David V. Barrett
David V. Barrett
Books News Archive
(Note: do not confuse with David B. Barrett, author of the World Christian Encyclopedia).
David V. Barrett formerly worked at INFORM. He is the author of ''Sects, 'Cults,' and World Religions : A World Survey and Sourcebook'' - an empathetic treatment of new religious movements. A review from the San Francisco Bay Guardian:
To examine belief Barrett literally starts at the beginning. The first section of the book, which contains brief overviews of the world's main religions, describes the historical roots of religion and the dispersal of faiths across the globe over time. Because of the predominance of Christian thought in the Western world, Barrett concentrates on the ambiguities of the Christian Bible and its origins, and on how conflicting interpretations -- of such matters as transubstantiation and apostolic succession -- created the schisms that led to the myriad of Christian sects that exist today. By skillfully maneuvering through the minefield of nearly 2,000 years of Christian thought, Barrett provides a context for the book's later discussions of alternative religions as a continuation of that history of theological wrangling. By no means is this book a dry rehash of history; it is a lively and often hilarious account of the various groups that have sprung up over the years. Barrett breaks down the groups into four sections: Christian, Eastern, esoteric and neopagan, and the psychology and self-help movements. All the usual suspects -- the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, the Children of God, the Scientologists, and even the ill-fated Branch Davidians -- are here, as are a host of others. Barrett gives each organization the opportunity to explain its beliefs through interviews he conducts with its leaders. While the most paranoid and secretive fail to answer his queries, Barrett goes to great lengths to explain their philosophies without editorializing.
(...) It is interesting that as times have changed, and as many of these groups have grown to comprise thousands, if not millions, of adherents, their leaders have had to both update their theology and try to maintain the cohesion of their organization. While many might view such changes with derision, Barrett points out that, after all, it took the Roman Catholic Church about 350 years to sort out its belief system. It is difficult at times not to find the actions or beliefs of some of these groups absurd. Barrett's research uncovers the hidden sex magic of the Unification Church, in which all those infamous marriages are consummated in a three-night sex ritual that symbolizes humanity's fall from grace. He also discloses secret rites of the ultra-litigious Church of Scientology and gives complete coverage to the proliferation in the '70s of ''free love'' cults in the Eastern esoteric tradition.
(...) In Barrett's lengthy conclusion he makes the argument that -- despite the oddball and even self-destructive nature of some religious operations -- it's not our job to judge. Here in the West the right to worship any gods or goddesses one chooses is still intact. This book goes a long way toward curing our historical amnesia regarding religion and helping us see that even the mainstream religions that today dominate spiritual discourse started with an inspired individual standing on a rock, preaching a divine vision.
Patrick Hughes, ''Personality of Cults'' (Book Review), San Francisco Bay Guardian, Apr. 20, 1997
''Sects, 'Cults,' and World Religions'' is out of print, but a new book by Barrett, ''The New Believers'' " contains so much new material it's probably as fair to describe it as a new book which contains an updated, expanded SC&AR. In particular, it has 10 new chapters which discuss various issues associated with NRMs, including the thorny issues of definition ("Is it a cult, or a real religion?"), the recruitment/brainwashing controversy, problems for family/friends of members, problems of leaving NRMs, etc etc" [Email, David Barrett, Oct. 28, 2000]
The New Believers Revised and expanded edition of ''Sects, 'Cults' and Alternative Religions.''
Sects, 'Cults,' and World Religions : A World Survey and Sourcebook (Out of print). By David Barrett.
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