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Book Review - Money and Power in New Religions


This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1991, Volume 8, Number 1, pages 85. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Money and Power in New Religions. 

J. T. Richardson, Editor. Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY, 1988, 435 pages.

This hefty paperback is Volume 22 in Mellen's "Studies in Religion and Society" series. Its 15 chapters are written by American, Canadian, British, and New Zealander authors. There is no index but chapters are fairly well-referenced and endnoted. The major focus is on the economics of cults and cult-like groups. Each chapter describes aspects of fund-raising and fiscal and organizational management of better-known cults or "new religions." Richardson contends that "mundane material concerns" can be as important to these movements as theology or ideology.

Without money and effective management, membership cannot be sustained. Richardson comments that these factors are seldom considered by cult analysts.

Communal and noncommunal cult and cult-like organizations use methods similar to those used by traditional or mainstream religions, such as tithes by members, fees for services, sale of goods, diversification into business enterprises, and soliciting money from nonmembers. But "economic chicanery, fraud, exploitation, obsessive materialism and mania for wealth and power also occur" (p. 72). Tax exemption and tax evasion are described with examples. These organizations are increasingly involved in litigation brought on by ex-members for civil and criminal actions in both state and federal courts; many cases are cited. An index of cases and a cross-index by organization name would have been helpful.

This book may be more than you want or need to know about the economic realities of cults or "new religions" and at a fairly high price ($39.95 for the paperback). It is, however, a useful reference for those with a special interest in this neglected aspect of operation.

Frank J. MacHovec, Ph.D., Director

Center for the Study of the Self

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1991