Minority Religions and Uncertainty
- ISBN: 9781472484512
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: May 2020
Minority Religions and Uncertainty, edited by Matthew Francis and Kim Knott, offers a broad and well thought out charting of its titular topics through an anthological treatment of thirteen groups and themes. The book turns the lens inward, exploring the impact of events within and without on the internal dynamics of the groups in question brings a welcome freshness of thought. The editors define “uncertainty” as “(a) situations, contexts, and events in which circumstances and outcomes are unclear, cannot be fully known, or are disputed, and (b) to individuals’ cognitive, affective and practical experiences, feelings and behaviours in the face of the unknown” (2), and this definition allows the respective essays to examine both micro- and macro-elements and further enhances readers’ understanding of the groups and individuals under exploration. While the book title might suggest an explicitly theological lens, the book’s contributors move seamlessly between historical, sociological, psychological, and anthropological treatments of the groups.
The title’s reference to “minority religions” (as part of the Routledge Inform Series on Minority Religions) is a modest description of the books ambitious scope. The book addresses movements as diverse as the British Union of Fascists during World War II and the punk movement in Northern Ireland at the time of the Troubles before moving onto more traditional theological tribulations amongst the Society for Krishan Consciousness and contemporary Tibetan Buddhist denominations. The editors attribute this diversity to a view also taken by Catherine Wessinger “that religious and non-religious ideological minorities have more in common than not” in their “commitment to a mission or ultimate concern” (3). This is a point demonstrated ably in the chapters that follow.
Another commonality between the groups is that they are movements emanating from and operating in the 20th and 21st century. Even though it is fair to ground the book explicitly in the uncertainty witnessed around the turn of the 21st century, this reader wonders if some exploration of groups prior to these times may have demonstrated even further commonality in response to uncertainty. This would have afforded the chance for the incredibly rich ethnographic data present in some of the chapters, particularly those offered from an “insider” perspective by Martin Weightman, Francis Stewart, and Angela Burt, to have been utilized and juxtaposed with greater historical span. However, the book is certainly no worse off for its choice in scope.
The coeditors start the book off in their introductory chapter with a powerful and prominent example of the impact of uncertainty on minority religious movements, directing readers as they do to the momentum of the book as a whole. In invoking Aum Shinrikyō to illustrate the catalytic impact uncertainty can have on groups of this nature the editors bring the reader’s attention immediately to why the two titular themes that frame the book are worthy of consideration together. This is then followed up by a note on the composition of the group of authors participating in the book (members of the UKRC funded Global Uncertainties Programme at the University of Lancaster), the rationale behind the terms in play and their definitions, all of which helps to chaperone the readers journey through the subsequent chapters with ease.
Graham Macklin’s exploration of British fascism throws open uncertainty at the very conceptual core of the movement when a group of self-defined “ardent patriots” (70) find themselves living in a nation at war with its ideology in the form of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Plotting this journey from the outbreak of war, through internment and “martyrdom” (73) to the mundanity of attempting to make a living amongst the “day to day drudgery” (82) of a post-war life tainted by fascist identity offers an intimate glimpse and provides a humanity to the piece and its subjects. That his chapter includes testimony from some of those imprisoned for fascist membership during the war is incredibly illuminating and unexpected, and the sheer breadth and volume the author weaves through his piece produces a fascinating final product.
Francis Stewart engages in a sensitive discussion of a resistance movement within a war of identity, charting the role of the punk, “straight edge” punk, and anarchist scenes in Northern Ireland in challenging the rigid sectarianism and “othering” (101) which defined “The Troubles.” Uncertainty defined by rampant unemployment, low quality housing, paramilitary and police oppression, and intolerance meets a force determined to challenge all of this, one so alluring and potent one interviewee describes it as “a third religion” (103). Stewart’s presence at the center of these events is valuable, and the generous space she affords to contributors’ quotations allows perspectives of the era to take center stage.
Exploring the more ecclesial and dogmatic, David V. Barrett investigates rift, schism, and uncertainty within the evangelical Worldwide Church of God amidst the change bought about by the passing of charismatic founder Herbert W. Armstrong. Barrett examines the emergence of cracks in Armstrong’s divine infallibility as the foundation for the parting of ways that was to come and successive parting of ways beyond it. His intricate descriptions of each personality and denomination involved in this long history of separation is engaging, and provides an informed backdrop to his wider, innovative considerations of Protestant schism.
The book overall offers intimate detail in zeroing in on specific movements in specific time periods, resulting in a real depth of information shared across each contribution. The vast variety of topics, places, and scholar specialties ensures the anthology is never overburdened with technical information specific to one discipline and remains accessible and thoroughly enjoyable throughout.
Joseph Powell is a PhD student at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge.Joseph PowellDate Of Review:October 7, 2021