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The Religious Melting Point: On Tolerance, Controversial Religions and the State

The Example of Transcendental Meditation in Germany, Israel and the United States
Tectum,  2010, 354 Seiten, broschiert

ISBN 978-3-8288-2506-2

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How do different societies react to controversial religions? What are the constraints on religious freedom and religious tolerance in democratic societies? When do they reach their tolerance limit, their religious “melting point”, and start to discriminate against new religions? Tamar Gablinger compares the policies and societal responses to new religious movements in three countries – Germany, Israel and the United States. She contextualises the stance on new religions in those countries beyond questions of church and state. The author places these policies within the larger context of how the state perceives its citizens and looks at the respective systematic patterns of inclusion or exclusion. Gablinger focuses on one of the largest new religious movements – the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1950s. She provides an exceptional historical and sociological review of this movement, and its activities in Germany, Israel and the United States. Why did the TMers succeed in establishing a settlement for meditation in Israel and the United States, yet fail to do so in Germany? Why are they not allowed to meditate in US public schools despite their claim to be a “scientific method” rather than an actual religion? Why did the Natural Law Party promise peace through “Yogic Flying”? Why did the German “Raja” Emanuel Schiffgens promise an “invincible Germany” to an angry audience? And how does a neo-Hindu religious movement rebrand itself as “science”, so that very little has been written about it by sociologists of religion? Not only does the author tell the story of TM or of new religious movements and their relationships with the state. She goes further in exploring patterns of tolerance and inclusion that are relevant for our understanding of societal and political reactions to counter-cultural phenomena and controversial minorities.