Stephen A. Kent, Ph. D., University of Alberta
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Reviews of Stephen Kent's From Slogans to Mantras: Social Protest and Religious Conversion in the Late Vietnam War Era
   

Stephen A. Kent's, From Slogans to Mantras: Social Protest and Religious Conversion in the Late Vietnam War Era was on the "Outstanding Academic Title” list for 2002 for Choice: Current Reviews or Academic Libraries. This "Outstanding Academic Title list" included over 600 books and electronic resources chosen by Choice editorial staff from among the 6,802 titles reviewed by Choice during 2002. These outstanding titles were selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value to their subject. Comprising less than 10 percent of the titles reviewed by Choice during the past year, and less than 3 percent of the 22,000+ titles submitted to Choice during the same period, Outstanding Academic Titles are truly the ‘best of the best.’

CHOICE Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, June 2002 Vol 39 No.10

This engaging and articulate book explores those 1960s political activists who responded to the disillusionment caused by the fragmentation, internecine conflict, and decline of the New Left by embracing countercultural religious groups. Based on archival research and interviews with political-to-religious converts, the book focuses on ten group reflecting Eastern, Western, and syncretic religions. Kent (Univ. of Alberta) knows this terrain well and offers readers -- even those who have been there -- a keen sense of the era's zeitgeist. Ex-Students for a Democratic Society activist and Chicago 7 defendant Rennie Davis, who became a devotee of the Divine Light Mission's Guru Maharaj Ji, is the exemplar of the type of convert the author describes. They are the seekers who looked for salvation in politics and, not finding it there, made their pilgrimages to nonmainstream religious groups. Kent offers a fairly compelling social psychological account of this particular conversion route. Comparing these converts to other activists who either stayed the course or somehow found their way back to more conventional social pursuits and explaining what made them different would have strengthened his case. That complaint aside, this is an ideal monograph for undergraduates -- sophisticated yet accessible. All levels and collections.

Review on H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences, "New Leftist With new Tricks, or Neo-conservatives" by Jill K.Gill, Department of History, Boise State University

Review from the Library Journal, December 2001

Books on countercultural religion in the United States in the 1960s and 1970 are just now being published. Here, Kent (sociology, Univ. of Alberta, Canada) analyzes the religious movements that took root among young people in the United States toward the end of the Vietnam War era. He traces the cultural changes some U.S. youth experienced as they moved from the political protests of the Sixties to mystical religious conversions in the early Seventies. The book provides a catalog of religious options that were pursued by those who had been dedicated to the "revolution," all of which fall into the categories of the cultic, occult, or Eastern religions. A section on psychedelic drug-enhanced religious experiences typified the type of material covered in this study. Kent admits that a shift to religion was not the only transition possible - some instead chose the women's movement, gay rights, ecology, rural living, and other social movements. And he recognizes that not everyone will agree that the transition to religion was a good one. The catalog of persons and experiences documented here will not be familiar to many historians, and much of it will fall outside the realm of study for religious scholars. Nevertheless, this study, which utilizes sources such as personal narratives and the alternative press, is recommended for academic and public libraries.

Review in Publishers Weekly, October 15, 2001

In this lucid and economical study, sociologist Kent examines a little-noted confluence: the same years that saw American youth delving into radical politics and protesting war also saw them turn to unusual, sometimes cultish, spiritual traditions. Kent challenges traditional scholarship by arguing that such conversions to alternative religious traditions marked "a crisis of means," not a "crisis of meaning,"as has often been assumed. Political activism, says Kent, was meant to accomplish something: above all, to end the Vietnam War. When it became apparent that countercultural politics were non, in fact, achieving the desired ends, activists discovered other methods in new religious groups. That a disaffected generation should turn to spirituality is not surprising;that it should do so for political reasons is indeed interesting. Just as useful as Kent's provocative (if overly functionalist) argument is his descriptive ethnography of many of the religious paths that became prominent during the during the 1970s - the Hare Krishnas, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, the Unification Church and the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization. This book's import goes far beyond the seemingly narrow scope of its subject; when coupled with the recent work of Christian Smith (Divided by Faith and Disruptive Religion), Kent's study promises to reshape and reinvigorate the very language we use to discuss the nexus between religion and politics in America.

 

Dr. Stephen Kent, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2H4
Phone: (780) 492-2204, Fax: (780) 492-7196, E-Mail: steve.kent@ualberta.ca