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Inventory of the Centers and Programs, Center for the Study of New Religious Movements Collections, 1977-1983
GTU 91-9-3  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Agency History
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Centers and Programs. Center for the Study of New Religious Movements Collections,
    Date (bulk): 1977-1983
    Accession Code: GTU 91-9-3
    Collector: Center for the Study of New Religious Movements, Graduate Theological Union
    Size: 23 boxes 10 ft.
    Repository: The Graduate Theological Union.
    2400 Ridge Road
    Berkeley, California 94709
    Abstract: This collection documents the history of the Center for the Study of New Religious Movements from 1977-1983.
    Shelf location: 3/H/1 - 3/H/4, Record Group 7, Subgroup A
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Graduate Theological Union. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Graduate Theological Union as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Centers and Programs. Center for the Study of New Religious Movements Collections, The Graduate Theological Union Archives, Berkeley, CA.

    Acquisition Information

    Transferred to the GTU Archives in 1989 and 1999.

    Agency History

    In October 1975, the GTU Executive Committee authorized preliminary planning of an alternative religions resource center providing materials on the growing variety of cults and sects in the United States. Jacob Needleman, a professor at San Francisco State University, was called in as a consultant and subsequently accepted appointment as program Director and Visiting Professor of Comparative Religions at the Graduate Theological Union. The Program for the Study of New Religious Movements was inaugurated Fall 1977. Funding was received from NEH, the Rockefeller Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Luce Foundation, and Ford Foundation. Work fell into two distinct phases. First was the Program for the Study of New Religious Movements, 1977-80. After a period of program and goal evaluation, the second phase was the Center for the Study of New Religious Movements, 1980-83.
    In the first phase, the Program saw the emergence of new religious movements as a response to a shift in the basic values and conceptions of Americans fueled by a resurgence of interest in religion, especially among the youth in the 1960's-70's. The complex issues were perceived by the Program to be grouped in three areas: 1. The personal dimension (in families and communities); 2. The effects on traditional religious institutions/churches; and 3. Related contemporary issues such as psychotherapy, education, ecology, and financial resources. To work on these issues, the Program set up four components: 1. For education/outreach, present series of colloquia to the scholarly community and general public; 2. Publish colloquia proceedings; 3. Establish a resource collection in the Library; and 4. Sponsor research projects.
    In 1977, the Program sponsored the National Conference on the Study of New Religious Movements. Forty scholars were invited from a broad range of disciplines including sociology, theology, psychology, philosophy, history, and journalism. This was the first national conference to take an inter-disciplinary approach to this subject. The major result was that because it sought the inter-disciplinary approach, the Conference initiated "the creation of an entire academic field" (Report, pg. 24). The proceedings were published as Understanding the New Religions, Jacob Needleman and George Baker, eds. (NY: Seabury Press, 1978). (GTU Library call number BL2530 U6 U5, Rare Book.) Transcriptions of the Conference discussions were published as New Religious Movements in America, The Rockefeller Foundation, 1979. (GTU Library call number BL2530 U6 N48, Rare Book.)
    Further education/outreach Program activities included University of California Extension courses offered by George Baker and Don Stone, occasional forums, and presentations to various interested Bay Area organizations. The staff increasingly gave interviews for newspapers, radio, and television as the phenomenon of new religions became a hot topic for the general public.
    The New Religious Movements Research Collection received most of the Program's energies in this first phase. GTU Librarian, J. Stillson Judah, had had a long interest in this area and laid the groundwork for the collection. It was housed in the Graduate Theological Union Library under the direction of Betty Rozak. They collected unique and ephemeral material on groups and organizations, eventually totaling approximately 500. Published materials were acquired in the general Library collection. Bibliographies on new religious movements and various aspects within this area of study were produced by Rozak, and Program researchers. A directory of scholars working in the field of new religious movements was produced. The Research Collection was used extensively by scholarly researchers and interested community patrons.
    For the scholarly research component of the Program, Jacob Needleman and Charles Glock worked on larger projects. Needleman focused on the impact of new religious movements on traditional religious institutions in western culture, and Glock on the impact on religion and the social consciousness of the general population. Researchers could apply to the Program for smaller project grants from funds made available through NEH.
    The growing public outcry and controversy surrounding new religious movements generally, particularly following the Jonestown tragedy in late 1979, brought the Program to re-access its goals. The Program did not want "to become involved in polemics about the alleged practices of specific groups", but did want to respond to underlying questions "in a serious scholarly fashion" (Report, pg. 28). Discussions led to a new set of program objectives for a three-year visiting scholars program successfully submitted to NEH and the Rockefeller Foundation.
    In this second phase, 1980-83, the Program became the Center for the Study of New Religious Movements. Teams of scholars collaborated in research and produced working papers on one of three major Center-identified dimensions of the context and significance of new religious movements: 1. Coercion and authority (brainwashing and deprogramming); 2. New religious movements' impact on social values and education; and 3. Legal issues: economic, political, and public policy implications. Each dimension was the focus of an academic year. Bi-weekly interdisciplinary research seminars were held. Participants working in various disciplines were visiting scholars who had applied to and been accepted by the Center for an academic year, invited local scholars and graduate students. The seminars were audio-taped and transcripts typed for some of them. In 1981, the Center sponsored a national conference on Conversion, Coercion and Commitment in New Religious Movements. Though a monograph of the proceedings was planned, it was not produced. The papers presented at the Conference were kept in the Research Collection (see Box 2, ff 4-11). The 1981-82 Research Seminars, Religion and the Law, resulted in a monograph: Cults, Culture, and the Law: Perspectives on New Religious Movements, Thomas Robbins, William C. Shepherd, and James McBride, eds. (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985). (GTU Library call number BL2525 C85 1985, Rare Book.)
    Having fulfilled the terms of the NEH and Rockefeller Foundation grants, the Center closed in 1983. Paul A. Schwartz, Project Director, and Jacob Needleman, Center Director edited the Final Performance Report to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation, September 1983. This is an extensive report giving the history of the Program and Center, detailed reports on each of the academic years' activities for 1980-83, and narrative reports on aspects of new religious movements from Jacob Needleman, Nevitt Sanford, and Thomas Robbins. The Report is the basis for this Agency History and can be found in Box 1, ff 57.

    Scope and Content

    Since the Center closed in 1983, the working files and records had been boxed and stored in the GTU Building at 2465 LeConte. The working research papers produced by the Center's research associates and visiting scholars, the unpublished papers collected by Center staff, and the typed transcripts of Research Seminars had been transferred to the NRM Research Collection in the GTU Library. The Library staff had foldered the papers and filed them in alphabetical order by author. The papers were never cataloged by the Library, nor was any inventory or list produced. The Center's working files and records (Boxes 1-3), including the audio-tapes of Research Seminars (Boxes 20-23) were transferred to the Archives in 1989. The written research papers and transcripts (Boxes 4-20) were transferred to the Archives in 1999.


    This collection is organized into 4 series: Office and Working files; NRM Center Papers; Seminar Transcripts; and Audiocassette tapes.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Cults--United States--History--20th Century
    Sects--United States--History--20th Century
    United States--Religion--1960--Sources
    United States--Religion--1960--Congresses
    Religions--Study and teaching
    Needleman, Jacob
    Anthony, Dick, 1939-
    Baker, George, 1941-
    McBride, James
    Robbins, Thomas, 1943-
    Schwartz, Paul Anthony