BREVARD — Imagine sitting down with a Moonie and discussing the cost of buying a new furnace for his home, or talking with a follower of the Hare Krishna movement about her child’s carpool.
If you think it’s unlikely you have anything in common with the members of these fringe groups, a Brevard College professor says think again.
Benjamin Zeller, a religious studies professor, often shared such routine small talk with members of three well-known American cults during the five years he spent researching and writing his recently published book, “Prophets and Protons.”
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“It amazes me when I study these groups, how human we all are,” Zeller says. “So much of their lives are normal stuff. They struggle with questions we all struggle with.”
His book examines how three cults, which he calls new religious movements, responded to scientific advances in late 20th century America. The book considers how members of each cult incorporated science into their religious beliefs. The response of the cults to science can shed light on how more established, mainstream religions could respond to the power and prestige of science in America, he says.
The followers of the Hare Krishna movement, the Unification Church and the Heaven’s Gate cult found distinct ways to deal with scientific advances. And Zeller says their approaches to science aren’t all that different from the ways many people find answers to the same questions.
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