A Poisonous Cocktail?

Aum Shinrikyo’s Path to Violence

by Ian Reader

  • Published:
  • Pages: 128 pp.
Available from NIAS Press worldwide

This highly acclaimed study describes Aum Shinrikyo’s history, examines the various conflicts it was involved in, and discusses the contents of Asahara’s sermons and prophecies. Reader suggests that the Aum case is not unique but similar to other cases of religious violence.

This highly acclaimed study describes Aum Shinrikyo’s history, examines the various conflicts it was involved in, and discusses the contents of Asahara’s sermons and prophecies.

The March 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway system killed 12 people and injured thousands. Massive police raids and the subsequent investigation linked this attack (plus a variety of other criminal activities including murders) to Aum Shinrikyo, a small religious movement whose leader, Asahara Shoko, had prophesied that Armageddon was at hand.

Many questions have been raised by the Aum affair. What were Aum's spiritual roots and the focus of Asahara's teaching? Why did a religious movement ostensibly focused on yoga, meditation, asceticism and the pursuit of enlightenment become involved in violent activities? What factors brought Aum into conflict with society at large, caused it to believe it was the victim of a huge conspiracy to destroy it, and impelled it to experiment with making nerve gasses, build weapons and form its own 'alternative government'?

Ian Reader examines these questions by describing Aum's history, examining the various conflicts it was involved in, and discussing the contents of Asahara's sermons and prophesies. In so doing, he points to a combination of factors which together took Aum down a path of violence. Suggesting that the Aum case is not unique, he shows how it displays similarities with other cases of violence and conflict among religious and political movements in Japan and elsewhere.

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Ian Reader is head of the East Asian Studies department, and a Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester.  His main areas of research include pilgrimage in historical and contemporary contexts,  contemporary religious dynamics and popular religious practices in Japan, media and religion, and  religion, violence and terrorism.

Ian Reader is head of the East Asian Studies department, and a Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester.  His main areas of research include pilgrimage in historical and contemporary contexts,  contemporary religious dynamics and popular religious practices in Japan, media and religion, and  religion, violence and terrorism.

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