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Lorne L. Dawson


Lorne DawsonPhD (McMaster)
MA (McMaster)
BA Honours (Queen's)

Research and teaching areas

  • Sociology of religion
  • New Religious Movements (NRMs)
  • Religion and violence
  • Terrorist radicalization
  • Sociological theory

Regularly taught courses


  • Sociology 260/Religious Studies 262: Religion In Sociological Perspective
  • Sociology 262/Religious Studies 280: Cults and New Religious Movements
  • Sociology 258/ Religious Studies 281: Millennialism and Violence
  • Sociology 302: Introduction to Contemporary Sociological Theory
  • Sociology 406: Seminar in Contemporary Sociological Theory


  • Sociology 730/Religious Studies 730: Sociology of Religion

Biographic statement

Dr. Lorne L. Dawson is a full Professor in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies and the Department of Religious Studies, which he chaired as well (2000-2006). Most of his research is in the sociology of religion, particularly the study of new religious movements, and he is perhaps best known for his book Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements (2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2006).

He has also published work dealing with theory and methods in religious studies, sociological theory, religion and the Internet, charismatic authority, millennialist movements, and the failure of prophecy. He has written three books, edited four, and published over sixty academic articles and book chapters. His work on why some new religions become violent set the stage for a new and primary research interest in terrorism, particularly the process of radicalization in homegrown terrorist groups.

He has made numerous invited presentations on terrorist radicalization to academic and government groups in recent years (e.g., Defence Research and Development Canada, CSIS, Public Safety, Homeland Security, Global Futures Forum, Metropolis, Conference Board of Canada, CASIS, RCMP National Security Criminal Investigations Program), and is the Co-Director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society. With Paul Bramadat (University of Victoria) he has edited Religious Radicalization and Securitization in Canada and Beyond (forthcoming with University of Toronto Press).

Editorial positions

New Religions Section Editor, Religion Compass (2006-2009)

Associate Editor, Sociology of Religion (1999-2007)

Member of the Editorial Board:

  • Method and Theory in the Study of Religion
  • Journal of Contemporary Religion
  • Nova Religion
  • Fieldwork in Religion

Selected publications

Recent articles and book chapters

  • Lorne L. Dawson and Joel Thiessen, The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Perspective. Toronto: Oxford University Press (forthcoming October 2013).

  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Clearing the Underbrush: Moving Beyond Festinger to a New Paradigm for the Study of Failed Prophecy,” in William Swatos and Diana Tumminia, eds., How Prophecy Lives. Leiden, Holland: Brill, 2011: 69-98.
  • Lorne L. Dawson and Bradley C. Whitsel, “Leadership and the Impact of Failed Prophecy on New Religious Movements: The Case of the Church Universal and Triumphant,” in William Swatos and Diana Tumminia, eds., How Prophecy Lives. Leiden, Holland: Brill, 2011:115-151.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Charismatic Leadership in Millennialist Movements: Its Nature, Origins, and Development,” in Catherine Wessinger, ed., Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011: 113-132.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Prophetic Failure and Millennial Movements,” in Catherine Wessinger, ed., Oxford Handbook of Millennialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011:150-170.  
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “The Study of New Religious Movements and the Radicalization of Home-grown Terrorists: Opening a Dialogue,” Terrorism and Political Violence Vol. 21, No. 1, 2010: 1-21.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Church-Sect-Cult: Constructing Typologies of Religious Groups,” Chapter 29 in Peter Clarke, ed., Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008: 525-544.
  • Joel Thiessen and Lorne L. Dawson, “Is there a ‘Renaissance’ of Religion in Canada? A Critical Look at Bibby and Beyond.” Studies in Religion Vol. 37, No. 3-4, 2008: 389-415.
  • Simon Dein and Lorne Dawson, “The Scandal of the Lubavitch Rebbe: Messianism as a Response to Failed Prophecy.” Journal of Contemporary Religion. Vol. 23, No. 2, 2008: 163-180.
  • Marcela Cristi and Lorne L. Dawson, “Civil Religion in America and in Global Context,” in James Beckford and N. J. Demerath III, eds., Handbook of Sociology of Religion. London: Sage, 2007: 251-276; reprinted in Religion, State and Politics, The Open University of Israel, 2008.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “The Meaning and Significance of New Religious Movements,”in David G. Bromley, ed., Teaching About New Religious Movements. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007: 115-134.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Privatization, Globalization and Religious Innovation: Giddens’ Theory of Modernity and the Refutation of Secularization,” in James A. Beckford and John Walliss, eds., Theorising Religion: Classical and Contemporary Debates. London: Ashgate, 2006: 105-119.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Psychopathologies and the Attribution of Charisma: A Critical Introduction to the Psychology of Charisma and the Explanation of Violence in New Religious Movements.” Nova Religio Vol. 10, No. 2, 2006: 3-28.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “Do Virtual Religious ‘Communities’ Exist? Clarifying the Issues,” in Gorän Larson, ed., Religious Communities on the Internet. Uppsala Swedish Science Press, 2006: 30-46.
  • Lorne L. Dawson, “New Religious Movements,” in Robert Segal, ed., Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006: 269-284.

Recent invited presentations

  • “The Radicalization Process: Social and Psychological Approaches to Terrorism,” Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society Summer Academy, Lui Institute for Global Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, July 23, 2013.

  • “The Missing Link: Religion and the Social Ecology of Homegrown Terrorists Radicalization,” Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society workshop, “The Social Conditions and Processes of Terrorist Radicalization,” Ottawa, November 10, 2012.

  • “Giving Religion a Role in the Social Ecology of Homegrown Terrorist Radicalization,” PASILE (Psychology and Anthropology Assessment in Security, Inteliigence and Law Enforcement) Conference, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), CSIS Headquarters, Ottawa, May 10, 2012.

  • “Preventing Violent Extremism: What Does Success Look Like?” A two hour in camera discussion between four invited academics and the following Canadian government officials: William Baker (Deputy Minister, Public Safety), Graham Flack (Associate Deputy Minister, Public Safety), Richard Fadden (Director, Canadian Security Intelligence Service), Gilles Michaud (Assistant Commissioner, National Security Criminal Investigations, Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Rennie Marcoux (Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Security and Intelligence, Privy Council Office), Jan. 27, 2012.
  • “Making Sense of Homegrown Terrorism: The Case of the Toronto 18” CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service), CSIS Headquarters, Ottawa, Nov. 30 (1 hour), 2011.
  • “Making Sense of Homegrown Terrorism: The Case of the Toronto 18”,” Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security (Public Safety Canada), Ottawa, Nov. 20 (1.5 hours), 2011.
  • “Making Sense of Homegrown Terrorism: The Case of the Toronto 18,” National Security Criminal Investigations Program, RCMP Headquarters, Ottawa, Sept. 28 (2.5 hours), 2011.
  • “Radicalization to Violence: What We Do and Do Not Know.” National Security Criminal Investigations, Co-ordinators Meeting (i.e., Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams & National Security Enforcement Section of the RCMP), Vancouver, June 14-15, 2011.
  • “Understanding Homegrown Terrorism,” Centre for National Security, Conference Board of Canada, “Radicalization” Conference, Calgary, May 25-26, 2011.
  • Meeting to discuss religion and homegrown radicalization with analysts at British Security Intelligence Service, London, Apr. 13, 2011.
  • “Religious Diaspora and the Counter-Intuitive Impact of the Internet,” Faith 2.0 – Religion and the Internet, University of Durham and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, London, UK, Apr. 14, 2011.
  • “The Social Ecology of Homegrown Terrorist Radicalization: Identity and Religion.” Global Futures Forum, “The Impact of Identity Politics on Violent Extremism,” Monterey, California, Apr. 6-8, 2011.
  • “The Process of Radicalization: The Toronto 18 Up Close.” Metropolis 2011, 13th National Conference, Vancouver, Mar. 23-26, 2011.
  • Presentation of two reports on the potential for radicalization in the Canadian Sikh community and the Canadian Sri Lankan Tamil community, CSIS Headquarters; I co-ordinated & edited papers authored by Amar Amarasingham and Dr. Doris Jakobsh, and participated in the presentation and discussion, Jan. 27, 2011.
  • “The Role of Religion in Radicalization: Policy Implications,” 15th International Metropolis Conference, The Hague, Oct. 4-8, 2010.
  • “Religion and Home-Grown Terrorist Radicalization,” co-sponsored by CASIS (Canadian Assoc. for Security and Intelligence Studies) and IID (International Issues Discussion), Ryerson University, Toronto, Sept. 29, 2010.
  • “Religion and Violent Extremism,” Canada-US Joint Working Session on Countering Violent Extremism, Public Safety Canada and U.S. Homeland Security, Ottawa, Sept. 27, 2010.
  • “Study of New Religious Movements and the Radicalization of Home-grown Terrorists,” Pluralisme et radicalitiés religieuses: perspectives internationales et canadiennes,” Metropolis National Conference, Montreal, Mar. 18-21, 2010.
  • Canadian Security and Intelligence Service noon hour talk, “Lessons from the Study of New Religious Movements for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization,” CSIS National Headquarters, Ottawa, Mar. 2, 2010.
  • Keynote Speaker, “Culture and Religion: Drivers of Change,” Public Safety Canada Policy Retreat, Ottawa, Feb 18 & 19 (plus a 14 page written report), 2010.
University of Waterloo


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