Most new or alternative religious are gravely misunderstood by members of the religious mainstream. Labeled cults or sects, groups and their members are often ridiculed or otherwise disregarded as weird and potentially dangerous by the populace at large. Despite their efforts at educating the general public, the various anti- and counter-cult activists have in fact promoted much more mis-understanding than accurate understanding of the religious lives of some of their fellow citizens. Consequently, they have helped to create a very hostile environment for anyone whose religious practices do not fit within a so-called mainstream. This set rectifies the situation by presenting accurate, comprehensive, authoritative and accessible accounts of various new and alternative religious movements that have been and are active in American society, and it addresses ways of understanding new and alternative religions within a broader context.
Determining what actually constitutes a new or alternative religion is a subject of constant debate. Questions arise as to a new faith's legitimacy, beliefs, methods of conversion, and other facets of a religious movement's viability and place in a given culture. How a religion gains recognition by the mainstream, which often labels such new movements as cults, is fraught with difficulty, tension, and fear. Here, experts delineate the boundaries and examine the various groups, beliefs, movements, and other issues related to new faiths and alternative beliefs. Readers will come away with a fuller understanding of the religious landscape in America today.
Volume 1: History and Controversies discusses the foundations of new and alternative religions in the United States and addresses the controversies that surround them. This volume helps readers better understand what makes a new or alternative belief system a religion and the issues involved.
Volume 2: Jewish and Christian Traditions explores the various new religions that have grown out of these two Abrahamic faiths. Groups such as the Shakers, the People's Temple, the Branch Davidians, Jehovah's Witnesses and others are examined.
Volume 3: Metaphysical, New Age, and Neopagan Movements looks at Shamanism, Spiritualism, Wicca, and Paganism, among other movements, as they have developed and grown in the U.S. These faiths have found new and devoted followers yet are often misunderstood.
Volume 4: Asian Traditions focuses on those new and alternative religions that have been inspired by Asian religious traditions. From Baha'i to Soka Gakkai, from Adidam to the Vedanta Society, contributors look at a full range of groups practicing and worshiping in the U.S. today.
Volume 5: African Diaspora Traditions and Other American Innovations examines the various traditions linked to the African diaspora such as Rastafarianism, Santeria, and the Nation of Islam, alongside traditions that are truly American incarnations like Scientology, UFO religions, and Heaven's Gate. Some of the new and alternative religions covered in these pages include:
; Black Israelites
; Elan Vital
; Hare Krishna
; Soka Gakkai
; and many more
"Edited by Gallagher and Ashcraft, this work consists of five volumes with topics ranging from New Religious Movements in Colonial America in volume 1 to UFOs and Religion near the end of volume 5. Contributions are by various scholarly authors with chapters averaging 15-20 pages. Extensive notes follow each entry, along with suggestions for further reading....Recommended. Lower-/upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers."
"Altogether, a solid and readable course in alternative religions suitable for high school and college students and particularly laudable for its inclusive stance on alternative faiths. Best purchased for circulating collections."
"This scholarly five-volume introduction to religions in America provides readers with histories of traditional American religious groups as well as analytical perspectives on new and alternative religions that many conventional treatments have either stereotyped or misrepresented....Achieving its purpose of rectifying much of the misinformation of the past that has condemned many of America's alternative faiths, these clearly written entries provide the general public with accurate, comprehensive, authoratative, and accessible accounts of traditional religious groups and many of the new and alternative religious movements in American society....This set includes an ample index and a selected but comprehensive bibliography. The clarity of these entries makes them intelligible to a wider audience and are recommended for both the high school and college levels, as well as to the general public, including public libraries and churches."
"[A]n impressive set....The authors provide rich historical background and also address specific issues with clarity that renders the volume very informative....The entire set is highly recommended for all libraries and scholars looking for handy reference to New Religious Movements in America."
"This is a fascinating study of societal reactions to new religious movements, including the secular anti-cult movement and the religious conter-cult movement."
"The editors have assembled an impressive array of scholars and religious experts to provide thoughtful, well documented essays....[t]he authors provide lucid analyses that will be of great service to undergraduate and graduate students alike as they try to understand unfamiliar religions....[t]his set belongs in every academic library that supports coursework in American society or modern religion."
"The set is an impressive achievement that will aid both scholar and layman in navigating the often nebulous territory of nonmainstream religion in the US....[A]shcraft and Eugene V. Gallagher have managed to compile what will be the standard reference on the subject for years to come....Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America is a great set."
"Ashcraft and Gallagher have assembled a fascinating and thorough resource on the many new and alternative religions to be found in the U.S. Each of the five volumes is devoted to a separate theme (and contains its own index), and contains lengthy articles on between 8 and 12 topics. The initial volume delves into history and controversies, with many religions discussed under such topics as globalization, the law, evangelical Christian countercult movements, and new religious movements and violence. The subsequent volumes contain articles on religious movements, with volumes on Asian traditions; African diaspora traditions and other American innovations; metaphysical, New Age, and neopagan movements; and Jewish and Christian traditions. The articles discuss each movement in depth, describing its history, philosophy, leaders, religious practice, controversies and issues, publications, and related themes. Each article is signed, annotated, and concludes with a bibliography."