Wikipedia:Manual of Style/New religious movements
Wikipedia's articles on new religious movements (NRMs) have frequently proved contentious. The key to stable, neutral articles in this contentious field is good sourcing: focus on using the best, most reputable sources, above all scholarly sources, and avoid the use of primary sources – both movement and countermovement sources.
The key to productive working relationships is to treat your fellow editors as unique individuals, with respect and without enmity based on their religious views. In Wikipedia, we are all, first of all, Wikipedians.
- 1 A contentious field
- 2 Sourcing NRM articles
- 3 Article content structure
- 4 A note on civility
- 5 Different countries, other times
- 6 See also
A contentious field
The NRM topic area is among a very small number of topic areas consistently generating several intractable disputes per year that require the intervention of Wikipedia's arbitration committee. As a result of these arbitration cases, over the years dozens of editors – both committed members and committed opponents of new religious movements – have received topic bans, even site bans.
Sourcing NRM articles
Wikipedia's Identifying reliable sources guideline demands that articles should be based on reliable, third-party, published sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy. This means that we only publish the opinions of reliable authors, and not the opinions of Wikipedians who have read and interpreted primary-source material for themselves.
In the NRM field, as in any other field, academic and peer-reviewed publications are usually the most reliable sources when available. However, some scholarly material may be outdated, in competition with alternative theories, or controversial within the relevant field. Reliable non-academic sources may also be used in articles about new religious movements, particularly material from high-quality mainstream publications. Deciding which sources are appropriate depends on context. For example, recent events may not have been subjected to published scholarly analysis yet, whereas events that occurred several decades ago may have been analyzed by multiple scholars. Try to cite scholarly consensus when available. Where sources disagree, material should be attributed in-text.
Articles should be based on reliable secondary sources. Wikipedians should not rely on, or try to interpret the content or importance of, primary sources. Editors also should not use primary sources for explicit or implicit advocacy for or against a new religious movement, unless they cite a reliably published secondary source using the same primary source in the same manner.
In the NRM field, primary sources include:
- Writings or other media published by an NRM;
- Writings or media recordings of a movement's founder;
- Self-published writings of members and ex-members;
- Websites of members, ex-members and critics.
Primary sources can be cited to support specific statements, but the bulk of the article should rely on secondary sources.
Self-published or questionable sources may be used as sources of information about themselves, especially in articles about themselves, so long as they adhere to the requirements in WP:IRS.
Strictly speaking, scholarly sources are peer reviewed publications by scholars intended for other scholars. Thus articles published in a scholarly journal or published by an academic publisher. Respected scholars may also write other publications. These may be used with caution in some circumstances.
Types of scholarship in alphabetical order. They are each specialized in different aspects.
- Anthropology of religion often in depth participant observation which is sometimes carried out by students. Only few NRMs have been studied in this way, because it is clearly extremely time-consuming. They tend to report criticism of the movement only if this has had an impact on the movement.
- Parapsychology for investigation of miracles, This is a somewhat controversial academic discipline.
- Religious studies uses methodological atheism, agnostic about truth claims and authenticity.
- Psychology of religion
- Psychiatry some psychiatrists have studied the mental health of adherents
- Sociology of religion
- Theology theologists may describe a NRM from the perspective of their own religion. If this is done in a biased way then is likely to be unsuitable for Wikipedia. However sometimes they only do this to a little extent, very reticent or very explicitly in a separate section and then their sources can be used with some caution. They may also describe if and how doctrine of NRMs differs from more mainstream groups and if the doctrine is supported by scripture.
There is no consensus whether scientific skepticism sources can be used in NRM articles. They are clearly of varying quality. Some of them are written by academics. They tend to be critical of the methodology of parapsychology.
Because science is intended to make progress, scholars tend to come up with new general theories in their field on the basis of their studies of a particular religious movement. These new theories are likely to be unsuitable for inclusion in a description of a particular NRM unless widely shared by other scholars.
In many cases the focus of a scholarly publication is on the beliefs and practices of the movement during the research period. In that case it may not be a reliable source for other aspects of the movement, such as number of adherents, history, scandals, controversies, publications by the movement, biography of the founder etc.
Both movements and countermovements frequently host newspaper articles favourable to their point of view on their websites. In most cases, these articles are hosted without the publishers' permission and license. Per WP:LINKVIO policy, if you know that an external Web site is carrying a work in violation of the creator's copyright, do not link to that copy of the work. Knowingly and intentionally directing others to a site that violates copyright has been considered a form of contributory infringement in the United States. Instead, cite the original publisher and link to their copy of the article if it is online. If an article is no longer available on the publisher's website, see if you can link to a copy of the article on the Wayback Machine. Linking to article copies on the Wayback Machine is presently considered acceptable. If you have found an article on a movement or countermovement website, verify the accuracy of the copy that you cite, as both movements and critics may omit text of the articles that they consider irrelevant to make a point. Or in a few cases censor or even edit the wording of the articles.
Neutrality requires that the article should fairly represent all significant facts and viewpoints that have been published by a reliable source, and should do so in proportion to the prominence of each.
Due weight is established by secondary sources. Prominent topics in self-published sources (movement and countermovement) may not be prominent in third-party sources (scholarly works, high-quality mainstream media); it is the latter which establish due weight in articles on new religious movements.
Biographies of living persons
According to the Biographies of living persons policy, biographies of living persons should have a broadly neutral structure and avoid claims that rely on guilt by association. Where individuals have been linked to new religious movements, addition of related material must not unbalance or overwhelm the biography.
Biographies of founders
In general, the private life of a person is not described in detail in Wikipedia, because it is often considered not very relevant. However founders of new religious movements may be believed by followers to be saints, gurus, prophets etc or claim to be so implicitly or explicitly. In these cases, depending on the beliefs of the followers and the claims by the founder, the private life of the founder can be very relevant and described in more detail in Wikpedia.
Conflict of interest and advocacy
While both critics and adherents of a movement may be drawn to an article on that movement, both should realise that Wikipedia is not a place for advocacy in favour of or in opposition to a movement. Editors should not attempt to turn the Wikipedia article on a new religious movement into a glowing tribute, or a cutting-edge critique, but attempt to create a neutral, balanced and careful summary of the existing literature on the movement. The same applies to articles on groups and individuals opposing new religious movements.
Editors working in this field who have strong religious allegiances, or firmly-held views on the value of new and established religious movements, are encouraged to disclose their allegiances or views on their user page. This prevents speculation and enables an open and collegial working relationship even between editors with diametrically opposite views.
Article content structure
Articles on movements
The article on a new religious movement should cover at least the following points:
- History of the movement
- Beliefs, teachings or practices of the movement
A movement should have its own article if it has developed social structures and behaviors that have attracted substantial coverage in reliable sources. If there is no substantial coverage of these aspects of the movement in reliable sources, a section in the founder's biography is sufficient to describe the movement.
Articles on movement founders
The article on the founder of a religious movement should cover at least the following points:
- Biography, including important events in the movement's history
- Reception of the founder and her or his movement
Where the article on a religious movement redirects to the article on the movement founder, the article on the founder should cover at least the following points:
- Biography, including important events in the movement's history
- Description of the movement
- Reception of the founder and her or his movement
A note on civility
Contributors to NRM articles are often members of opposing communities, and wish to have their viewpoints included in articles. Through reasoned debate, contributors can synthesize these views into a single article, and this creates a better, more neutral article for everyone. Every person who edits an article is part of the same larger community – we are all Wikipedians.
- Racial, religious, ethnic or other epithets directed against another contributor are considered a personal attack. Disagreement over what constitutes a religion, race, or ethnicity is not a legitimate excuse.
- Using someone's affiliations as an ad hominem means of dismissing or discrediting their views – regardless of whether said affiliations are mainstream – is a personal attack.
- Pointing out an editor's relevant conflict of interest and its relevance to the discussion at hand is not considered a personal attack, but speculating on the real-life identity of another editor may constitute outing, which is a serious offense.
Different countries, other times
What can further complicate the editing process is that the English Wikipedia is an international Wikipedia. It should describe the situation in all countries and attracts editors from many countries. For example, a new religious movement may have encountered in a certain country in the 1980s a lot of untrue allegations, subjected to exaggerated anti-cult activism, and stigmatization. This may have been totally different in the year 2013 in another country.
Also a new religious movement may behave differently in different countries. It also tend to change over time.
Realizing all this may prevent or alleviate confrontations with other editors who have different perspectives and constrasting experiences.