New religious movement

A new religious movement (NRM), also known as a new religion or alternative spirituality, is a religious or spiritual group that has modern origins and is peripheral to its society's dominant religious culture. NRMs can be novel in origin or part of a wider religion, in which case they are distinct from pre-existing denominations. Some NRMs deal with the challenges posed by the modernizing world by embracing individualism, whereas others seek tightly knit collective means.[1] Scholars have estimated that NRMs now number in the tens of thousands worldwide, with most of their members living in Asia and Africa. Most have only a few members, some have thousands, and a few have more than a million members.[2]

New religions have often faced a hostile reception from established religious organisations and various secular institutions. In Western nations, a secular anti-cult movement and a Christian countercult movement emerged during the 1970s and 1980s to oppose emergent groups. In the 1970s, the distinct field of new religions studies developed within the academic study of religion. There are now several scholarly organisations and peer-reviewed journals devoted to the subject. Religious studies scholars contextualize the rise of NRMs in modernity, relating it as a product of and answer to modern processes of secularization, globalization, detraditionalization, fragmentation, reflexivity, and individualization.[1]

Scholars continue to try to reach definitions and define boundaries.[3] There is no single, agreed-upon criterion for defining a "new religious movement",[4] but the term usually suggests that the group is of recent origin and is different from existing religions.[3] There is debate as to how the term "new" should be interpreted in this context.[5] One perspective is that it should designate a religion that is more recent in its origins than large, well-established religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.[5] An alternate perspective is that "new" should mean that a religion is more recent in its formation.[5] Some scholars view the 1950s or the end of the Second World War in 1945 as the defining time, while others look as far back as the founding of the Latter Day Saint movement in 1830.[6][5][7]

Russian Hare Krishna Devotee on Sankirtan
A member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness proselytising on the streets of Moscow, Russia


In 1830 the Latter Day Saint movement including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith. It is now one of the most successful NRMs in terms of membership. In Japan, 1838 marks the beginning of Tenrikyo.[8] In 1844 Bábism was established in Iran from which the Bahá'í Faith was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 1863. In 1860 Donghak, later Cheondoism, was founded by Choi Jae-Woo in Korea. It later ignited the Donghak Peasant Revolution in 1894.[9] In 1889, Ahmadiyya an Islamic sect was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In 1891, the Unity Church, the first New Thought denomination, was founded in the United States.[7][10]

In 1893, the first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago.[11] The conference included NRMs of the time such as spiritualism and Christian Science. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy. Henry Harris Jessup addressing the meeting was the first to mention the Bahá'í Faith in the United States.[12] Also attending were Soyen Shaku, the "First American Ancestor" of Zen,[13] the Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala, and the Jain preacher Virchand Gandhi.[14] This conference gave Asian religious teachers their first wide American audience.[7]

In 1911, the Nazareth Baptist Church, the first and one of the largest modern African initiated churches, was founded by Isaiah Shembe in South Africa.[7][15] The early 20th Century also saw a rise in interest in Asatru. The 1930s saw the rise of the Nation of Islam and the Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States; the Rastafari movement in Jamaica; Cao Đài and Hòa Hảo in Vietnam; Soka Gakkai in Japan; and Yiguandao in China. In the 1940s, Gerald Gardner began to outline the Neo-Pagan religion of Wicca.

New religious movements expanded in many nations in the 1950s and 1960s. Japanese new religions became very popular after the Shinto Directive (1945) forced a separation of the Japanese government and Shinto, which had been the state religion, bringing about greater freedom of religion. In 1954 Scientology was founded in the United States and the Unification Church in South Korea.[7] In 1955 the Aetherius Society was founded in England. It and some other NRMs, have been called UFO religions since they combine belief in extraterrestrial life with traditional religious principles.[16][17][18] In 1965, Paul Twitchell founded Eckankar, an NRM derived partially from Sant Mat. In 1966 the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in the United States by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada[19] and Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan. In 1967, The Beatles' visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India brought public attention to the Transcendental Meditation movement.[20][21]

Practitioners of Falun Dafa perform spiritual exercises in Guangzhou, China.

In the late 1980s and the 1990s, the decline of communism and the revolutions of 1989 opened up new opportunities for NRMs. Falun Gong was first taught publicly in Northeast China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi. At first it was accepted by the Chinese government and by 1999 there were 70 million practitioners in China.[22]

In the 21st century, many NRMs are using the Internet to give out information, to recruit members, and sometimes to hold online meetings and rituals.[7] That is sometimes referred to as cybersectarianism.[23][24] Sabina Magliocco, professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge, has discussed joining NRMs in terms of its growing popularity due to reading, social and political interests, and most importantly, the Internet. With more than 20,000 websites and chat rooms devoted to Pagan topics, young people are increasingly using the Internet to form communities around NRMs rather than meeting in person.[25]

In 2006 J. Gordon Melton, executive director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told The New York Times that 40 to 45 new religious movements emerge each year in the United States.[26] In 2007, religious scholar Elijah Siegler said that, though no NRM had become the dominant faith in any country, many of the concepts they first introduced (often referred to as "New Age" ideas) have become part of worldwide mainstream culture.[7]

Beliefs and practices

Rasta Man Barbados
A Rasta man wearing symbols of his religious identity in Barbados

As noted by Barker, NRMs cannot all be "lumped together" and differ from one another on many issues.[27] Virtually no generalisation can be made about NRMs that applies to every single group,[28] with Barrett noting that "generalizations tend not to be very helpful" when studying NRMs.[29] Melton expressed the view that there is "no single characteristic or set of characteristics" that all new religions share, "not even their newness."[30] Bryan Wilson wrote, "Chief among the miss-directed assertions has been the tendency to speak of new religious movements as if they differed very little, if at all, one from another. The tendency has been to lump them altogether and indiscriminately to attribute to all of them characteristics which are, in fact, valid for only one or two."[31] NRMs themselves often claim that they exist at a crucial place in time and space.[32]


Some NRMs have their own unique scriptures, while others reinterpret existing texts,[33] utilizing a range of older elements.[34] They frequently claim that these are not new, but rather had been forgotten truths that are only now being revived.[35] NRM scriptures often incorporate modern scientific knowledge, sometimes with the claim that they are bringing unity to science and religion.[36] Some NRMs believe that their scriptures are received through the process of mediumship.[37] The Urantia Book, the core scripture of the Urantia Movement, was published in 1955 and is said to be the product of a continuous process of revelation from "celestial beings" which began in 1911.[38] Some NRMs, particularly those that are forms of occultism, have a prescribed system of courses and grades through which members can progress.[39]


Many NRMs promote celibacy, the state of voluntarily being unmarried, sexually abstinent, or both. Some, including the Shakers and more recent NRMs inspired by Hindu traditions, see it as a lifelong commitment. Others, including the Unification Church, as a stage in spiritual development.[40] In some Buddhist NRMs celibacy is practiced mostly by older women who become nuns.[41] Some people join NRMs and practice celibacy as a rite of passage in order to move beyond previous sexual problems or bad experiences.[42] Groups that promote celibacy require a strong recruitment drive to survive; the Shakers established orphanages to bring new individuals into their community.[43]


Violent incidents involving NRMs are extremely rare and unusual. In those cases where large number of casualties resulted, the new religion in question was led by a charismatic leader.[44] Beginning in 1978 with the deaths of 913 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana by both murder and suicide an image of "killer cults" came to public attention. A number of subsequent events contributed to this. In 1994, a members of the Order of the Solar Temple committed suicide in Canada and Switzerland. In 1995 members of the Japanese new religion Aum Shinrikyo murdered a number of people, including through a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway. In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate group committed suicide in the belief that their spirits would leave the Earth and join a passing comet.[45] There have also been cases where members of NRMs have been killed because they engaged in dangerous actions while believing themselves to be invincible; in Uganda several hundred members of the Holy Spirit Movement were killed as they approached gunfire because its leader, Alice Lakwena, told them that they would be protected from bullets by the oil of the shea tree.[46]

Leadership and succession

Many NRMs are founded and led by a charismatic leader.[47] The death of any religion's founder represents a significant moment in its history. Over the months and years following its leader's death, the movement can die out, fragment into multiple groups, consolidate its position, or change its nature to become something quite different that what its founder intended. In some cases a NRM moves closer to the religious mainstream after the death of its founder.[48]

A number of founders of new religions established plans for succession to prevent confusion after their deaths. Mary Baker Eddy, the American founder of Christian Science, spent fifteen years working on her book The Manual of the Mother Church, which laid out how the group should be run by her successors.[49] L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, promoted his follower David Miscavige to be in a position to take over leadership of the Scientology organization at his death.[50][51]

The leadership of the Bahá'í Faith passed through a succession of individuals until 1963 when it was assumed by the Universal House of Justice, members of which are elected by the worldwide congregation.[52][53] A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, appointed 11 “Western Gurus” to act as initiating gurus and to continue to direct the organisation.[54][55][56] However, according to British scholar of religion Gavin Flood, "many problems followed from their appointment and the movement has since veered away from investing absolute authority in a few, fallible, human teachers.”[57]



NRMs typically consist largely of first-generation believers,[58] and thus often have a younger average membership than mainstream religious congregations.[59] Some NRMS have been formed by groups who have split from a pre-existing religious group.[47] As these members grow older, many have children who are then brought up within the NRM.[60]

In the Third World, NRMs most often appeal to the poor and oppressed sectors of society.[61] Within Western countries, they are more likely to appeal to members of the middle and upper-middle classes,[61] with Barrett stating that new religions in the UK and US largely attract "white, middle-class late teens and twenties."[62] There are exceptions, such as the Rastafari movement and the Nation of Islam, which have primarily attracted disadvantaged black youth in Western countries.[61]

A popular conception, unsupported by evidence, holds that those who convert to new religions are either mentally ill or become so through their involvement with them.[63] Dick Anthony, a forensic psychologist noted for his writings on the brainwashing controversy,[64][65] has defended NRMs, and in 1988 argued that involvement in such movements may often be beneficial: "There's a large research literature published in mainstream journals on the mental health effects of new religions. For the most part the effects seem to be positive in any way that's measurable."[66]


Those who convert to a NRM typically believe that in doing so they are gaining some benefit in their life. This can come in many forms, from an increasing sense of freedom, to a release from drug dependency, and a feeling of self-respect and direction. Many of those who have left NRMs report that they have gained from their experience. There are various reasons as to why an individual would join and then remain part of an NRM, including both push and pull factors.[67] According to Marc Galanter, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU,[68] typical reasons why people join NRMs include a search for community and a spiritual quest. Sociologists Stark and Bainbridge, in discussing the process by which people join new religious groups, have questioned the utility of the concept of conversion, suggesting that affiliation is a more useful concept.[69]

A popular explanation for why people join new religious movements is that they have been "brainwashed" or subject to "mind control" by the NRM itself.[70] This explanation provides a rationale for 'deprogramming', a process in which members of NRMs are illegally kidnapped by individuals who then attempt to convince them to reject their beliefs.[70] Professional deprogrammers therefore have a financial interest in promoting the 'brainwashing' explanation.[71] Academic research however has demonstrated that these brainwashing techniques "simply do not exist".[72]


Many members of NRMs leave these groups of their own free will.[73] Some of those who do so retain friends within the movement.[74] Some of those who leave a religious community are unhappy with the time that they spent as part of it.[74] Leaving a NRM can pose a number of difficulties.[75] It may result in them having to abandon a daily framework that they had previously adhered to.[76] It may also generate mixed emotions as ex-members lose the feelings of absolute certainty that they had held while in the group.[75]


Academic scholarship

The academic study of new religious movements is known as 'new religions studies' (NRS).[78] The study draws from the disciplines of anthropology, psychiatry, history, psychology, sociology, religious studies, and theology.[79] Barker noted that there are five sources of information on NRMs: the information provided by such groups themselves, that provided by ex-members as well as the friends and relatives of members, organisations that collect information on NRMs, the mainstream media, and academics studying such phenomena.[80]

The study of new religions is unified by its topic of interest, rather than by its methodology, and is therefore interdisciplinary in nature.[81] A sizeable body of scholarly literature on new religions has been published, most of it produced by social scientists.[82] Among the disciplines that NRS utilises are anthropology, history, psychology, religious studies, and sociology.[83] Of these approaches, sociology played a particularly prominent role in the development of the field,[83] resulting in it being initially confined largely to a narrow array of sociological questions.[84] This came to change in later scholarship, which began to apply theories and methods initially developed for examining more mainstream religions to the study of new ones.[84]

Most research has been directed toward those new religions that attract public controversy. Less controversial NRMs tend to be the subject of less scholarly research.[85] It has also been noted that scholars of new religions often avoid researching certain movements that scholars from other backgrounds study. The feminist spirituality movement is usually examined by scholars of women's studies, African-American new religions by scholars of Africana studies, and Native American new religions by scholars of Native American studies.[86]

Definitions and terminology

Rainbow Gathering Bosnia 2007
A New Age Rainbow Gathering in Bosnia, 2007

J. Gordon Melton argued that, "new religious movements" should be defined by the way dominant religious and secular forces within a given society treat them. According to him, NRMs constituted "those religious groups that have been found, from the perspective of the dominant religious community (and in the West that is almost always a form of Christianity), to be not just different, but unacceptably different."[87] Barker cautioned against Melton's approach, arguing that negating the "newness" of "new religious movements" raises problems, for it is "the very fact that NRMs are new that explains many of the key characteristics they display".[88]

Scholars of religion Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein argued that "new religions are just young religions" and "not inherently different" from mainstream and established religious movements, with the differences between the two having been greatly exaggerated by the media and popular perceptions.[72] Melton has stated that those NRMs that "were offshoots of older religious groups... tended to resemble their parent group far more than each other."[30] One question that faces scholars of religion is when a new religious movement ceases to be "new."[89] As noted by Barker, "In the first century, Christianity was new, in the seventh century Islam was new, in the eighteenth century Methodism was new, in the nineteenth century the Seventh-day Adventists, Christadelphians and Jehovah's Witnesses were new; in the twenty-first century the Unification Church, ISKCON and Scientology are beginning to look old."[89]

Some NRMs are strongly counter-cultural and 'alternative' in the society they appear in, while others are far more similar to a society's established traditional religions.[90] Generally, Christian denominations are not seen as new religious movements; nevertheless, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, and the Shakers have been studied as NRMs.[91][92]

There are also problems in the use of "religion" within the term "new religious movements".[93] This is because various groups, particularly active within the New Age milieu, have many traits in common with different NRMs but emphasise personal development and humanistic psychology, and are not clearly "religious" in nature.[94]

Þingblót 2009
A procession of Heathens, members of a modern Pagan new religion, in Iceland

Since at least the early 2000s, most sociologists of religion have used the term "new religious movement" to avoid the pejorative undertones of terms like "cult" and "sect".[95] These are words that have been used in different ways by different groups.[96] For instance, from the nineteenth century onward a number of sociologists used the terms "cult" and "sect" in very specific ways.[97] The sociologist Ernst Troeltsch for instance differentiated "churches" from "sect" by claiming that the former term should apply to groups that stretch across social strata while "sects" typically contain converts from socially disadvantaged sectors of society.[97]

The term "cult" is used in reference to devotion or dedication to a particular person or place.[98] For instance, within the Roman Catholic Church devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus is usually termed the "Cult of Mary".[99] It is also used in non-religious contexts to refer to fandoms devoted to television shows like The Prisoner, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.[100] In the United States, people began to use "cult" in a pejorative manner, to refer to Spiritualism and Christian Science during the 1890s.[101] As commonly used, for instance in sensationalist tabloid articles, the term "cult" continues to have pejorative associations.[102]

The term "new religions" is a calque of shinshūkyō (新宗教), a Japanese term developed to describe the proliferation of Japanese new religions in the years following the Second World War.[103] From Japan this term was translated and used by several American authors, including Jacob Needleman, to describe the range of groups that appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s.[104] This term, amongst others, was adopted by Western scholars as an alternative to "cult".[105] However, "new religious movements" has failed to gain widespread public usage in the manner that "cult" has.[106] Other terms that has been employed for many NRMs is "alternative religion" and "alternative spirituality", something used to convey the difference between these groups and established or mainstream religious movements while at the same time evading the problem posed by groups that are not particularly new.[107]

The 1970s was the era of the so-called "cult wars," led by "cult-watching groups."[108] The efforts of the anti-cult movement condensed a moral panic around the concept of cults. Public fears around Satanism, in particular, came to be known as a distinct phenomenon, the "Satanic Panic."[109] Consequently, scholars such as Eileen Barker, James T. Richardson, Timothy Miller and Catherine Wessinger argued that the term "cult" had become too laden with negative connotations, and "advocated dropping its use in academia." A number of alternatives to the term "new religious movement" are used by some scholars. These include "alternative religious movements" (Miller), "emergent religions" (Ellwood) and "marginal religious movements" (Harper and Le Beau).[110]


There has been opposition to NRMs throughout their history.[111] Some historical events have been: Anti-Mormonism,[112] the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses,[113] the persecution of Bahá'ís,[114] and the persecution of Falun Gong.[115] There are also instances in which violence has been directed at new religions.[116] In the United States the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, Joseph Smith, was killed by a lynch mob in 1844.[117] In India there have been mob killings of members of the Ananda Marga group.[116] Such violence can also be administered by the state.[116] In Iran, the Baha'i have faced persecution, while the Ahmadiyya have faced similar violence in Pakistan.[118] Since 1999, the persecution of Falun Gong in China has been severe.[115][119] Ethan Gutmann interviewed over 100 witnesses and estimated that 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.[120][121][122][123]

Christian countercult movement

In the 1930s, Christian critics of NRMs began referring to them as "cults". The 1938 book The Chaos of Cults by Jan Karel van Baalen (1890–1968), an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, was especially influential.[7][124] In the US, the Christian Research Institute was founded in 1960 by Walter Martin to counter opposition to evangelical Christianity and has come to focus on criticisms of NRMs.[125] Presently the Christian countercult movement opposes most NRMs because of theological differences. It is closely associated with evangelical Christianity.[126] The UK-based Reachout Trust was initially established to oppose the Jehovah's Witnesses and what it regarded as "counterfeit Christian groups", but it came to wider attention in the late 1980s and 1990s for its role in promoting claims about Satanic ritual abuse.

Anti-cult movement

In the 1970s and 1980s some NRMs, as well as some non-religious groups, came under opposition by the newly organized anti-cult movement, which mainly charged them with psychological abuse of their own members.[7] It actively seeks to discourage people from joining new religions (which it refers to as "cults"). It also encourages members of these groups to leave them, and at times seeking to restrict their freedom of movement.[126]

Family members are often distressed when a relative of theirs joins a new religion.[128] Although children break away from their parents for all manner of reasons, in cases where NRMS are involved it is often the latter that are blamed for the break.[129] Some anti-cultist groups emphasise the idea that "cults" always use deceit and trickery to recruit members.[130] The anti-cult movement adopted the term brainwashing, which had been developed by the journalist Edward Hunter and then used by Robert J. Lifton to apply to the methods employed by Chinese to convert captured U.S. soldiers to their cause in the Korean War. Lifton himself had doubts about the applicability of his 'brainwashing' hypothesis to the techniques used by NRMs to convert recruits.[131] A number of ex-members of various new religions have made false allegations about their experiences in such groups. For instance, in the late 1980s a man in Dublin, Ireland was given a three-year suspended sentence for falsely claiming that he had been drugged, kidnapped, and held captive by members of ISKCON.[132]

Scholars of religion have often critiqued anti-cult groups of un-critically believing anecdotal stories provided by the ex-members of new religions, of encouraging ex-members to think that they are the victims of manipulation and abuse, and of irresponsibly scare-mongering about NRMs.[133] Of the "well over a thousand groups that have been or might be called cults" listed in the files of INFORM, says Eileen Barker, the "vast majority" have not engaged in criminal activities.[134]

Popular culture and news media

New religious movements and cults have appeared as themes or subjects in literature and popular culture, while notable representatives of such groups have produced a large body of literary works. Beginning in the 1700s authors in the English-speaking world began introducing members of "cults" as antagonists. In the Twentieth century concern for the rights and feelings of religious minorities led authors to most often invent fictional cults for their villains to be members of.[135] Fictional cults continue to be popular in film, television, and gaming in the same way; while some popular works treat new religious movements in a serious manner.

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."[136]

See also



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  122. ^ Ethan Gutmann (August 2014) The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem "Average number of Falun Gong in Laogai System at any given time" Low estimate 450,000, High estimate 1,000,000 p 320. "Best estimate of Falun Gong harvested 2000 to 2008" 65,000 p. 322.
  123. ^ Barbara Turnbull (21 October 2014) "Q&A: Author and analyst Ethan Gutmann discusses China’s illegal organ trade",The Toronto Star
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  134. ^ Barker, Eileen (2009). "What Makes a Cult?" The Guardian.
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Ashcraft, W. Michael (2005). "A History of the Study of New Religious Movements". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 9 (1). pp. 93–105. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2005.9.1.093.
Barker, Eileen (1989). New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 978-0-11-340927-3.
 ———  (2004). "What Are We Studying? A Sociological Case for Keeping the "Nova"". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 8 (1). pp. 88–102. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2004.8.1.88.
Barrett, David V. (2001). The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions. London: Cassell & Co. ISBN 978-0-304-35592-1.
Bromley, David G. (2004). "Whither New Religions Studies?: Defining and Shaping a New Area of Study". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 8 (2). pp. 83–97. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2004.8.2.83.
 ———  (2012). "The Sociology of New Religious Movements". In Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 13–28. ISBN 978-0-521-14565-7.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
Gardner, Martin (1995), Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery, Prometheus Books, ISBN 978-1-59102-622-8
  • Gibson, Lynne (2002). Modern World Religions: Hinduism – Pupil Book Core (Modern World Religions). Oxford, England: Heinemann Educational Publishers. ISBN 978-0-435-33619-6.
Hammer, Olav; Rothstein, Mikael (2012). "Introduction to New Religious Movements". The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–9. ISBN 978-0-521-14565-7.
Lewis, James R. (2004). "Overview". In James R. Lewis (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–15. ISBN 978-0-19-514986-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
Melton, J. Gordon (2004). "Toward a Definition of "New Religion"". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 8 (1). pp. 73–87. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2004.8.1.73.
 ———  (2004b). "An Introduction to New Religions". In James R. Lewis (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 16–35. ISBN 978-0-19-514986-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: editors list (link)
 ———  (2007). "New New Religions: Revisiting a Concept". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 10 (4). pp. 103–112. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2007.10.4.103.
Oliver, Paul (2012). New Religious Movements: A Guide for the Perplexed. London and New York: Continuum. ISBN 978-1-4411-0197-6.
Olson, Paul J. (2006). "The Public Perception of "Cults" and "New Religious Movements"". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 45 (1). pp. 97–106.
Robbins, Thomas (2000). "Quo Vadis the Scientific Study of New Religious Movements". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 39. pp. 515–524.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • Clarke, Peter B. (2000). Japanese New Religions: In Global Perspective. Richmond : Curzon. ISBN 978-0-7007-1185-7
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stark, Rodney (ed) Religious Movements: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, New York: Paragon House, 1985.
  • Arweck, Elisabeth and Peter B. Clarke, New Religious Movements in Western Europe: An Annotated Bibliography, Westport & London: Greenwood Press, 1997.
  • Barker, Eileen and Margit Warburg (eds) New Religions and New Religiosity, Aarhus, Denmark: Aargus University Press, 1998.
  • Beck, Hubert F. How to Respond to the Cults, in The Response Series. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1977. 40 p. N.B.: Written from a Confessional Lutheran perspective. ISBN 0-570-07682-X
  • 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.
  • Enroth, Ronald M., and J. Gordon Melton. Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1985. v, 133 p. ISBN 0-87178-932-9
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Staemmler, Birgit, Dehn, Ulrich (ed.): Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan. LIT, Münster, 2011. ISBN 978-3-643-90152-1
  • 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.
  • Toch, Hans. The Social Psychology of Social Movements, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1965.
  • 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.

External links

Academic study of new religious movements

The academic study of new religious movements is known as new religions studies (NRS).

The study draws from the disciplines of anthropology, psychiatry, history, psychology, sociology, religious studies, and theology. Eileen Barker noted that there five sources of information on new religious movements (NRMs): the information provided by such groups themselves, that provided by ex-members as well as the friends and relatives of members, organisations that collect information on NRMs, the mainstream media, and academics studying such phenomena.The study of new religions is unified by its topic of interest, rather than by its methodology, and is therefore interdisciplinary in nature. A sizeable body of scholarly literature on new religions has been published, most of it produced by social scientists. Among the disciplines that NRS uses are anthropology, history, psychology, religious studies, and sociology. Of these approaches, sociology played a particularly prominent role in the development of the field, resulting in it being initially confined largely to a narrow array of sociological questions. This came to change in later scholarship, which began to apply theories and methods initially developed for examining more mainstream religions to the study of new ones.The majority of research has been directed toward those new religions which have attracted a greater deal of public controversy; less controversial NRMs have tended to be the subject of less scholarly research. It has also been noted that scholars of new religions have often avoided researching certain movements which tend instead to be studied by scholars from other backgrounds; the feminist spirituality movement is usually examined by scholars of women's studies, African-American new religions by scholars of Africana studies, and Native American new religions by scholars of Native American studies.

Black Sun (Goodrick-Clarke book)

Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity is a book by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. It examines neo-Nazism as a new religious movement.

It was published by New York University Press in 2002 (ISBN 0-8147-3124-4) and reissued in paperback (ISBN 0-8147-3155-4).

Cults of Unreason

Cults of Unreason is a non-fiction book on atypical belief systems, written by Christopher Riche Evans, who was a noted computer scientist and an experimental psychologist. It was first published in the UK in 1973 by Harrap and in the United States in 1974 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, in paperback in 1975, by Delacorte Press, and in German, by Rowohlt, in 1976.Evans discusses Scientology and Dianetics, UFO religions, believers in Atlantis, biofeedback, Yoga, Eastern religions, and black boxes. He points out that these systems and groups incorporate technological advances within a theological framework, and that part of their appeal is due to the failure of modern people to find strength, comfort, and community in traditional religion and in science.In 2001 new religious movement specialist George Chryssides criticized the book's title by pointing out that most groups referred to as cults do have well-defined beliefs.


Heathenry, Heathenism or Heathendom may refer to:


Heathenry (new religious movement), a form of modern Paganism

Heathenry (new religious movement)

Heathenry, also termed Heathenism, contemporary Germanic Paganism, or Germanic Neopaganism, is a modern Pagan religion. Scholars of religious studies classify Heathenry as a new religious movement. Its practitioners model it on the pre-Christian belief systems adhered to by the Germanic peoples of Iron Age and Early Medieval Europe. To reconstruct these past belief systems, Heathenry uses surviving historical, archaeological, and folkloric evidence as a basis, although approaches to this material vary considerably.

Heathenry does not have a unified theology but is typically polytheistic, centering on a pantheon of deities from pre-Christian Germanic Europe. It adopts cosmological views from these past societies, including an animistic view of the cosmos in which the natural world is imbued with spirits. The religion's deities and spirits are honored in sacrificial rites known as blóts in which food and libations are offered to them. These are often accompanied by symbel, the act of ceremonially toasting the gods with an alcoholic beverage. Some practitioners also engage in rituals designed to induce an altered state of consciousness and visions, most notably seiðr and galdr, with the intent of gaining wisdom and advice from the deities. Although many solitary practitioners follow the religion by themselves, members of the Heathen community often assemble in small groups, usually known as kindreds or hearths, to perform their rites outdoors or in specially constructed buildings. Heathen ethical systems emphasize honor, personal integrity, and loyalty, while beliefs about an afterlife vary and are rarely emphasized.

A central division within the Heathen movement concerns the issue of race. Some groups adopt a "universalist" perspective which holds that the religion is open to all, irrespective of ethnic or racial identity. Others adopt a racialist attitude—often termed "folkish" within the community—by viewing Heathenry as an ethnic or racial religion with inherent links to a Germanic race that should be reserved explicitly for people of Northern European descent or white people in general. Some folkish Heathens further combine the religion with explicitly racist, white supremacist, and far right-wing perspectives, although these approaches are repudiated by many Heathens. Although the term Heathenry is used widely to describe the religion as a whole, many groups prefer different designations, influenced by their regional focus and ideological preferences. Heathens focusing on Scandinavian sources sometimes use Ásatrú, Vanatrú, or Forn Sed; practitioners focusing on Anglo-Saxon traditions use Fyrnsidu or Theodism; those emphasising German traditions use Irminism; and those Heathens who espouse folkish and far-right perspectives tend to favor the terms Odinism, Wotanism, Wodenism, or Odalism.

The religion's origins lie in the 19th- and early 20th-century Romanticist movement which glorified the pre-Christian beliefs of Germanic societies. In this period, organised groups venerating the Germanic gods developed in Germany and Austria; these were part of the Völkisch movement and typically exhibited a racialist interpretation of the religion, resulting in the movement largely dissolving following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. In the 1970s, new Heathen groups emerged in Europe and North America, developing into formalized organizations in order to promote their faith. In recent decades, the Heathen movement has been the subject of academic study by scholars active in the field of Pagan studies. Scholarly estimates put the number of Heathens at no more than 20,000 worldwide, with communities of practitioners active in Europe, the Americas, and Australasia.

Heaven's Gate (religious group)

Heaven's Gate was an American UFO religious millenarian cult based near San Diego, California. It was founded in 1974 and led by Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) and Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985). On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group in a house in the suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. They apparently had participated in a mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp.Just before the suicide, the group's website was updated with the message: "Hale-Bopp brings closure to Heaven's Gate ... Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion – 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew."


INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) is an independent registered charity located at the London School of Economics. It was founded in 1988 by the sociologist of religion, Eileen Barker, with funding from the British Home Office, Britain’s mainstream churches, foundations and enquirers. Its stated aim is to provide neutral, objective and up-to-date information on new religious movements (NRMs) to government officials, scholars, the media, and members of the general public, in particular to relatives of people who have joined a new religious movement., as well as religious or spiritual seekers

Indigo children

Indigo children, according to a pseudoscientific New Age concept, are children who are believed to possess special, unusual, and sometimes supernatural traits or abilities. The idea is based on concepts developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe and further developed by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober. The concept of indigo children gained popular interest with the publication of a series of books in the late 1990s and the release of several films in the following decade. A variety of books, conferences and related materials have been created surrounding belief in the idea of indigo children and their nature and abilities. The interpretations of these beliefs range from their being the next stage in human evolution, in some cases possessing paranormal abilities such as telepathy, to the belief that they are more empathetic and creative than their peers.

No scientific studies give credibility to the existence of indigo children or their traits. Some parents choose to label their children who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities as an indigo child to alternatively diagnose them. Critics view this as a way for parents to avoid considering pediatric treatment or a psychiatric diagnosis. Some lists of traits used to describe indigo children have also been criticized for being vague enough to be applied to most people, a form of the Forer effect.

Invitation to Life

Invitation to Life (often known as IVI) is a new religious movement with Catholic background, founded in Paris in 1983 by Yvonne Trubert. It defines itself as a "christic" movement and focuses on miraculous recoveries performed by Christ, but it is not recognized by the Catholic Church. Memberships reached a peak of 7,000 in late 1980s, but are currently on the decline, although the group is present in many European, American and African countries. The religious group was listed as a cult by in the 1995 and 1999 parliamentary reports in France, and also appeared in the list of groups examined by the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission in Belgium. It main criticism is related to its promises of miraculous healings, often considered as harmful for followers' health. Most of sociologists and researchers on new religious movements do not share this opinion (e.g. Régis Dericquebourg deemed the group as a "movement of spiritual regeneration").

Jeung San Do

Jeung San Do (증산도), occasionally called Jeungsanism (증산교 Jeungsangyo), meaning "The Dao/Tao of Jeung-san", although this term is better reserved for a larger family of movements, is a new religious movement founded in South Korea in 1974. It is one of more than 100 Korean religious movements that recognize Gang Il-sun (강일순) (Kang Jeungsan, or Chungsan), an early 20th century religious leader, as the incarnation and personification of Sangjenim (上帝任, the "governing spirit of the universe") and performed a "reordering of the universe" through his mission and rituals. The religion is characterised by a universal message, millenarianism, and a method of healing meditation.

List of new religious movements

A new religious movement (NRM) is a religious, ethical, or spiritual group or community with practices of relatively modern origins. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may exist on the fringes of a wider religion, in which case they will be distinct from pre-existing denominations. Academics identify a variety of characteristics which they employ in categorizing groups as new religious movements. The term is broad and inclusive, rather than sharply defined. New religious movements are generally seen as syncretic, employing human and material assets to disseminate their ideas and worldviews, deviating in some degree from a society's traditional forms or doctrines, focused especially upon the self, and having a peripheral relationship that exists in a state of tension with established societal conventions.An NRM may be one of a wide range of movements ranging from those with 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 their adherents from mainstream society. Use of the term NRM is not universally accepted among the groups to which it is applied. Scholars have estimated that NRMs now number in the tens of thousands worldwide, with most in Asia and Africa. Most have only a few members, some have thousands, and very few have more than a million. Academics occasionally propose amendments to technical definitions and continue to add new groups.

Rizalista religious movements

The Rizalista religious movements refers to the new religious movement and a form of Folk Catholicism adopted by a number of ethnic religious groups in the Philippines that believe in the divinity of Jose Rizal, the Philippines' de facto national hero. Many of these sects or religious movements believe that Rizal is still living and that he will deliver his followers from oppression and poverty. Rizalist groups have differing views on the divinity of Jose Rizal. Some believe that he is God himself, some believe that Rizal was the second son of God, the reincarnation of Christ. Some of these groups also identify Rizal as the god of the pre-Spanish Malay religion. Some only see as Rizal as a spiritual guide. Leaders of the sect often claim that key people in the Philippine Revolution including Rizal himself were reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Many of these groups claim that the only key to salvation is by joining their group.The Rizalist religious movement ranged from colorums which were prevalent during the 1920s up to the 1930s to Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association, which was led by Ruben Ecleo. Among these movements are the Iglesia Sagarada Familia (lit. Church of the Holy Family), Lipi ni Rizal (lit. Clan of Rizal), Pilipinas Watawat (lit. Philippine Flag), the Molo, and the Iglesia ng Watawat ng Lahi (lit. Church of the Race's Flag).Some of these groups regularly participate in Rizal Day celebrations in Rizal Park as an act of devotion towards Rizal.

Shinji Shumeikai

Shinji Shūmeikai (神慈秀明会) (often abbreviated to Shumei) is a Japanese new religious movement (shinshūkyō). In 1998, the organization had more than 300,000 adherents.

Tenri University

Tenri University (天理大学, Tenri Daigaku) is a Japanese private university in Tenri, Nara Prefecture, an independent part of the secular mission of the new religious movement Tenrikyo. It was established in February 1925 as the coeducational Tenri Foreign Language School (天理外国語専門学校, Tenri Gaikokugo Senmon Gakkō), enrolling 104 students, and was reorganised as a university in April 1949.

The Bridge to Total Freedom

The Bridge to Total Freedom, or simply "The Bridge", is a metaphor used by the Church of Scientology to describe believers' advancement within the religion.

Scientology holds that believers advance to a state of Clear when they have freed themselves from the "reactive mind". This takes place in auditing, and is said to be a lifetime commitment. According to the church, by reaching Clear status, followers are more self-confident, happy, and generally successful in careers and interpersonal relationships. Beyond the state of Clear, Scientologists move through several auditing steps called Operating Thetan (OT) levels. An OT is a state of spiritual awareness in which an individual is able to control self and the environment. According to D. R. Christensen, Scientology is "an individualistic religion with a hierarchical organization of the soteriological system, called the Bridge". The Bridge is described by the church as a series of soteriological steps.The Bridge is broken down into two parallel paths, Training and Processing. Processing addresses the Scientologist's "case" or how they function in life as influenced by their "aberrations". The Training path teaches Hubbard's theories on the nature of life and the universe and the techniques of auditing. Participants feel that this knowledge greatly enhances their ability to be effective in life whether they audit another or not. Scientologists can travel up either side of the Bridge and many do both sides. Although not part of the formal Bridge, the chart also lists many optional courses and training actions that can be done by Scientologists.

The Bridge was a result of the culmination of the foundational work on Dianetics and Scientology training that Hubbard had established in the mid-1960s. In 1965, Hubbard published The Bridge to Freedom, which includes the “Classification and Gradation Chart,” which, according to new religious movement specialist James R. Lewis, discusses the steps that church members must follow as they learn and study Scientology. The chart was a summary of the results of Hubbard’s experimentation since the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation was founded fifteen years before that time. Save for adjustments and addendums over several years, it delineated the program for reaching Clear status and becoming an Operating Thetan.Scientologists believe that if an individual is unable to ascend through the Bridge in this lifetime, he or she can continue the journey up the Bridge in another life.

The Family International

The Family International (TFI) is a cult that started in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California. It was originally called Teens for Christ and later gained notoriety as The Children of God (COG). It was later renamed and reorganized as The Family of Love, which was eventually shortened to The Family. It is currently called The Family International.

Twelve Tribes communities

The Twelve Tribes, formerly known as the Vine Christian Community Church, Northeast Kingdom Community Church, the Messianic Communities, and the Community Apostolic Order is a Christian new religious movement founded by Gene Spriggs (now known as Yoneq) that sprang out of the Jesus movement in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.The group is an attempt to recreate the 1st-century church in the Book of Acts; the name "Twelve Tribes" is also derived from a quote of the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:7. The group has also been referred to as The Yellow Deli People and informally as The Community.


WZCK-LD is a low-power digital television station in the Madison, Wisconsin area, and officially twin-licensed to both Madison and Middleton. The station is owned and operated by DTV America Corporation.

WZCK was originally known as W08CK, and broadcast a low-power analog television signal on channel 8. The station was owned by the Science of Identity Foundation, a new religious movement with Hindu roots, and broadcast music, some religious programming, and a station ID from a transmitter atop the Tenney Building near the Wisconsin State Capitol and a signal only strong enough to cover the central Madison Isthmus and the UW campus. Though it was off the air for most of the 2010s, W08CK was for a time the only station in Madison to broadcast on the VHF band (WISC-TV left analog channel 3 for digital channel 50 in the 2009 digital TV transition; WMSN-TV would relocate its physical digital signal from 11 to 49 earlier in the 2010s).

By 2016, W08CK would be acquired by DTV America, an owner/operator of LPTV stations throughout the U.S. With the silent station rechristened WZCK-LD, DTV America proceed to construct a digital signal on physical channel 36 at the WKOW studio/transmitter link tower on the west side of Madison. On November 16, 2016, WZCK began digital broadcasting.

Western Sufism

Universal Sufism, also known as Neo-Sufism, Global Sufism, and Western Sufism, is a new religious movement with its origins in traditional Sufism, Islam's mystical branch.

New religious movements
Major groups
Notable figures
Public education

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