This wide-ranging collection explores the complex relationships between religious sects and contemporary Western society and examines the controversial social, political, and religious issues that arise as sects seek to pursue a way of life at variance with that of other people. Wilson argues that sects, often subject to negative theological and moral judgements, can be understood only as social entities and as such require a scientifically neutral and unbiased approach to explore their emergence and persistence. He traces the growth and expansion of various movements--including the Unification Church, the Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Exclusive Brethren--relating them to their social context, and indicates the sections of society from which their support is likely to come.
`[Bryan Wilson] is the leading authority on this subject and has a unique knowledge of the complexities of sectarianism.' Church Times
`I doubt if you will find a more complete enquiry into the subject than this fine collection ... written in the most gloriously lucid prose that reads as easily as Dickens.' sectarianism.' Church Times
'It is always a pleasure to read the work of Bryan Wilson ... his work represents the most impressive treatment of the sectarian phenomena that exists'
E. Burke Rochford, Middlebury College, Contemporary Society
'The collection is valuable; it makes accessible a number of important essays and it offers, through their juxtaposition and through the introductory commentary, a series of new questions and perspectives. Undoubtedly the debate will continue and new or modified typologies will emerge but ths book will remain relevant, both for its insights into sectarianism and for the historiography it provides.'
Christine E. King, Staffordshire Polytechnic, The Modern Churchman
'These well-written essays offer important generalizations without forgetting that most understandings of sects are culturally specific to Christianity and the West and cannot be extrapolated easily to non-Christian religions. Rich in illustrative material and wise.'
John A. Coleman, S.J., Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, Theological Studies
'here is a refreshing new chance to watch Wilson meticulously analyse the topic that has dominated his intellectual life, indeed the topic that he has dominated intellectually ... these are splendid pieces of work. It is hard to imagine how anyone interested in sectarianism could fail to learn from Wilson's erudition as put forth here.'
Phillip E. Hammond, University of California, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 31, No. 1, March 1992
'All the essays in this book are interesting, scholarly and perceptive, but for me at least the most valuable are those that deal with the tensions and at times acute conflict between sects and the rest of society and especially the state and the legal system. It is here that Bryan Wilson, a detached and rational yet humane and sympathetic observer of the life of sects is at his best and it is a very good 'best' indeed.'
J.C.H. Davies, University of Reading, Social History Society Newsletter, Volume 15, Number 2, Autumn 1990
`lucid and insightful essays ... The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism is a clear and scholarly account of social units that are as important to the sociologist as tribes are to the anthropologist. However, sects exist in societies dominated by large bureaucratic organizations with which they often collide and conflict. Fortunately Dr Wilson has been observing these collisions with care and skill and from his observations he has provided
not only a series of masterly accounts of our `tribes' but also a new, clear and critical picture of the encompassing culture from which they dissent.'
`No reader can fail to find in this book ... the fruits of sustained scholarship. Students of contemporary religion are deeply indebted to Wilson for the clarity of his insights and for the quiet elegance of so many well-wrought essays. Thanks are also due to the publisher for recognizing that not a few of these essays have achieved the status of classics in their field and therefore deserve the widest possible diffusion.'