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Book Review - Church-State Relations

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1987, Volume 4, Number 1, pages 88-89. 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 - Church-State Relations

Church-State Relations: Tensions and Transitions. Edited by Thomas Robbins and Roland Robertson. Transaction Books. New Brunswick, NJ. 1986. 380 pages. $14.95 (paper).

Reviewed by Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania


Church-State Relations is a collection of 19 articles by sociologists, political scientists, and churchmen. It is edited by Thomas Robbins, a sociologist of religion who writes frequently on new religious movements, and Roland Robertson, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and theologians who are concerned about cults may appreciate the book's perspectives. However, anguished parents of cultists and their supporters will probably consider it overly technical with little direct support for their point of view. Nor will cult leaders pass it out on street comers. In other words, the chapters are consistently academic, speculative, objective, theoretical fair, dispassionate, and dry.

Church-State Relations is organized into three sections: General Considerations, Church-State Tension in the United States, and Comparative Perspectives. Of greatest interest to cult watchers is Part U, which examines church-state dualism in this country.

Dualism implies double standards. Thus contemporary American religious groups, however destructive, are protected by the Bill of Rights. Constitutional norms permit cults to proselytize, use mind-control, and shield their financial affairs from public scrutiny. Their members may be excused from military obligations in wartime; their commercial and fund-raising endeavors are tax- exempt, and their members work without regard to minimum wage or fair labor laws.

The chapters by Leo Pfeffer and by Thomas Robbins are especially worth consideration. Pfeffer, who is professor of constitutional law at Long Island University and special counsel, American Jewish Congress, clarifies constitutional issues under the Firs4 Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Under what circumstances are churches and their clergy exempt from duties generally imposed on community members? Robbins points out that 'the traditions of religious liberty and separation of church and state create a unique context for conflicts between religion and public authority.' As cults diversify their activities they come into conflict with the state's expanding regulatory mandate.

As an academic and professional psychologists I am concerned about the narrow focus of these chapters. The authors generally overlook the patriotic and religious passions of the many actors in dramatic confrontation between church and state; motives (except for power) and intrapsychic dynamics (e.g., was Jim Jones psychotic?) are ignored, as are ethical considerations (heavenly deception, flirty fishing). They largely neglect the considerable literature about conversion, intensive persuasion, and mind-control. Such authors as William James, Margaret Singer, John Clark, Phillip Zimbardo, Robert Cialdini, and Martin Orne are not cited. Also slighted are the commercial and political activities which have created such scandals as TV evangelism ( the Bakkers), Koreagate (Unification Church), and leadership felonies (Scientology, Hare Krishna, etc.). Perhaps the oversights represent a blind spot in the sociology of religion. On the other hand, Leland Robinson and Roland Robertson present valuable chapters on the place of religion in revolutionary movements (e.g., Liberation Theology in Latin America).

Part III, on Comparative Perspectives, summarizes religious and political relationships in Islam Latin America, Poland, Australia, Ireland, and Britain. However, I would like to have read more about current conflicts in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Israel and Lebanon which threaten world peace.

In sum, what does Ns group of sociologists of religion have to offer? For anticultists, clearly the message is that in the United States sanctions and controls are difficult to apply at any government level even to dangerous, manipulative, and criminal groups because of state-church dualism. For cult specialists this book makes evident that the social contexts in which religions operate are complex and diverse.
Arthur A. Dole, Ph. D., is Chairman of the Psychology in Education Division, Graduate School of Education, University of Penmylvania.

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1987