Cults, Sects, “Fringe Groups” in American History
Exclusive, narrowly focused social groups with aberrant social and/or theological ideologies are surprisingly common throughout American history. Some are psychologically damaging, a very few are violent (and many of the worst are imaginary!), but most are benign. All require sacrifice of some things of personal value, like family relationships and material wealth. Why do people join such organizations? Describing some representative groups from different historical periods, this talk provides some answers to that question.
Phil Stevens retired in 2019 after 48 years in the Anthropology Department at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He received his B.A. in English from Yale in 1963, then served with the Peace Corps in Nigeria for three years. Those experiences brought him into anthropology, and he entered the graduate program at Northwestern University. He conducted dissertation research in different areas of Nigeria, 1969-1971, and received his Ph.D. in 1973. He has conducted subsequent anthropological research in West Africa and the Caribbean. He is the author of many publications in cultural anthropology and African studies, and he is the recipient of two awards for excellence in teaching. One of his most popular courses at UB was on the anthropology of Magic, Sorcery, and Witchcraft; and he is writing a book on that topic. He lectures frequently to community groups on subjects of current concern.