New Religious Movement

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New religious movement (NRM) is a term used to refer to a religious faith or an ethical, spiritual, or philosophical movement of recent origin that is not part of an established denomination, church, or religious body.

The term NRM comprises a wide range of movements ranging from loose affiliations based on novel approaches to spirituality or religion to communitarian enterprises that demand a considerable amount of group conformity and a social identity that separates its adherents from mainstream society. Its use is not universally accepted among the groups to which it is applied.[1]

For lessons on the related topic of Cults, follow this link.
For lessons on the related topic of Social movements, follow this link.

History of the term

As a field of scholarly endeavor, the study of New Religions emerged in Japan in the wake of the explosion of religious innovation following the Second World War. Even the name new religions is a direct translation of "shinshukyo", which Japanese sociologists coined to refer to this phenomenon. The term was adopted in turn by Western scholars as an alternative to the older term cult, which acquired a pejorative connotation during the 1970s, and was subsequently used indiscriminately by lay critics to disparage faiths whose doctrines they saw as unusual or heretical.[2] A number of scholars, especially in the sociology of religion, use "new religious movement" to describe non-mainstream religions, while others use the term for benign alternative religions and reserve "cult" for groups - whether religious, psychotherapeutic, political or commercial - they believe to be extremely manipulative and exploitative.[3]

Although there is no one criterion or set of criteria for describing a group as a "new religious movement," use of the term usually requires that the group be both of recent origin and different from existing religions.

Debate surrounds the phrase "of recent origin": some authors use World War II as the dividing line after which anything is "new", whereas others define as "new" everything after the advent of the Bahá'í Faith (mid-19th century).

"New" in the sense of "different from existing religions" is considered straightforward in definition but not as much in categorization. Some scholars have a more restricted approach to what counts as "different". For them, "difference" applies to a faith that, though it may be seen as part of an existing religion, meets with rejection from that religion for not sharing the same basic creed or declares itself either separate from the existing religion or even "the only right" faith. Other scholars expand their measurement of difference, considering religious movements new when, taken from their traditional cultural context, they appear in new places, perhaps in modified forms. Examples of these kinds of "new movements" would be the Western importation and establishment of Hindu or Buddhist groups.

NRMs vary in terms of leadership; authority; concepts of the individual, family, and gender; teachings; organizational structures; etc. These variations have presented a challenge to social scientists in their attempts to formulate a comprehensive and clear set of criteria for classifying NRMs.[4]

Generally, Christian denominations that are an accepted part of mainstream Christianity are not seen as new religious movements. However, to some, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, Christian Scientists, and Shakers have been studied as NRMs.[5][6] Evangelicals usually consider these groups to be cults because of believing their theologies to be preventive of salvation according to the teachings of the Bible. There are also examples of such groups as the Seventh-day Adventist Church and even tent revivalists being characterized as cults, generally by other evangelicals who are hostile to their proselytizing efforts. Certain other groups do not define themselves as religions but nonetheless find some scholars labeling them NRMs.

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

An article on the categorization of new religious movements in U.S. print media published by The Association for the Sociology of Religion (formerly the American Catholic Sociological Society), criticizes the print media for failing to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of new religious movements, and its tendency to use popular or anti-cultist definitions rather than social-scientific insight, and asserts that "The failure of the print media to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of religious movement organizations impels us to add yet another failing mark to the media report card Weiss (1985) has constructed to assess the media's reporting of the social sciences."[7]

NRMs are diverse in their beliefs, practices, organization, and societal acceptance. Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe have consequently proposed that there are NRMs, particularly those who have gained adherents in a number of nations, which can be understood as forming global sub-cultures.

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

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

Around twenty-five percent of the world's distinct 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, including the influx of modernisation and capitalist consumerism.

At the time of their foundation, the religious traditions considered "established" or "mainstream" today were seen as new religious movements. For example, Christianity was opposed by people within Judaism and within the Roman culture as sacrilege toward existing doctrines. Likewise, Protestant Christianity was originally seen—and is still considered by some today—as a new religious movement or breakaway development.

In similar fashion , some of the contemporary naturalistic religions(Naturalism (philosophy)) have evolved out of traditional Christianity and Judaism via process theology or using the term ‘God’ as a metaphor. Others have emerged via a dominating scientific perspective or by atheistic rebellion to the established beliefs of their culture. Still others have added a religious ingredient to their humanistic thinking. Most of these see the ritual/spiritual aspects of religious practice as necessary for broad adoption by many people. Examples are Religious Naturalism, Scientific Pantheism, Religious Humanism and some liberal Unitarians, Quakers and Jews.


Criticism of some new religious movements, a subset of which are often described by their critics as being "cults," has been a contentious issue with both sides sometimes using epithets such as "hate group" to describe the other side.[8][9] Disaffected former members, stating that they are seeking redress for perceived wrongs or looking to expose perceived wrongdoings, have, in turn, had their motives called into question.They have themselves come under attack for allegedly using methods themselves that have been characterized as polemic, hostile, and verbally or emotionally abusive. Critics, both those who are ex-members and who aren't, have had their character and credibility impeached. The Church of Scientology, in particular, makes a practice of investigating its critics and publicizing any past crimes or wrongdoings.[10]

CESNUR’s president Massimo Introvigne, writes in his article "So many evil things: Anti-cult terrorism via the Internet",[11] that fringe and extreme anti-cult activism resorts 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.[12]

Aspects of the guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) tradition are commonly brought forward in disputes related to asserted 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. See also Verbal violence in hate groups.

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 whatever cost 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 blacks and Communists.[13]

See also


  • 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.
  • Thursby, Gene. "Siddha Yoga: Swami Muktanada and the Seat of Power." When Prophets Die: The Postcharismatic Fate Of New Religious Movements. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991 pp. 165–182.
  • 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.


  1. Coney, J. (1998) “A response to Religious Liberty in Western Europe by Massimo Introvigne” ISKON Communications Journal, 5(2)
  2. Introvigne, Massimo (June 15, 2001). "The Future of Religion and the Future of New Religions".
  3. Langone, Michael D.Secular and Religious Critiques of Cults: Complementary Visions, Not Irresolvable Conflicts,
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition, New Religious Movements
  5. Paul J. Olson, Public Perception of “Cults” and “New Religious Movements”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2006, 45 (1): 97-106
  6. van Driel, Barend and James T. Richardson. Research Note Categorization of New Religious Movements in American Print Media. Sociological Analysis 1988, 49, 2:171-183
  7. CNN - Group that once criticized Scientologists now owned by one - Dec. 19, 1996
  8. Tampabay: Scientology foe moves in, digs in for a long fight
  9. Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology, 212 Cal.App.3d 872 (California Court of Appeal, Second District July 18, 1989).
  10. Introvigne, Massimo, "So Many Evil Things": Anti-Cult Terrorism via the Internet,
  11. Barker, Eileen, Introducing New Religious Movements,
  12. The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities

External links