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Group studying new religions gathers in Salt Lake



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A small international conference is taking place in Salt Lake City. For 22 years, scholars who are fascinated with new religions have gathered to study them.

They have met in the U.S. only five times, twice in Salt Lake. Even though The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't new, it generates a lot of interest.

The Center for Study on New Religions (CESNUR) was created in 1988 to look at faiths in southern Europe, mostly Christian, outside Catholicism. The small group represents many countries.

The members rejected terms like "cult" or "sect."

The center's founder, Massimo Introvigne, said, "We also wanted to study the largest religions which were comparatively new in Europe, including Mormonism."

In Salt Lake City, group members will be discussing what they call Mormon topics, including politician Mitt Romney, the book "Twilight," and the TV series "Big Love."

Romney's campaign for president fascinated Europeans because of his LDS faith.

Italians are huge fans of "Twilight" and are all abuzz about author Stephenie Meyer, a Latter-day Saint. Deseret Book did not sell the book and news stories in Italy reported censorship.

With recent news about polygamy, the FLDS church and Texas, the HBO series "Big Love" became very popular.

Introvigne said, "When you say the word ‘Mormonism' in Italy, as in France, people still have to include a few comments about polygamy."

"As the Mormon Church grows in Italy, even the daily newspapers will get their stories about polygamy right," he added.

Utah's representative to CESNUR, Michael Homer, says this conference can help change that perception.

"Everyone that I've ever had to Salt Lake says, ‘Man, what a great city, great people, great infrastructure.' They leave loving it. So, that's the first thing I want to do is break down stereotypes," he said.

Participants say debate about religion is fine but knowledge that comes from study is better.

The conference will continue at the City and County Building through Saturday. It is open to the public.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

Carole Mikita

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