Introduction to Timothy Miller’s book, America’s Alternative Religions

I.Introduction to America’s Alternative Religions:

  A. American religion since late 1900s:1. diversification, 2. decentralization, 3. largest denominations losing #s, 4. world religions on the rise, 5. changes within largest traditional denominations  (i.e. charismatic movement)

  B. Purpose of this book, America’s Alternative Religions edited by Timothy Miller, $32.95 Paperback, Release Date: July 1995, ISBN10: 0-7914-2398-0, ISBN13: 978-0-7914-2398-1

    1. Introduction to various religions 

    2. give a sense of historical development of groups in question

    3. objective sketch

  C. Alternative terminology:

    1. sect= usually refers to a dissident group that has separated from another   (usually mainstream)

    2. cult= small, intense religious group whose ties to mainstream groups are  less pronounced, usually led by   a  single  charismatic leader

  (academics avoid these terms due to the words’ pejorative nature)

    3. other terms to use: marginal, nonmainstream, new religious movement

    4. alternative religions

  D. Mainstream and Alternative: Finding the Dividing Line

    1. center and margin

    2. Mainstream American Religions: usually described as Christian and Jewish

    The Catholic Church

    Protestant Denominations

    3 Nationally prominent movements in Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform)

    Eastern Orthodox Christianity

  3. Protestant groups: “all Christendom not encompassed by Catholicism   or Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

  prominent: Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Disciples of   Christ, Baptists, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ,   nondemoninational churches

  demonination= “a  religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and  practices” (

  Identifiable hallmark: tolerance… belief that these main denominations “are   all essentially legitimate expressions of the historic Christian faith.” (3)

  4. Mainstream Jewish groups: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and   Reconstructionist

  5. Catholicism: still largely a single organization, kept many dissidents at   bay excommunication) 

  6. Eastern Orthodox: composed of some dozens of independent historic   churches united by history and common cause

  7. “mainstream” term is historically and geographically located

  E. The Alternative Religions:

  Are there any clear markers to distinguish between the mainstream and alternative religions?


1. Leadership:  usually have educated, paid clergy              
2. Organization: usually highly structured                               
3. Size: mainstream religions are often the largest               
4. Membership: birthright, less demanding                             
5. Worship: orderly, calm, preplanned worship                    
6. Dedication to duty: usually once a week                             
 7. Social status: usually more connected to wealthy         
1. tend to have charismatic, lay leadership
2. tend to be less structured
3. tend to be smaller
4. emphasis on moral community
5. fervent spontaneous services
6. more substantial demands
7. usually appeal to poor and uneducated

**None of these 7 categorical markers are entirely or mainly accurate**

  F. The Alternative Scene:

  How many people are part of these alternative religions in America?

  G. Hostility toward alternative religions not new (5)

  H. Why do people join?

  Transformation: Victor Turner and others… “the initiate joining a new   religion or making other comparable life changes is in a state of liminality,   of transition”

  I. Totalism?

  “Most sustained example of ‘totalism’ in the Western world has been Catholic   monasticism…” obedience, voluntary poverty, sexual abstinence, lifetime  commitment

  J. The influence of these alternative religions?

   1965: The repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act:

 Used to limit immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe:

  “Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, limiting entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality’s presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. As a result, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe dropped to less than one-quarter of pre-World War I levels. Even more restrictive was the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) that shaped American immigration policy until the 1960s.”

  “During congressional debate over the 1924 Act, Senator Ellison DuRant Smith of South Carolina drew on the racist theories of Madison Grant to argue that immigration restriction was the only way to preserve existing American resources.”

  Used to discourage Asian Indian immigrants from seeking citizenship: “In its decision in the case of U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court deemed Asian Indians ineligible for citizenship because U.S. law allowed only free whites to become naturalized citizens. The court conceded that Indians were “Caucasians” and that anthropologists considered them to be of the same race as white Americans, but argued that “the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences.” The Thind decision also led to successful efforts to denaturalize some who had previously become citizens. This represented a particular threat in California, where a 1913 law prohibited aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning or leasing land.”

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Filed under Lectures (Academic Study of Religion), Lectures (New Religious Movements), Lectures (Religion and Popular Culture)

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