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Religious currents focus of conference

Feb. 23, 2001

Speakers to talk about beliefs of emerging groups

By STEPHEN DOVE

Reporter

Writers, professors and researchers from across the nation will be on campus today and Saturday as part of a conference focusing on new religious movements in the United States.

The conference, sponsored by the J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies, will discuss the belief systems of various new religions in America and will explore current issues facing these groups.

'This conference is a good opportunity for students to learn about non-traditional religious groups,' said Dr. Derek Davis, director of Church-State studies. 'The theme of the conference is religious liberty, which means we want to address the extent to which they really enjoy the right to believe what they believe.'

Sessions for the conference begin at noon today in Carroll Library and continue through Saturday afternoon.

Presentation topics include 'An Update on the Branch Davidian Controversy,' 'Conflicts with Law Enforcement' and 'Witchcraft and Satanism.'

Susan Taylor, the president and director of public affairs for the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C., will also deliver a presentation on the truth and fiction about the Church of Scientology.

Davis said the Church of Scientology is a good example of a modern religious movement that is not well understood by the larger religious community. Davis said the movement began in 1950 and now has 16 to 17 million members around the world but that its relative newness contributes to a lack of awareness of the religion's belief system.

Adam English, a graduate student who is presenting a paper as part of the conference, said the conference offers students an opportunity that is not only educational but also entertaining.

'These are groups you won't here about in class because they are small or on the fringe, but they bring up a lot of really interesting ideas,' English said. 'They are outside the bounds of what we would normally do.'

Davis said trying to understand these new movements and modern religious liberty issues is an important part of Baylor's Baptist tradition

'Baptists have always stood for this principle of free conscious, not just for Baptists but for all human beings,' Davis said. 'That is the reason we would have a conference like this at Baylor, because we believe in religious freedom for everybody.'

From CONFERENCE page 8