Chapter: 17. What Teaching New Religions Tells Us about the Discourse on ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Religion
The anchoring essay of the classroom section reflects on the author’s university classroom experience teaching about New Religious Movements (NRMs) at a British university. NRMs and “cult” groups are often considered outside of the religious mainstream by scholars of religion, and thus scholars of NRMs spend substantial time discussing the politics of definition that frame their subjects in this way. Yet the author argues that a particular folk-sensibility about religion was more common among his students, who were more likely to judge something a “real” religion based on its adherence to markers quite different than those upon which scholars rely. The essay ultimately shows that the act of teaching critical thinking as it regards the construction of the category “religion” is just as much about understanding students’ own colloquial definitions as it is engaging scholars’ categories.