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The potentiality of contemporary religion: Aum Shinrikyo and violence


The potentiality of contemporary religion : Aum Shinrikyo and violenceThis review is of a book written in Japanese, included here because it is one of the most comprehensive assessments of Aum Shinrikyō\'s teachings. The title of the book in Japanese is: '現代宗教の可能性:オウム真理教と暴力' ('Gendai shūkyō no kanōsei: Oumu Shinrikyō to bōryoku').

The apocalyptic Japanese religious movement Aum Shinrikyō is one of the most dramatic examples of how a once-peaceful religious group can become transformed into a violent movement, one that carried out attacks on the Japanese public and that manufactured biological and chemical weapons as part of its perceived plan to save the world by confronting what it termed the evil of this world, and to wage a final war against it. This book by Shimazono Susumu, Japan’s pre-eminent scholar of new religions, is the most comprehensive assessment in Japanese of the movement’s teachings. In it Shimazono shows how the activities of Aum were underpinned by its theological orientations, and how its initially benign critiques of materialism and of the modern world, developed into a more antagonistic way of thinking that provided the movement with a set of teachings that ultimately legitimated its espousal of violence. Based on close textual readings of the sermons of the movement’s guru and leader Asahara Shōkō, this is provides one of the most extensive examinations of the relationship between religious doctrines and violence available, and shows how religion and religious teachings can be a force in the production of violence.

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