Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 2000 M04 6 - 304 pages
In Mystics and Messiahs--the first full account of cults and anti-cult scares in American history--Philip Jenkins shows that, contrary to popular belief, cults were by no means an invention of the 1960s. In fact, most of the frightening images and stereotypes surrounding fringe religious movements are traceable to the mid-nineteenth century when Mormons, Freemasons, and even Catholics were denounced for supposed ritualistic violence, fraud, and sexual depravity. But America has also been the home of an often hysterical anti-cult backlash. Jenkins offers an insightful new analysis of why cults arouse such fear and hatred both in the secular world and in mainstream churches, many of which were themselves originally regarded as cults. He argues that an accurate historical perspective is urgently needed if we are to avoid the kind of catastrophic confrontation that occurred in Waco or the ruinous prosecution of imagined Satanic cults that swept the country in the 1980s. Without ignoring genuine instances of aberrant behavior, Mystics and Messiahs goes beyond the vast edifice of myth, distortion, and hype to reveal the true characteristics of religious fringe movements and why they inspire such fierce antagonism.

What people are saying - Write a review

MYSTICS AND MESSISAHS: Cults and New Religions in American History

User Review  - Kirkus

A fascinating look at the importance of the religious fringe in American life. Jenkins (History & Religious Studies/Penn State Univ.; Pedophiles and Priests, not reviewed) argues convincingly that ... Read full review

Mystics and messiahs: cults and new religions in American history

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Benjamin Purnell and the House of David, Jim Jones and the People's Temple, Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science, Aimee Semple McPherson and her Angelus Temple, Father Divine, the Shakers, and the ... Read full review


Overrun with Messiahs
False Prophets and Deluded Subjects The Nineteenth Century
AntiChristian Cults? The Christian Sects 18901930
The First New Age
Black Gods
The Cult Racket Anticult Campaigns 19201940
The Purge of the Forties
The New Boom 19601980
Cult Wars 19691985
Devil Cults and Doomsday Cults 19802000
Teeming with Faith

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2000)

Philip Jenkins, one of the world's leading religion scholars joined Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion as Distinguished Professor of History and Co-Director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion.

Bibliographic information