New religions and the internet: Recruiting in a new public space 1
Abstract The mass suicide of 39 members of Heaven's Gate in March of 1997 led to public fears about the presence of ?spiritual predators? on the world wide web. This paper describes and examines the nature of these fears, as reported in the media. It then sets these fears against what we know about the use of the Internet by new religions, about who joins new religious movements and why, and the social profile of Internet users. It is argued that the emergence of the Internet has yet to significantly change the nature of religious recruitment in contemporary society. The Internet as a medium of communication, however, may be having other largely unanticipated effects on the form and functioning of religion, both old and new, in the future. Some of the potential perils of the Internet are discussed with reference to the impact of this new medium on questions of religious freedom, community, social pluralism, and social control.