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Religion Library: ISKCON (Hare Krishna)

Exploration and Conquest

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

Such tension became increasingly heightened following the 1977 murder/suicides of the members of the People Temple, a new religious movement that operated the Jonestown community in South America. Though ISKCON had never endorsed violence, it nevertheless suffered by comparison as a fellow NRM. The situation worsened in the mid-1980s when a breakaway group of Hare Krishna devotees, led by one of Bhaktivedanta's hand-picked gurus, transformed their rural commune in West Virginia into a center for a variety of criminal activities, including drug distribution, child abuse, and murder.

By the 1990s, tensions between ISKCON and broader society had subsided. Partially, ISKCON had abated such tension through forming strategic alliances with Indian Hindus, who defended ISKCON as a bona fide religion, and characterized attacks on it as religious persecution. Furthermore, social scientists had come to reject notions of brainwashing and even the category of cult, meaning that the expert witnesses relied upon by courts tended to support ISKCON rather than the ACM. Finally, the demographic shifts within ISKCON itself led to decreased tensions and persecution. With most of its devotees having families and working normal jobs, ISKCON increasingly became a more conventional movement rather than a countercultural one. As such, the group represented less of a threat to mainstream culture than it did in the 1960s and 1970s.

Study Questions:
     1.    Describe the relationship of ISKCON to the counter-culture, and to the popular culture.
     2.    What is the ACM? How did they engage in violence against the ISKCON devotees?
     3.    Why was the ISKCON movement perceived as violent?
     4.    What helped resolve the tension between ISKCON and the broader society?


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