Since the Age of Enlightenment, France has upheld clear constitutional guidelines that protect human rights and religious freedom. Today, however, intolerant attitudes and discriminatory practices towards unconventional faiths have become acceptable and even institutionalized in public life. Susan Palmer offers an insightful examination of France’s most stigmatized new religions, or “sectes,” and the public management of religious and philosophical minorities by the state.


The New Heretics of France tracks the mounting government-sponsored anti-cult movement in the wake of the shocking mass suicides of the Solar Temple in 1994, an event that ushered France’s most visible religious minorities onto a blacklist of 172 “sectes” commissioned by the National Assembly. Drawing on extensive interviews and field research, Palmer describes the controversial histories of well-known international New Religious Movements including the Church of Scientology, Raelian Movement, and Unificationism, as well as esoteric local groups. Palmer also reveals the partisanship of Catholic priests, journalists, village mayors, and the passive public who support La Republique’s efforts to control minority faiths – all in the name of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”


Through historical and sociological theory, Palmer analyzes France’s war on “sectes” as a strategic response to social pressures arising from globalization and immigration. Her study addresses the impact of these social pressures on traditional cultures and national character, as well as important issues of religious freedom and public tolerance.


Offers original research in the field of France’s esoteric spiritual movements and the controversial status of American ”import” NRMs (Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Family) in French society


“Susan J. Palmer is a dedicated scholar whose exhaustive research combining fieldwork and careful examination of written and online sources produces insightful and balanced findings. This remarkable book will open many eyes to the official, long-established French hostility toward new religions.”—Timothy Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Kansas


“The New Heretics of France incisively examines the militant French secularism that grows out of its historic church-state tensions. Palmer’s close analysis of six current cases of a government sponsored ‘antisecte’ campaign reveals an intolerance of religious minorities that is unparalleled among Western nations. An important contribution to the literature on new religions.”—David G. Bromley, Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology and Director of the Partnership for Understanding World Religions and Spirituality, Virginia Commonwealth University


“Few French scholars dare even to talk about New Religious Movements, much less do serious research on them, for fear of retribution. Susan J. Palmer has done more fieldwork in France than any other North American scholar of NRMS and is uniquely qualified to do what the French cannot. In this soon-to-be classic volume she breaks entirely new ground.”

–James T. Richardson, Director of the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies, University of Nevada, Reno

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