Reading List: Religion Gone Extreme

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Emily Perper is a word-writing human working at a small publishing company. She blogs about her favorite longreads at Diet Coker.

Each of these stories this week is about a facet of religion gone extreme, and each is an example of why these pieces of longform journalism are important. There is detailed, professional storytelling, gripping subject matter, the opportunity to delve behind-the-scenes and try to get at the truth. It’s so easy to make assumptions about folks who don’t take their sons to the doctor, or the daughters of cult leaders, or the woman who studies the daughter of cult leaders, but good reporting forces us to reassess our assumptions.

1. “The Fall of the House of Moon.” (Mariah Blake, The New Republic, November 2013)

Though his espoused family values and extreme legalistic moralism attracted the Republican Party, Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church enforced harmful sex rivals and fostered an environment of bitter sibling rivalry, drug abuse, and adultery. I’m in awe of Blake’s thorough investigation. I read most of this article to a friend of mine as she gaped.

2. “Why Did the Schaibles Let Their Children Die?” (Robert Huber, Philadelphia Magazine, October 2013)

Herbie and Cathy Schaible lost two young sons to treatable illnesses because their independent Baptist denomination does not believe in man-made medicine. They believe unacknowledged sin, not lack of medical treatment, caused their sons’ deaths.

3. “Caught Up In the Cult Wars: Confessions of a New Religious Movement Researcher.” (Susan J. Palmer, University of Toronto Press, 2001)

Cult-lover or sympathetic scientist? In courts of law, Susan Palmer is summoned to explicate her studies of New Religious Movements (NRMS). In this (delightful!) bear of an essay, she discusses the ethical dilemmas of investigating NRMs.

4. “A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now?” (Tom Bartlett, Religion Dispatch Magazine, May 2012)

When your leader’s prophecies don’t come true, what do you do? Bartlett interviewed followers of doomsday herald Harold Camping. It’s a solid companion to Palmer’s essay about NRMs.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Mike Dang
Mike is the managing editor at Longreads, and the editor of The Billfold. He has written for Bloomberg Businessweek, Pacific Standard, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications.
  • typedriven

    Thanks for providing this valuable list of readings. I wish someone at Longreads would contact ME to suggest a list! We’ve all got a special interest, and I sure could provide some interesting stuff if they’d let me.

    • markarms

      Would love to hear from you! mark [at] longreads [dot] com