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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Vision for Society

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

In its early decades ISKCON was fiercely sectarian. Like other sectarian groups, the Hare Krishna movement avoided unnecessary contact with the outside world and attempted to create its own parallel social structures. This meant that devotees avoided the culture of the nations in which they lived, including entertainment, literature, and politics. ISKCON devotees especially eschewed Western educational systems, with many dropping out of college after joining the movement. As devotees began families, they created alternative schools for their youth and discouraged their children from considering higher education. In recent years, the movement has recognized this approach as unsustainable. ISKCON's schools failed to provide adequate education to its youth, and their lack of marketable skills has led to many second-generation devotees being unable to find jobs.

During its first decades the Hare Krishna movement was also highly utopian, hoping to transform the world into a Krishna Conscious society within the lifetime of its founder. In efforts that devotees consider somewhat naïve in retrospect, Bhaktivedanta hoped to gain the support of the leaders of government, higher education, industry, and science in creating this Krishna Conscious global culture, even as he dismissed these social segments as harmful and irrelevant to Vedic living. ISKCON's sectarian character limited its utopian goals, since few social leaders outside the movement opted to ally themselves with a group that so clearly rejected the norms of Western society.


Study Questions:
     1.    Why do ISKCON members engage in missionizing?
     2.    Does ISKCON recognize other religious traditions as legitimate? Why?
     3.    What was the rationale for the ISKCON sectarian lifestyle? Is it still practiced?

 
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