Minority Religions in Europe and the Middle East

Mapping and Monitoring

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Editor(s): 
George D. Chryssides
Routledge Inform Series on Minority Religions and Spiritual Movements
  • New York, NY: 
    Routledge
    , August
     2018.
     270 pages.
     $149.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781472463609.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Minority Religions in Europe and the Middle East: Mapping and Monitoring, edited by George D. Chryssides, contains seventeen chapters divided into two parts. The first part, titled “Mapping the Minority Religions,” offers chapters on methodological tools such as the use of censuses, how individualism creates space for spiritual movements to flourish, and collective identity and its relation to community boundaries. The second part, titled “Monitoring, Regulation and Opposition” offers chapters on the legal issues minority movements in European countries face within state institutions, the way religious multinationals navigate state governments, and the approaches Spain has taken toward solving the negative public attitude toward diversity. In the final chapter of the book, Chryssides concludes by presenting data on religious movements by country and the historical contexts and a brief history of religion in the specified countries.

This book of essays presents topics like media representation, diasporic movements, discrimination, state power, economic patterns, pluralism, and the legitimization of religious traditions that contribute to the ongoing debates about creating an environment that allows minority religious movements to exist peacefully. It also successfully demonstrates the tension between “themselves, the state, and the dominant religion,” as Chryssides highlights in his introduction (3). While each account of minority movements is an essential part to the book, I will feature one chapter that best represents the function of the book and its successful attempt to highlight the nuances of minority religious movements.

In the second chapter, “What do the Censuses Tell Us About Minority Religions? Some Reflections on Estonia,” author Ringo Ringvee illustrates how censuses can be useful in adequately analyzing and mapping minority religious movements. He not only presents the quantitative data gathered from the 2001 and 2011 Estonian censuses, but he also uses that data in conjunction with Estonia’s unique cultural and political history to explain the rise of minority religious movements. This method allows him to highlight not just the history of minority religious movements and the state’s census process, showing how religions are represented in an institutional form. This approach also allows Ringvee to move past the more institutionalized religions and direct our attention to the trends and compositions of other religious movements, like paganism, Eastern religions, and New Age and alternative spirituality movements.

In doing so, Ringvee highlights the state’s role in defining religion, how cultural and ethnic history plays a significant role in religious identity, and how the proper collection of data can be beneficial in charting religious movements—especially when participants have the option to declare their own identity. Ringvee uses this methodology to highlight how minority movements, especially New Age spirituality, are growing in Estonia, ultimately changing the Estonian demographic.

Ringvee’s chapter highlights what the anthology does well. The anthology provides various approaches to understanding minority religions. Chryssides was able to compile a diverse list of authors, ranging from scholars of religious studies to senior advisors of human rights organizations, making this book accessible for students, scholars, and professionals who are interested in minority religions in different disciplines and fields. This diversity not only highlights a multitude of approaches to use while examining the complexities of minority religious movements but shows how academic and professional disciplines can work together on a range of topics, like the advancement of human rights. The anthology also expands scholarship on minority religious movements by examining movements in the Middle East without focusing on Islamic sectarianism and by focusing on movements like Jehovah’s Witness and the Baha’i Faith.

While the anthology provides a large amount of information, varying in topics and methodologies, it is missing a stronger, more nuanced introduction to minority religious movements. Chryssides presents a strong argument to why studying minority religious movements is essential in the introduction, but he does not equip us with a robust framework to better understand the history of this growing topic. He provides a brief explanation to why the terms “new religious movement” and “cults” are not acceptable for this book (3) and a sentence on the history of the anti-cult movement (5); however, it is not enough to fully grasp the intricacies and nuances of this topic.

This anthology could benefit from an introductory chapter that introduces not only the necessity of scholarship on minority religious movements, but also a history of the anti-cult movement that allows the reader to fully encompass the complexities to the topic and how the new religious movement paradigm plays a role in much of the scholarship produced on minority religious movements today. Despite this shortcoming, Chryssides compiled an anthology that handles the topic of minority religious movements in a way that is respectful to the movements and informative to the readers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Madeleine Prothero earned a master’s degree in Religion from Florida State University.

Date of Review: 
September 8, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

George D. Chryssides is Honorary Research Fellow in Contemporary Religion at the University of Birmingham and York St John University.

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