Unification News for January 2003

Request for Information

by Dr. David Bromley

I have been trying to track down some information on Unificationism. I am working on a paper on what I term "spiritual edgework." It has struck me for some time that social scientists do not have an adequate way of talking about strong religious experiences. However, across a number of religious traditions practitioners take risks for their faiths and report quite similar personal experiences. The idea behind the edgework concept is that in their effort to be in touch with the sacred or to demonstrate the power of the sacred, religious practitioners move to the boundary between the secular and sacred realms.

There are many ways that this is done. It may be prayer or meditation, pilgrimage, ritual activity, etc. There is always some risk associated with approaching the sacred, and practitioners use that risk to demonstrate a connection to the sacred. For example, in the ancient tradition of fire walking, practitioners demonstrate to themselves that ordinary physical laws do not apply by walking on hot coals and thereby enhance their own sense of self-empowerment. In some quasi-religious therapy groups, practitioners go to the edge of sanity and control to gain a greater sense of self-control and power.

When I wrote an early book on Unificationism, "Moonies" in America, in 1979 I remember writing about what was at the time called pioneering, in which an individual or pair of individuals would travel long distances to establish the faith in a new state or nation. Often they had little or no money and no idea where there next meal or lodging would come from. In many cases individuals reported testimonies of very strong spiritual experiences, their needs were provided for. There were also some similar reports from early fundraisers. I would regard these experiences as edgework. Individuals who engage in edgework typically report similar experiences -- a loss of a sense of time and/or space (the usual bonds of time and space do not seem to apply), a feeling of being in a spiritual flow (a unity of experience), a lessened sense of individual isolation and an increased sense of unity with others and with deity (a sense of complete integration), etc.

What I need is personal accounts that document the activities members undertook and the kinds of spiritual experiences that resulted. In order to produce a coherent text, it is usually necessary to obtain several dozen accounts since different reports contain different elements and some statements are more quotable than others.

If you are interested in learning more about the kind of writing I have done, you can check my web site: http://www.people.vcu.edu/~dbromley/vitae.htm

David G. Bromley, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23284-2040. Phone (804)-828-6286, Fax; (804)-828-1027, Email dbromley@mail1.vcu.edu

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