by Susan Palmer. Oxford University Press,
- 304 pp., b&w illustration, £45.00/$74.00. ISBN-13: 9780199735211.
Reviewed by Régis Dericquebourg, University Charles De Gaulle. GSRL. CNRS.
An interesting book on cult controversies in France has been published by Susan Palmer. The background is that from 1960–1970, there has been an expansion of religious minority groups in the West while church attendance in great religions as the Catholic Church and classic Protestant churches were plummeting. The emergence and the expansion of what we have called “new religious movements” was not something new. There have been many other religious outbursts as in the nineteenth Century in the United States or well before, in Mediaeval Europe.
The problem was that the appearance and success of new religious movements—
Neo-Pentecostal Christians, new esoteric movements, new Hindu spiritualities like Hare Krishna, Japanese (Sokka Gakkaï), UFO religions (Raelians), neo-pagan groups (Wicca)—created concerns in many Western countries. In fact, on one hand, the majority of parents would not accept their offspring converting into new religions, on the other hand the great established confessions would see in them an undue competition, and lastly, atheist circles like rationalist freemasons were scandalised to see a revival of beliefs that they considered irrational and contrary to progress in a world dominated by reason.
Susan Palmer presents and analyses France’s response to this problem. Why?
Because France is one of the democratic countries which has fought minority religious groups with the greatest determination. In several countries, the fight against cults was led by associations of parents of the NRMs’ converts.
These associations were sometimes created with the support of rationalists or Catholics. The French case is particular since in 1983, the radical socialist French government rendered the fight against minority religious groups official by financing private anti-cult associations and then by creating a cult-fighting government agency in charge of the coordination of all ministries (Justice, Police, Intelligence services) to this end. The following administrations whether right- or left-wing, maintained this anti-cult agency.