Backlist Bop: Betrayal of the Spirit, by Nori J. Muster

musterBook Riot recently released a list of 100 must-read books on life in cults and oppressive religious sects. Author Elizabeth Allen moved across the tragic, weird, and terrible landscape of misused faith to guide readers toward everything from the Heaven’s Gate disaster to Waco, Scientology, Jonestown, the Westboro Baptist Church, and a quilt of other sects, communes, and cults.

The list includes Betrayal of the Spirit, Nori J. Muster‘s incredible insider account of the Hare Krishna movement. Muster  joined the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), aka the Hare Krishnas, in 1978, shortly after the death of the movement’s spiritual master. She worked for ten years as a public relations secretary and editor of the organization’s newspaper, the ISKCON World Review. Her candid and critical account follows the inner workings of the movement and the Hare Krishnas’ progressive decline.

Combining personal reminiscences with published articles and internal documents, Betrayal of the Spirit details the scandals that beset the Krishnas—drug dealing, weapons stockpiling, deceptive fundraising, child abuse, and murder within ISKCON—as well as the dynamics of schisms that forced some 95 percent of the group’s original members to leave. In the midst of this institutional disarray, Muster continued her personal search for truth and religious meaning as an ISKCON member until, disillusioned at last with the movement’s internal divisions, she left the organization.

In a new preface to the paperback edition, Muster discusses the personal circumstances that led her to ISKCON and kept her there as the movement’s image worsened. She also talks about “the darkest secret”—child abuse in the ISKCON parochial schools—that was covered up by the public relations office where she worked.