the Faith: Web Sites Provide Foundation for Understanding Religion
August 24, 1999 -- With more than a million
hits per month, the Religious
Movements home page at the University of Virginia has developed
a faithful following.
by U.Va. sociology professor Jeffrey K. Hadden and his students,
the Web site offers an objective, accurate portrayal of new and
non-mainstream religious groups -- including both well-established
and respected traditions and nascent ones that have few members
and exist primarily as Web pages.
profiles of more than 200 religious organizations, movements, faiths
and quasi-religions, including cults and sects, the site offers
an understanding of how new traditions emerge and grow or sometimes
stagnate and die. Group profiles range from the Amish and Alcoholics
Anonymous to China's Falun Gong movement to UFO cults and Zen Buddhism.
current and comprehensive, the site provides information on such
topics as brainwashing controversies, counter-cult movements, minorities
and new religions, and religious freedom organizations. It also
provides a bibliography, a collection of online lectures and links
to thousands of Internet resources related to religious movements.
addition to creating a foundation for understanding religion, the
site seeks to promote tolerance and appreciation of all religions
without preference for any particular faith," said Hadden,
well-known for his studies of religious broadcasters and the emergence
of the Christian Right in America.
site is the centerpiece in a complement of three Web locations developed
by Hadden that probe sociological aspects of religion. The newest
Freedom, analyzes the roots and assesses the status of religious
freedom throughout the world. It explores such issues as religious
tolerance, religious pluralism and human rights. The site has 11
sections including one describing religious freedom in more than
190 nations and one that summarizes major U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Broadcasting site provides resources useful for studying the
impact of electronic communications on religion. The site describes
such topics as televangelism, radio broadcasting and religious networks.
sites are a great step forward in a field where controversy and
advocacy have had for too many years a wider presence on the Web
than accurate, reliable information," said Massimo Introvigne,
managing director of the Center
for Studies on New Religions, an association of scholars that
operates the largest European academic Web site on new religious
began the Religious Movements site in 1996 in conjunction with a
course he'd been teaching at U.Va. for 20 years. He initially saw
the site only as a learning tool for students in his class. However,
as students in successive classes contributed profiles on religious
organizations, he realized how valuable and comprehensive the site
enrolled in the course often spend more than 100 hours per semester
creating profiles of religious organizations. Each profile contains
a description of the group's beliefs and, if appropriate, a discussion
of how an issue has caused the group friction or controversy. Each
profile identifies and describes Internet sites offering relevant
information about the organization.
which are listed on the site alphabetically as well as by faith,
also offer bibliographies of print and electronic resources about
the organizations. Hadden guides the students in selecting profile
subjects that help the reader understand specific issues or traditions
find the Web site by Jeffrey Hadden and his students to be a most
valuable addition to the Internet," said Bruce Robinson, coordinator
of the Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance. "The Web is saturated with so many
sites that attack small, emerging faith groups with misinformation,
hate and fear. Hadden's site is a breath of fresh air. Its
accurate, balanced and objective."
asks readers of the site to alert him if they spot incorrect information
about a group or significant material that is missing. He also encourages
them to suggest appropriate Web sites or bibliographic references.
Hadden, who spends about four hours daily verifying the accuracy
of the students profiles and updating and changing information
on the site, believes the continual monitoring helps to insure its
accuracy and timeliness of material.
author or editor of 25 books including the two-volume "Handbook
of Cults and Sects in America," posts his lectures on the Religious
Movement site. Reflecting Haddens three decades of study on
religious social movements and his interest in religion and politics,
the lectures cover 30 topics. The subjects are as diverse as Fundamentalism,
Pentecostalism, the alleged use of brainwashing in recruiting people
into religious movements, and understanding the Waco tragedy. Of
particular interest to scholars are lectures offering historical
assessments of important religious movements and those examining
the major movements of the 20th century.
1995 when Hadden first began exploring using technology as a means
of teaching, he had never heard of the Web. "It didnt
take long to discover that in its infancy, the Web was a virtual
war zone for many new religious movements. Since an important part
of studying cults and sects is to understand their conflict with
adversaries, the prospect of being able to witness this live, on-line
struggle was exciting," he recalled.
sees the Internet as an invaluable source for learning about new
religious movements. "The topic is particularly good for honing
skills of critical thinking and discernment because the content
is so highly volatile," he said.
Web can't take one into the innersanctum of religious groups or
to the hearts and minds of those who believe. But the Religious
Movements Page enhances learning about religious organizations by
making the process of locating materials easier," Hadden said.
more information, contact Hadden at (804) 924-6528, office; (804)
977-5410, home; or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857