Legal Dimensions of New Religions

James T. Richardson

in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195369649
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Legal Dimensions of New Religions

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  • Alternative Belief Systems


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The legal situation of new religions, sometimes pejoratively referred to as “cults and sects,” can be analyzed from several different perspectives. One, favored by law reviews, would be a straightforward case law analysis focusing on case chronology and legal precedent, while basing the analysis on how the cases comport with major provisions of statutes and constitutional documents, or to significant concepts such as religious freedom. However, such an approach may not be as revealing as a more in-depth review from a sociological perspective. This article adopts a more sociological approach, applying some key variables from sociology and the sociology of law to the area of new religious movements (NRMs). It focuses on legal efforts to exert social control over new religions, especially involving court cases but also referencing some major legislative attempts to regulate of NRMs. Before dealing with these matters, it recounts in broad terms efforts made to control NRMs within the U.S., where NRMs first came to the attention of the public and policy makers, but also other in countries where concern about NRMs developed somewhat later.

Keywords: United States; cults; sects; case law; sociology of law; social control

Article.  9282 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Alternative Belief Systems

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