Mary Farrell Bednarowski
Indiana University Press, 1989; hardcover.

This book should expand the minds of many readers on the nature of religion and theological thought. Bednarowski examines six “new religions”-Mormonism, Christian Science, Theosophy, Scientology, the Unifcation Church, and New Age thought-comparing and contrasting their varied approaches to religious questions such as: Who or what is God like? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of death and the afterlife? How do we live our lives, ethically?

One can quarrel with Bednarowski about whether, for example, Theosophy and New Age thought are really religions. H. P. Blavatsky, founder of modem Theosophy, said Theosophy was not religion, and Theosophists include practitioners of many faiths, East and West-there are Hindus, Buddhists, Christians of many denominations, Jews, and more among the Theosophists, who seek the core of the ageless wisdom in whatever religious tradition. And New Age thought is a conglomeration of interests-spiritual, social, and political which at best can be declared a “network” based on some common threads of thought. New Agers, too, can be found in nearly every church, temple, or synagogue. But these may be quibbles in an age when religion and spirituality are mass-marketed, and New Age sections proliferate in bookstores.

Then too, Bednarowski does a solid job of presenting the ideas of these six modern religious or spiritual movements. Her sources are impeccable, and her treatment across the board seems very fair. Within the parameters she has chosen, the distinctions among the six movements are clear, and she shows that each of the movements has an internal integrity. Presenting them as she does, she also reveals fundamental continuities in the way religious thought has developed in America.

She has organized the book as a conversation among the six movements on important questions of cosmology, metaphysics, ethics, and eschatology. It should enhance understanding in academic settings of these relatively recent expressions of the religious quest. Recent doesn’t necessarily mean faddish, and for that matter, that which is labeled “New” is often found to be grounded in something very old indeed. Bednarowski is professor of religious studies and director of the Master of Arts program at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Her book is one of a series issued under the general title of “Religion in North America,” Catherine L. Albanese and Stephen J. Stein, editors.


Summer 1990