FROM SLOGANS TO MANTRAS: Social Protest and Religious Conversion in the Late Vietnam Era

Stephen A. Kent, Author
Stephen A. Kent, Author . Syracuse $49.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8156-2923-8 ISBN 0-8156-2948-6
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In this lucid and economical study, sociologist Kent examines a little-noted confluence: the same years that saw American youth delving into radical politics and protesting war also saw them turn to unusual, sometimes cultish, spiritual traditions. Kent challenges traditional scholarship by arguing that such conversions to alternative religious traditions marked "a crisis of means," not a "a crisis of meaning," as has often been assumed. Political activism, says Kent, was meant to accomplish something: above all, to end the Vietnam War. When it became increasingly apparent that countercultural politics were not, in fact, achieving the desired ends, activists discovered other methods in new religious groups. That a disaffected generation should turn to spirituality is not surprising; that it should do so for political reasons is indeed interesting. Just as useful as Kent's provocative (if overly functionalist) argument is his descriptive ethnography of many of the religious paths that became prominent during the 1970s—the Hare Krishnas, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, the Unification Church and the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization. This book's import goes far beyond the seemingly narrow scope of its subject; when coupled with the recent work of Christian Smith (Divided by Faith and Disruptive Religion), Kent's study promises to reshape and reinvigorate the very language we use to discuss the nexus between religion and politics in America. (Dec.)

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