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Children born and raised on the religious fringe are a distinctive yet largely unstudied social phenomenon -they are irreversibly shaped by the experience having been thrust into a radical religious culture by birth. The religious group is all encompassing. It accounts for their family, their school, social networks, and everything that prepares them for their adult life. The inclusion of a second generation of participants raises new concerns and legal issues. Perfect Children examines the ways new religious movements adapt to a second generation, how children are socialized, what happens to these children as they mature, and how their childhoods have affected them.
Amanda van Twist conducted over 50 in-depth interviews with individuals born into new religious groups, some of whom have stayed in the group, some of whom have left. She also visited the groups, their schools and homes, and analyzed support websites maintained by those who left the religious groups that raised them. She also attended conferences held by NGOs concerned with the welfare of children in “cults.” The main groups she studies include the Bruderhof, Scientology, the Family International, the Unification Church, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Children born into new religions often start life as “special children” believed to be endowed with heightened spiritual capabilities. But as they mature into society at large they acquire other labels. Those who stay in the group are usually labeled as “goodies” and “innovators”. Those who leave tend to be labeled as “baddies” or seen as “troubled.” Whether they stay or leave, children raised on the religious fringe experience a unique form of segregation in adulthood.
Van Twist analyzes group behavior on an organizational/institutional level as well as individual behavior within groups, and how these affect one another. Her study also raises larger questions about religious freedom in the light of the State’s responsibility towards children, and children’s rights against the rights of parents to raise their children within their religion.
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