Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Sociology and Anthropology
Gary Shepherd studies a Christian religious group derived from the 1960s counterculture whose 10,000 core members live in communal homes all over the world and engage full time in missionary activities. This group has developed a transnational culture and “channels” thousands of verbatim messages from spirit entities through its adult members to guide personal and group decision-making. During his 2005 sabbatical, Gary observed and recorded domestic and religious activities, including channeling of spiritual messages, in 23 different communal homes located in 16 countries on six continents. His co-author and brother Gordon Shepherd, who is a sociologist at the University of Central Arkansas, did the same thing in communal homes located throughout the United States. They have since published five peer reviewed journal articles on their findings which argue that the proliferation and “democratization of prophecy” they have documented in this group are unique in the history of organized religion and contribute, unexpectedly, to consensus, integration, and group stability. This series of published articles led to their receipt of the Thomas Robbins Award for Excellence in Research on New Religious Movements, sponsored by the American Academy of Religion in 2006.