ABSTRACT: The analysis of episodes of violence associated with religious movements is becoming a key sub-area in the study of new religious movements. An influential method which we term the "interpretive" approach has produced important insights. This approach focuses on how messianic movements interpret the behavior of persons and groups which they perceive as deeply hostile. However, some scholars may have placed too much emphasis on the reactive quality of movement violence as a response to the hasty actions of authorities influenced by distorted or self-fulfilling stereotypes of deviant groups. Some movements are capable of violence that does not appear to be elicited by forceful and dynamic provocations against them, although some leaders may perceive a demonic quality underlying any criticism or opposition or blockage of their aspirations. While hasty or overbearing actions by authorities may lead to violence with respect to some groups in some situations, the withholding or slow pace of intervention may enhance the potential for violence relative to other groups in other contexts. The view of fringe movements as victims may often be valid, but sometimes it may inhibit legitimate criticism of some movements' problematic practices or repugnant beliefs. Objective scholars should consider relinquishing permanent investments in images of alternative religions as either victims or destructive demons.
↵The author wishes to thank Catherine Wessinger, Susan Palmer, and two anonymous referees for critical comments which have positively influenced the evolution of this article.
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