in the study of new religions. They will also ask for the practical political conclusions that can be drawn from the scientific data.

The topics of the conference will include:

- Achievements and perspectives of research on new religions in Germany, Great Britain, USA, and Denmark

- The problems of "brainwashing", "mind control" and "religious pathology"

- The role of the media and the problem of tranferring scientific findings into the public discussion

- New religions and the issue of religious freedom

Papers will be read in German and English. Conference materials will include translations of all papers. Scholars are invited from Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Denmark, and the USA.

Papers in German will be translated into English and vice versa. In principle the conference is intended for scholars: contact REMID in order to learn more about participation.


The program of the conference is as follows:

Friday, March 27, 1998

18.00 - 20.30

Greetings and Introduction

Günter Kehrer (Prof. of Religious Studies at the University of Tübingen): Tradition and Self-Conception of the Academic Study of Religion - an Obstacle to the Study of New Religions? (German)

Eileen Barker (Prof. of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science): Why the Social Scientific Method is so Important: Competing Constructions of New Religious Movements in Europe


Saturday, March 28, 1998

10.00 - 13.00

General Discussion (speakers to be announced)

Mikael Rothstein (Aas. Prof. at the Department of History of Religions, University of Copenhagen): The Discussion on New Religions in Denmark and the Contributions of RENNER


14.30 - 17.00

Massimo Introvigne (Director of CESNUR, Torino, Italy): "Brainwashing" - Career of a Myth in the United States and Europe

Sebastian Murken (Clinical Psychologist and Scholar of Religious Studies, Mainz/Trier): Pathological Religiousness? New Religions in Psychological Perspective (German)

Newton Malony (Prof. of Psychology at the Fuller Theological Seminary, Dept. of Clinical Psychology, Pasadena, California): "Mind control" in Psychological Perspective


18.00 - 20.30

Joachim Süss (Scholar of Religious Studies, Mainz), Empirical Research on New Religions in Germany - Results, Deficits, Perspectives

Gordon Melton (Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, California): Why Scientology? An American Scholar Watches the Public Debate on Scientology and New Religions in Germany


Sunday, March 29, 1998

10.00 - 12.30

James T. Richardson (Prof. of Sociology and Judicial Studies, University of Nevada, Reno): New Religions in Legal Perspective - The United States as a Model for Germany?

Hubert Seiwert (Prof. of Religious Studies, University of Leipzig): Findings of the Academic Study of Religion and their Impact on Public Opinion (German)

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