From Slogans to Mantras

This Christmas Santa left in my stocking a copy of From Slogans to Mantras. The book, by Stephen A Kent, gives an account of the 1960s protest and countercultural movements and the fate of some of their members as the decade grew to a close.

More specifically, Kent focuses on those radicals who joined cults and new religious movements such as Scientology, the Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church (aka the Moonies), and others. Kent’s key thesis – backed up with documents from the time and interviews with former and current members – is that these groups promoted themselves as a route for personal transformation as a means of changing the world. Having taken the route of social protest and become disillusioned or exhausted by it, some former radicals then chose a “revolution of consciousness” over a political revolution as a means of achieving essentially the same ends – Scientology’s promise of a world “free from criminality, insanity and war” provides an obvious example. This image was deliberately cultivated by many of the groups in question.

Kent also looks into existing spiritual trends of the 1960s movement, chiefly among the hippies but also among the radicals. Many of those he interviews had previous experience, to varying degrees, with psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms and LSD.

The book also investigates – in a way which I felt could have used more depth – the very real contradictions between members’ radical pasts and new homes. Former anarchists, for example, putting themselves under the absolute control of “the guru,” or radical feminists accepting a dominating, patriarchal culture. While this may simply be a function of the nature of cults – working to undermine individual self-determination in favour of following the group – it would have been interesting to see a bit more depth.

That aside, however, the book was fascinating and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

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