New Religious Movement

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A New Religious Movement or NRM is a religious, ethical, or spiritual grouping of fairly recent origin which is not part of an established religion and has not yet become recognized as a standard Religious denomination|denomination, church, or religious body. Politically correct or acceptable term for a "cult".


Definition of the term

The term new religious movements comprises a wide range of movements which range from loose affiliations based on novel approaches to spirituality or religion to communitarian enterprises which demand a considerable amount of group conformity and a separatism from mainstream society. This term was introduced in the 1980s by scholars to replace the loaded term cult which had been used since being coined by Max Weber as a category for such religious groups but which had, during the cult debates of the 1970s, developed a pejorative tone and was being used by the public quite indiscriminately for any kind of non-mainstream religion.

Some scholars, especially in sociology of religion, use the term "new religious movement" to refer to any non-mainstream religion, while others use "new religious movement" for the majority of benign alternative religions and reserve "cult" to label groups—whether religious, psychotherapeutic, political or commercial—they believe to be extremely manipulative and exploitative. [1]

While there is no one criteria for when a group is described as a "new" religious movement, it usually refers to both of recent origin and different from existing religions.

The definitions of "of recent origin" vary greatly: some authors see as new movements those originating or appearing in a new context after World War II, others define as new everything originating after the Bahá'í Faith in mid 19th century or even everything originating after Sikhism in the 17th century.

New in the sense of different from existing religions refers by common consensus to all movements which are not part of any existing religion. Some authors also count those movements which are, in religious science, seen as part of an existing religion but which either present themselves as separate or as "the only right" religion, or are not accepted by that religion as sharing the same basic creed. Some authors also count religious movements as new when they appear in a new cultural context and present themselves as distinct from traditional religion, e.g. new Hindu or Buddhist groups in the Western world.

There is a great variety in the kinds movements included in this characterization, such as leadership, authority, concepts of the individual, family, gender, teachings, organizational structures, etc. This variety has presented a challenge to social scientists in their attempts to define a classification by means of a comprehensive criteria.

Generally, Christian denominations that are an accepted part of ecumenical Christianity are not seen as new religious movements. However, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Science practitioners, Shakers, and even tent revivals have been studied as NRMs. There are also examples of such groups being characterized as cults, generally by other evangelicals who are hostile to their proselytization efforts. There are groups which are by some or many authors seen as new religious movements, though they do not define themselves as religion.

Debates among academics on the acceptability of the word "cult" continue in scholarly research papers. Similarly, no consensus has been reached in the definition of new religious movement among scholars.

Examples of new religious movements

NRMs are very diverse both in its beliefs, practices, the way they are organized, and the degree of acceptance by society. Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe have proposed that NRMs be understood as forming global sub-cultures, particularly where a given group has gained adherents in many nations.

In general, the number of people who have affiliated with NRMs worldwide is quite small when compared to major world religions. However the sheer diversity of NRMs has seen the emergence of many different groups in Africa, Japan and Melanesia.

In Africa, David Barrett has documented the emergence of some 6,000 new indigenous churches since the late 1960s. In Japan a number of NRMs based on revitalised Shinto belief, as well as many neo-Buddhist and New Age groups have emerged, some originating in the late Nineteenth century in the Meiji era, and many more in the aftermath of World War II.

Around twenty-five per cent of the world's cultures are found in Melanesia, spanning the island nations from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji. It was here that the phenomena of Cargo Cults were first discerned by anthropologists and religious studies scholars. The Cargo Cults are interpreted as indigenous NRMs that have arisen in response to colonial and post-colonial cultural changes, and with the influx of modernisation and capitalist consumerism.

At the time of their foundation, many religions or religious traditions considered "established" or "mainstream" today were original seen as new religious movements, as it were, in their time. For example, Christianity was opposed by many within Judaism and within the Roman culture as a sacrilege to existing doctrines. Likewise, Protestant Christianity was originally seen—and still considered so today among some—as a new religious movement or breakaway development. Some have seen Buddhism as a breakaway innovation from Hinduism. The Mormon faith was faced with varying degrees of opposition from mainstream Christian adherents and governmental bodies at the time of its creation but over time eventually gained acceptance.

New religious movements and their critics

Advocates who regard certain fringe religious organizations, new religious movements or (controversially) "cults" as spurious and condemn their methods, also call them "hate groups". For example, the prominent Dutch Christian counter cult activist Anton Hein considers Scientology a hate group because that religious movement has, in his opinion, a long, documented history of hate and harassment activities [2], which—along with lying and deception—are condoned and encouraged in Scientology's own 'scriptures.' (See, for example, Scientology's Fair Game [3] policy.)

In turn, a number of new religious movements have used the term "hate group" to label certain former members of these groups. Disaffected former members of these organizations have worked to expose what they believe is the "truth" about the groups in question, though the methods used by some of these former members have been known to be polemic, hostile and verbally abusive. Alleged cults and new religions have seized upon the hostile acts of their former members and cited them as examples of persecution and bigotry by these former members. Supporters of these groups have waged campaigns of their own to label former members as hate groups, even to the point where they publish literature and Web sites dedicated to attacking these disaffected persons. An example is a page of 60 "Anti-Religious Extremists" [4] about 1/3 of whom are former members.

CESNUR’s president Massimo Introvigne, writes in his article "So many evil things: Anti-cult terrorism via the Internet"[5], that fringe and extreme anti-cult movement|anti-cult activism resort to tactics that may create a background favorable to extreme manifestations of discrimination and hate against individuals that belong to new religious movements. Critics of CESNUR, however, call Introvigne a cult apologist who defends harmful religious groups and cults. Somewhat in concurrence with Introvigne, professor Eileen Barker asserts in an interview that the controversy surrounding certain new religious movements can turn violent by a process called deviancy amplification spiral. [6]

Elan Vital, an NRM and an organization that supports the work of Prem Rawat, accuse its Criticism of Prem Rawat#Critics.27 character and motives questioned|vocal critics that call themselves "Ex-Premies", to harbor the hatred and ill-will typical of a hate group, such as hate speech and harassment. The ex-premies reject these accusations asserting that the evidence for these allegations is uncorroborated, and assert that they are performing a public service by providing information not disclosed by Elan Vital. See Criticism of Prem Rawat. Aspects of the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) tradition are commonly brought forward in disputes related to alleged abuse of authority by gurus and spiritual teachers of new religious movements.

In a paper by Anson Shupe and Susan Darnell presented at the 2000 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, they affirm that although the International Cultic Studies Association [ ICSA ], formerly known as AFF or American Family Foundation has presented "slanted, stereotypical images and language that has inflamed persons to perform extreme actions", the extent to which the ICSA and other anti-cultist organizations are hate groups as defined by law or racial/ethnic criteria in sociology, is open for debate.

The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities, associated with the Adidam NRM, sees the use of terms "cult" and "cult leader" to suggest that these are to be detested, avoided at all costs and see this as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them in the same manner as "nigger" and "commie" were used in the past to denigrate black people and Communists[7].

See also

External links


  • Arweck, Elisabeth and Peter B. Clarke, New Religious Movements in Western Europe: An Annotated Bibliography, Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1997.
  • Barker, Eileen New religious movements: a practical introduction London, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1989.
  • Barker, Eileen and Margit Warburg (eds) New Religions and New Religiosity, Aarhus, Denmark: Aargus University Press, 1998.
  • Barrett, David B., George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2 vols. 2nd edition, Oxford & new york: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Beckford, James A. (ed) New Religious Movements and Rapid Social Change, Paris: UNESCO/London, Beverly Hills & New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 1986.
  • Chryssides, George D., Exploring New Religions, London & New York: Cassell, 1999.
  • Clarke, Peter B. (ed.), Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements, London & New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Davis, Derek H., and Barry Hankins (eds) New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America, Waco: J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies and Baylor University Press, 2002.
  • Hexham, Irving and Karla Poewe, New Religions as Global Cultures, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Hexham, Irving, Stephen Rost & John W. Morehead (eds) Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.
  • Jenkins, Philip, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Kohn, Rachael, The New Believers: Re-Imagining God, Sydney: Harper Collins, 2003.
  • Kranenborg, Reender (Dutch language) Een nieuw licht op de kerk?: Bijdragen van nieuwe religieuze bewegingen voor de kerk van vandaag/A new perspective on the church: Contributions by NRMs for today's church Published by het Boekencentrum, (a Christian publishing house), the Hague, 1984. ISBN 90-239-0809-0.
  • Loeliger, Carl and Garry Trompf (eds) New Religious Movements in Melanesia, Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific & University of Papua New Guinea, 1985.
  • Meldgaard, Helle and Johannes Aagaard (eds) New Religious Movements in Europe, Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1997.
  • Needleman, Jacob and George Baker (eds) Understanding the New Religions, New York: Seabury Press, 1981.
  • Partridge, Christopher (ed) Encyclopedia of New Religions: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities, Oxford: Lion, 2004.
  • Possamai, Adam, Religion and Popular Culture: A Hyper-Real Testament, Brussels: P. I. E. - Peter Lang, 2005.
  • Saliba, John A., Understanding New Religious Movements, 2nd edition, Walnut Creek, Lanham: Alta Mira Press, 2003.
  • Stark, Rodney (ed) Religious Movements: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, New York: Paragon House, 1985.
  • Towler, Robert (ed) New Religions and the New Europe, Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1995.
  • Trompf, G. W. (ed) Cargo Cults and Millenarian Movements: Transoceanic Comparisons of New Religious Movements, Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990.
  • Wilson, Bryan and Jamie Cresswell (eds) New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response, London & New York: Routledge, 1999.