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Children in Minority Religions

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Minority religions that differ from the mainstream are often perceived as controversial and as a threat to the individual and to society. During the 1970s and ’80s, there were intense discussions about whether conversion to these groups was voluntary or an effect of brainwashing or manipulation. In recent years, however, the situation of children in these groups has taken over the public debate. Many believe that childhoods in cults involve physical and psychological abuse, and that severe punishment, starvation, sexual abuse, manipulation, forced obedience, lack of medical care and demonization of the outside world is part of everyday life. This book presents four years of research. Its purpose is to highlight children’s upbringing in certain minority religions with a high degree of sectarian criteria in a sociological sense, including: high tension with the society/world outside; unique legitimacy; high level of commitment; and exclusive membership. The study examines mainly, but not exclusively, seven minority religious communities: the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON), The Family International (formerly The Children of God), the Church of Scientology, the Family Federation/Unification Church, Knutby Filadelfia (a Pentecostal group), the Plymouth Brethren/Exclusive Brethren, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The fieldwork was conducted in Sweden, but the situation of the children and the findings are relevant to other countries. Most of the minority groups discussed have an international character with a presence in many countries, with only minor differences depending on local circumstances. The study is based on literature from the religions and on observations of children and parents in religious rituals and daily life. However, the most important material for the book consists of seventy-five in-depth interviews with adults who grew up in minority religions and who are still involved, who grew up in minority religions but are not now engaged, and who raised children in the minority religions; as well as eighteen in-depth interviews with children between the ages of 8 and 17 living in these groups.

Published: Feb 26, 2018

Section Chapter Authors
Introduction Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, Peter Åkerbäck
Section 1: General Overview and Perspectives
1. The Politicization of Children in Minority Religions: The Swedish and the European Contexts Peter Åkerbäck
2. Children's Rights in Relation to Religion in Contemporary Sweden: Debates and Arguments Sanja Nilsson
3. Growing Up in Controversial Minority Religions: Constructions of Childhoods Liselotte Frisk
Section 2: Different Groups and Different Perspectives
4. Recently Reborn: To Return as a Child of Scientologist Parents Peter Åkerbäck
5. The Family International: A Narrative Approach Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson
6. Diana Baumrind's Parenting Styles: The Examples of the Osho Movement and Jehovah´s Witnesses Liselotte Frisk
7. ”I have lived all my life in a reality that doesn’t exist”: Perspectives from Ex-members Raised in Controversial Minority Religions Liselotte Frisk
8. Religion, Parenting and Child Corporal Punishment: An Example of the Twelve Tribes Liselotte Frisk
9. Medicine and Healthcare in Controversial Minority Religions: Perspectives from Medical Anthropology Liselotte Frisk
10. The Charismatic Leader in Knutby Filadelfia: The Children's Perspective Sanja Nilsson
Section 3: Systems of Education
11. Learning the Principles: Socialization of Children within the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification through Sunday School Peter Åkerbäck
12. In the Rear-view Mirror: Experiences of Attending an Ashram-based Religious Minority School in Sweden Sanja Nilsson
13. Raising and Schooling Children in the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church: The Swedish Perspective Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson
14. The Waldorf Education System and Religion Liselotte Frisk
15. Applied Scholastics and Study Technology: The Educational Perspective Developed by L. Ron Hubbard Liselotte Frisk
Section 4: Conclusion
16.Controversial Minority Religions and Childhoods Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, Peter Åkerbäck
Appendix 1: Religious Groups Liselotte Frisk, Peter Åkerbäck, Sanja Nilsson
Appendix 2: Interviews Liselotte Frisk, Peter Åkerbäck, Sanja Nilsson
End Matter
Index Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, Peter Åkerbäck


Anyone who is the slightest bit concerned about the stories that abound about emotional, physical and sexual child abuse in 'cults' and 'sects' must read this book. Thoroughly researched and, above all, eminently sensible, it is unique in its informed and informative account of children in minority religions.
Eileen Barker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology of Religion, London School of Economics