Prophets and Protons

New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America

240 pages

1 illustrations

March, 2010

ISBN: 9780814797211



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Benjamin E. Zeller is Assistant Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College.

All books by Benjamin E. Zeller

By the twentieth century, science had become so important that religious traditions had to respond to it. Emerging religions, still led by a living founder to guide them, responded with a clarity and focus that illuminates other larger, more established religions’ understandings of science. The Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, and Heaven’s Gate each found distinct ways to incorporate major findings of modern American science, understanding it as central to their wider theological and social agendas. In tracing the development of these new religious movements’ viewpoints on science during each movement’s founding period, we can discern how their views on science were crafted over time. These NRMs shed light on how religious groups—new, old, alternative, or mainstream—could respond to the tremendous growth of power and prestige of science in late twentieth-century America.

In this engrossing book, Zeller carefully shows that religious groups had several methods of creatively responding to science, and that the often-assumed conflict-based model of “science vs. religion” must be replaced by a more nuanced understanding of how religions operate in our modern scientific world.


  • “Zeller (Brevard College) provides an analysis of three new religious movements of the mid- to late-20th century that arose as part of the counterculture response to the growth of American Science... In the book’s excellent bibliography, both primary and secondary sources are delineated.”


  • “The varied relationships between new religions and science are one of the least explored, yet most fascinating aspects of new religious emergence and development. In this captivating book, Zeller deftly expands the agenda for the study of new religions. No longer will scholars be able to ignore the intersection of worldviews he describes here.”

    —Douglas E. Cowan, author of Cults and New Religions: A Brief History and Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet

  • "A richly detailed and well-argued treatment of new religions and science."

    Sociology of Religion

  • "A valuable book that makes an important contribution to the study of new religions."

    —E. Burke Rochford Jr., Sociology of Religion

  • "Clearly and carefully written, Zeller's work offers a fascinating, thoughtful reflection on the complexity of the relationship between science and religion in the modern world."

    —R. Scott Sheffield, The Magazine of the Chemical Heritage Foundation

  • Prophets and Protons is a valuable statement on the perennial religion-versus-science discussion, one that should be read by anyone who dares to venture into the fray.”

    —Anthropology Review Database

  • Prophets and Protons is a scholarly study of how three new religious movements interact with science, both how they view science in the light of their religious beliefs, and how they integrate science into their beliefs. Benjamin Zeller establishes early on that religion and science are not in conflict; they are in creative tension, which is a very different matter.”

    Fortean Times