Pseudoreligion, or pseudotheology, is a generally pejorative term applied to a non-mainstream belief-system or philosophy which is functionally similar to a religious movement, typically having a founder, principal text, liturgy and faith-based beliefs. Belief systems such as Theosophy, corporate Kabbalism, Christian Science, and the Nation of Islam have all been referred to as pseudoreligions, as have various New Age religions, as well as political ideologies such as Nazism. Within the academic debate, political ideologies that resemble religion are sometimes referred to as political religions.
While the more serious-minded participants in these groups may prefer to consider themselves part of a proper religion, or not part of a religion at all, the mainstream ascribes to them a fringe status. Such groups as the Raëlian Church and Heaven's Gate, seen as dangerous, exploitative, secretive, or closed, have been classified as pseudoreligious cults.
Examples of marginal movements with founding figures, liturgies and recently invented traditions that have been studied as legitimate social practices include various New Age movements, and millennaristic movements such as the Ghost Dance and South Pacific cargo cults.
James Carmine, chair of Carlow University's philosophy department, proposes a three-pronged test to distinguish "authentic" religions from pseudoreligions:
- Biever, Bruce (1976). Religion, Culture and Values: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Motivational Factors in Native Irish and American Irish Catholicism. Arno Press, a New York Times Company. p. 165. ISBN 0-405-09319-5.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (1993). The Need for a Sacred Science. SUNY Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-7914-1517-1.
- Guenon, Rene (1921). Theosophy, a History of a Pseudo-Religion. Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis. ISBN 0-900588-79-9.
- Wenig, Gaby (2003-11-07). "Q & A With Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. "Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: There is no spirit in it, no message in it. This is part of a general term toward the esoteric that seems to be a' la mode for the time being, but it is not important on any real level. At best, it is shallow and unimportant. At worst, it may become slightly dangerous for Judaism and for the people who get involved in it. To get involved in any kind of pseudo-science or pseudo-religion is always slightly dangerous for the religion."
- Albert B. Olston (1 February 2003). Facts and Fables of Christian Science. Kessinger Publishing. p. 303. ISBN 978-0-7661-2991-7. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- McCloud, Sean (2004-03-01). "Monitoring the Marginal Masses". Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955–1993. UNC Press. ISBN 0-8078-5496-4. "William Buckley's more conservative National Review dubbed the group a "pseudo-religion." Writing in Ebony, Hans J. Massaquoi concurred, calling the Nation of Islam a "quasi-religion.""
- Grunberger, Richard (1995). The 12-Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany 1933–1945. Da Capo Press. pp. 72–75. ISBN 0-306-80660-6.
- MacDonald, Jeffery L. (December 1995). "Inventing Traditions for the New Age: A Case Study of the Earth Energy Tradition". Anthropology of Consciousness 6 (4): 31–45. doi:10.1525/ac.19126.96.36.199.
- Errington, Frederick (May 1974). "Indigenous Ideas of Order, Time, and Transition in a New Guinea Cargo Movement". American Ethnologist 1 (2): 255–267. doi:10.1525/ae.1974.1.2.02a00030.
- Carmine, James (14 December 2005). "Bad Religions and Good Religions". IntellectualConservative.com. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- Bowie, Fiona (2005). The Anthropology of Religion: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing Professional.
- Tillich, Paul (1963). "Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions". In Scharlemann, Robert P.. Religiöse Schriften [Religious writings]. Hauptwerke 5. Walter de Gruyter (published 1988). p. 293. ISBN 9780899253817. Retrieved 2013-12-26. "Sometimes, what I call quasi-religions are called pseudo-religions, but this is as imprecise as it is unfair. 'Pseudo' indicates an intended but deceptive similarity; 'quasi' indicates a genuine similarity, not intended, but based on points of identity, and this, certainly, is the situation in cases like Fascism and Communism, the most extreme examples of quasi-religions today."
- "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-Theology: (A) Cult and Occult"; Bube, Dr. Richard A., Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Issue 29, March 1977.
- "Bad Religions and Good Religions"; Carmine, Professor James D, IntellectualConservative.com, 14 December 2005.