New religious movement

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A member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness proselytising on the streets of Moscow, Russia

A new religious movement (NRM), also known as a new religion or an alternative spirituality, is a religious or spiritual group that has modern origins and which a peripheral place within 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] Many have their own unique scriptures, while others reinterpret existing texts.[2] 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 only very few have more than one million members.[3]

The term shinshūkyō ("new religion") first developed in Japan to describe the proliferation of Japanese new religions following the Second World War. The term was then introduced to the United States in the 1960s. It gained increasing usage among scholars of religion—and in particular sociologists of religion—over the following decades, being favored over the more widely used term "cult", which is often considered derogatory.

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.

Within 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.[4]

Definitions[edit]

There is no singular, agreed upon criteria for defining a "new religious movement".[5] However, the term usually requires that the group be both of recent origin and different from existing religions.[4] There is debate as to what the term "new" should designate in this context.[6] One perspective is that "new" can designate that a religion is more recent in its origins than large, well-established religions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism which are over a thousand years old.[6] An alternate perspective is that the term "new" should designate that a religion is more recent in its formation, [6] with some scholars viewing 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.[7][6][8]

A New Age Rainbow Gathering in Bosnia, 2007

A differing perspective was adopted by the scholar of religion J. Gordon Melton, who argued that "new religious movements" should be defined by the manner in which they are treated by dominant religious and secular forces within a given society. 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."[9] This definition would mean that which religions were regarded as NRMs would differ from country to country and would be open to change and reassessment.[9] 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".[10]

As noted by scholars of religion Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein, "new religions are just young religions".[11] In this they argued that NRMs are "not inherently different" from mainstream and established religious movements,[11] with the differences between the two having been greatly exaggerated by the media and popular perceptions.[11] Melton has stated that those NRMs which "were offshoots of older religious groups... tended to resemble their parent group far more than each other".[12] One question that faces scholars of religion is when a new religious movement ceases to be "new."[13] 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."[13]

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.[14] 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.[15][16]

There are also problems in the use of "religion" within the term "new religious movements".[17] This is because there are various groups, particularly active within the New Age milieu, which have many traits in common with different NRMs but which emphasise personal development and humanistic psychology and which are not clearly designated as "religious".[18]

"Cults", "sects", and "alternative religions"[edit]

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".[19] These are words that have been used in different ways by different groups.[20] For instance, from the nineteenth century onward a number of sociologists used the terms "cult" and "sect" in very specific ways.[21] The sociologist Ernst Troeltsch for instance differentiated "churches" from "sect" by claiming that the former term should apply to groups which stretched across social strata while "sects" were typically defined by containing converts who came from socially disadvantaged sectors of society.[21]

As commonly used, for instance in sensationalist tabloid articles, the term "cult" has pejorative associations.[22] According to the sociologist of religion David V. Barrett, the term "cult" was widely understood as meaning "one of those fake religions that brainwashes people into joining, takes all their money, then commits all sorts of abuse on them, and then they all commit suicide."[20] In the U.S., the term began to be used in this pejorative manner to refer to Spiritualism and Christian Science during the 1890s.[23]

Alternately, the term "cult" is also used in reference to devotion or dedication to a particular person or place.[24] For instance, within the Roman Catholic Church devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus is usually termed the "Cult of Mary".[25] 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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28] This term, amongst others, was adopted by Western scholars as an alternative to "cult". [29] However, "new religious movements" has failed to gain widespread public usage in the manner that "cult" has.[30] 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.[31]

THe 1970s was the era of the so-called "cult wars," led by "cult-watching groups."[32] The efforts of the anti-cult movement condensed a moral panic around the concept of cults. Public fears around Satanisms, in particular, came to be known as a distinct phenomenon, "the satanic panic."[33] 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).[34]

History[edit]

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.[35] 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 China. It later ignited the Donghak Peasant Revolution in 1894.[36] In 1891, the Unity Church, the first New Thought denomination, was founded in the United States.[8][37]

In 1893, the first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in Chicago.[38] 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.[39] Also attending were Soyen Shaku, the "First American Ancestor" of Zen,[40] the Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala, and the Jain preacher Virchand Gandhi.[41] This conference gave Asian religious teachers their first wide American audience.[8]

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.[8][42] The 1930s saw the founding 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.

New religious movements expanded in many nations in the 1950s and 1960s. Japanese new religions became very popular after the occupation of Japan 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.[8] 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.[43][44][45] 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.[46] In 1967, The Beatles' visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India brought public attention to the Transcendental Meditation movement.[47][48]

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.[49]

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.[8] This is sometimes referred to as cybersectarianism.[50][51] 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.[52]

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.[53] In 2007 religious scholar Elijah Siegler commented that although no NRM had become the dominant faith in any country, many of the concepts which they had first introduced (often referred to as "New Age" ideas) have become part of worldwide mainstream culture.[8]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

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.[54] Virtually no generalisation can be made about NRMs that will apply to every single group,[55] with Barrett noting that "generalizations tend not to be very helpful" when studying NRMs.[56] Melton expressed the view that there is "no single characteristic or set of characteristics" which all religions shared, "not even their newness". Rather, he noted that "what they shared was what they lacked—they were not part of the religious establishment; their status and role in the culture was continually being contested; they were misunderstood, feared, and disliked (even hated) by their neighbors; and they were viewed as being out of step with the general religious environment."[12]

NRMs often utilise a range of older elements.[57] They frequently claim that these are not new, but rather had been forgotten truths that are only now being revived.[58] They also often claim that they exist at a crucial place in time and space.[59]

Violence[edit]

Violent incidents involving NRSs are extremely rare and very unusual.[60] In those cases where large number of casualties resulted, the new religion in question was led by a charismatic leader.[60] The mass suicide and killing of 913 members of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 brought the idea of "killer cults" to public attention.[61] A number of subsequent events contributed to this image of new religions. In 1993, 80 members of the Branch Davidians were killed in a fire at their Texas compound when the federal authorities stormed their compound.[61] In 1994, a number of members of the Order of the Solar Temple committed suicide in Canada and Switzerland.[61] In 1995 members of the Japanese new religion Aum Shinrikyo murdered a number of people, including through a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.[61] In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate group killed themselves in the belief that their spirits would leave the Earth and join a passing comet.[61] 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.[62]

Leadership[edit]

Many NRMs are founded and led by a charismatic leader.[63] The death of any religion's founder represents a significant moment in its history.[64] Over the months and years following their death, the movement can die out, fragment into multiple groups, consolidate its position, or change its nature to become something quite different to that which its founder intended.[64] In some cases a group moves closer to the religious mainstream after the death of its founder.[65]

A number of founders of new religions established clear plans for succession in order to prevent confusion after their death.[66] For instance, 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.[66]

Involvement[edit]

Joining[edit]

The multi-coloured camouflage jacket (right) often worn as a Jesus Army "uniform" on the street

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 still report have gained much from their experience. There are various reasons as to why an individual would join and then remain part of an NRM. These consist of 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]

Some NRMs place considerable pressure on potential converts.[70] This may entail "love bombing", in which an individual is given considerable attention and affection, or it may play upon the individual's sense of guilt; sometimes both tactics are adopted.[70] Sometimes NRMs employ deception as part of their attempt to entice people to join them, typically through withholding information from those they seek to recruit, such as the identity of the group that they represent or the obligations and restrictions that will be expected of any convert.[71] Some recruiters go beyond concealing the truth to actively lie about their group and its activities.[72] Some new religions legitimise this deception by referring to "transcendental trickery" or "heavenly deception".[73]

In the 1960s sociologist John Lofland lived with Unification Church missionary Young Oon Kim and a small group of American church members in California and studied their activities in trying to promote their beliefs and win new members. Lofland noted that most of their efforts were ineffective and that most of the people who joined did so because of personal relationships with other members, often family relationships.[74] Lofland published his findings in 1964 as a doctoral thesis entitled: 'The World Savers: A Field Study of Cult Processes', and in 1966 in book form by Prentice-Hall as Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. It is considered to be one of the most important and widely cited studies of the process of religious conversion, as well as one of the first sociological studies of a new religious movement.[75][76]

Most of those individuals who are exposed to an NRM's proselytizing efforts reject the beliefs and do not involve themselves in the NRM.[77] For example, of the thousand individuals who attended a Unification Church event in London in 1979, around 90% had no further contact with the group. Approximately 8% joined as full-time members for at least a week, and less than 4% were still full-time members two years later.[78]

Groups that promote celibacy require a strong recruitment drive in order to survive; the Shakers for example established orphanages to bring new individuals into their community.[79]

Membership[edit]

Some NRMs, particularly those which are forms of occultism, have a prescribed system of courses and grades through which members can progress.[80] A small number of new religions use harsh methods of indoctrination, or conditioning, to make its members more obedient to the demands of its leadership.[81] This can include providing members with a poor diet, subjecting them to sleep deprivation, or encouraging members to spy upon each other.[81] The factors of friendship and socialisation within a group help new religions to retain people in the movements.[82] Dick Anthony, a forensic psychologist noted for his writings on the brainwashing controversy,[83][84] 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."[85]

Leaving[edit]

Many members of NRMs leave these groups of their own free will.[86] Some of those who do so retain friends within the movement.[87] Some of those who leave a religious community are unhappy with the time that they spent as part of it.[87] Leaving an NRM can pose a number of difficulties for an individual.[88] For instance, it may result in them having to abandon a daily framework that they had previously adhered to.[89] It can also generate mixed emotions as ex-members lose the feelings of absolute certainty that they had held while in the group.[88]

Demographics[edit]

Barker stated that the majority of NRMs originated in either North America (particularly California) or Asia (particularly India), but that some are from Britain and France.[55] NRMs typically consist largely of first-generation believers,[90] and thus often have a younger average membership than mainstream religious congregations.[91] Some NRMS have been formed by groups of individuals, particularly those who have split from a pre-existing religious group.[63] As these individuals grow older, many have children who are then brought up within the NRM.[92]

In the Third World, NRMs most often appeal to the poor and oppressed sectors of society.[93] Within Western countries, they are more likely to appeal to members of the middle and upper-middle classes,[93] with Barrett stating that new religions in the UK and US largely attract "white, middle-class late teens and twenties".[94] There are exceptions, such as the Rastafari movement and the Nation of Islam which have primarily attracted disadvantaged black youth in Western countries.[93]

Reception[edit]

Popular culture and news media[edit]

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. Satanists, sects of the Mormon movement, and Thuggees were popular choices. 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.[95] 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.

Tabloid articles have repeatedly combined the word "cult" with other terms to make their coverage more sensational, thus referring to various new religions as a "sex cult", "evil cult", or "suicide cult".[22] 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."[96]

Opposition[edit]

"The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a number of highly visible new religious movements... [These] seemed so outlandish that many people saw them as evil cults, fraudulent organizations or scams that recruited unaware people by means of mind-control techniques. Real or serious religions, it was felt, should appear in recognizable institutionalized forms, be suitably ancient, and – above all – advocate relatively familiar theological notions and modes of conduct. Most new religions failed to comply with such standards."

— Religious studies scholars Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein[97]

There has been opposition to NRMs throughout their history.[98] Some historical events have been: Anti-Mormonism,[99] the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses,[100] the persecution of Bahá'ís,[101] and the persecution of Falun Gong.[102][103][104][105][106][107] There are also instances in which violence has been directed at new religions.[108] In the United States the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, Joseph Smith, was killed by a lynch mob in 1844.[109] In India there have been mob killings of members of the Ananda Marga group.[108] Such violence can also be administered by the state.[108] In Iran, the Baha'i have faced persecution, while the Ahmadiyya have faced similar violence in Pakistan.[110] Since 1999, the persecution of Falun Gong in China has been severe.[102][103] Ethan Gutmann interviewed over 100 witnesses and estimated that 65,000 Falun Gong practitioners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.[104][105][106][107]

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.[8][111] Presently the Christian countercult movement opposes most NRMs because of theological differences. It is closely associated with evangelical Christianity.[112] 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. In the US, a 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.[113]

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 convinced them to reject their beliefs.[70] Professional deprogrammers therefore have a financial interest in promoting the 'brainwashing' explanation.[114] Academic research however has demonstrated that these brainwashing techniques "simply do not exist".[11] Other popular conceptions which are not supported by evidence hold that those who convert to new religions are either mentally ill or become so through their involvement with the groups.[115]

Anti-cult and counter-cult movements[edit]

In the 1970s and 1980s some NRMs came under opposition by the newly organized anti-cult movement and by some governments, as well as receiving extensive coverage in the news media. The media coverage of the deaths of over 900 members of the Peoples Temple by suicide and murder in 1978 is often cited as especially contributing to public opposition to cults.[8] The secular anti-cult movement opposes some NRMs, as well as some non-religious groups, mainly charging them with psychological abuse of their own members.[8] It actively seeks to discourage people from joining new religions (which it refers to as "cults").[112] It also encourages them to leave them, and at times seeking to restrict their freedom of movement.[112] The first organised opposition to new religions in the United States appeared in 1972 with the formation of FREECOG (Parents Committee to Free Our Sons and Daughters from the Children of God).[116] In 1973 FREECOG renamed itself as the Volunteer Parents of America, and then the Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF), before becoming the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) in 1984.[117] In the UK, the politician Paul Rose established an anti-cult group called FAIR (Family Action Information and Resource) in 1976.[118] In 1987, Ian Harworth founded another such group, the Cult Information Centre.[119] In 1979, another anti-cult group, the American Family Foundation (AFF) was founded; it began organising annual conferences, launching an information phone line, and publishing the Cult Observer and the Cultic Studies Journal.[117] The CAN and AFF were separate organisations although fashioned a number of joint boards and programmes.[117] In 1996 the CAN was sued for its involvement in the deprogramming of a member of the American Pentecostal Church. This bankrupted the organisation, and its name was purchased by a group which included a number of Scientologists.[118] In the 1970s and 1980s American anti-cultist Ted Patrick was convicted several times for kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment for his deprograming activities.[120][121]

Family members are often distressed when a relative of theirs joins a new religion.[122] 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.[123] Some anti-cultist groups emphasise the idea that "cults" always use deceit and trickery to recruit members.[124] 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.[125] 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.[126]

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.[127] 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.[128]

American Psychological Association rejection of brainwashing theory[edit]

In 1983, Margaret Singer, a leading anti-cultist who also had studied the political brainwashing of Korean prisoners of war,[129][130] was asked by the American Psychological Association (APA) to chair a taskforce called the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) to investigate whether brainwashing or "coercive persuasion" did indeed play a role in recruitment by some NRMs. Before the taskforce had submitted its final report, the APA submitted on 10 February 1987 an amicus curiæ brief in an ongoing court case related to brainwashing. Although the amicus curiæ brief written by the APA denies the credibility of the brainwashing theory, the APA submitted the brief under "intense pressure by a consortium of pro-religion scholars (a.k.a. NRM scholars)".[131] The brief repudiated Singer's theories on "coercive persuasion" and suggested that brainwashing theories were without empirical proof.[132] Afterward the APA filed a motion to withdraw its signature from the brief, since Singer's final report had not been completed.[133]

On 11 May 1987, the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC report because the report "lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur", and concluded that "after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue."[134] Benjamin Zablocki and Alberto Amitrani interpreted the APA's response as meaning that there was no unanimous decision on the issue either way, suggesting also that Singer retained the respect of the psychological community after the incident.[131][135]

Two critical letters from external reviewers Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and Jeffery D. Fisher accompanied the rejection memo. The letters criticized "brainwashing" as an unrecognized theoretical concept and Singer's reasoning as so flawed that it was "almost ridiculous."[136] After her findings were rejected, Singer sued the APA in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy" and lost.[137] After that time U.S. courts consistently rejected testimonies about mind control and manipulation, stating that such theories were not part of accepted mainline science according to the Frye Standard of 1923.[138]

Academic scholarship[edit]

The academic study of new religious movements is known as 'new religions studies' (NRS).[139] The study draws from the disciplines of anthropology, psychiatry, history, psychology, sociology, religious studies, and theology.[140]

"Three basic questions have been paramount in orienting theory and research on NRMs: what are the identifying markers of NRMs that distinguish them from other types of religious groups?; what are the different types of NRMs and how do these different types relate to the established institutional order of the host society?; and what are the most important ways that NRMs respond to the sociocultural dislocation that leads to their formation?"

— Sociologist of religion David G. Bromley[141]

Barker noted that there 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.[142]

The study of new religions is unified by its topic of interest, rather than by its methodology, and is therefore interdisciplinary in nature.[143] A sizeable body of scholarly literature on new religions has been published, most of it produced by social scientists.[144] Among the disciplines that NRS utilises are anthropology, history, psychology, religious studies, and sociology.[145] Of these approaches, sociology played a particularly prominent role in the development of the field,[145] resulting in it being initially confined largely to a narrow array of sociological questions.[146] 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.[146]

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.[147] 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.[148]

Historical development[edit]

Scholarly organisations devoted to the study of NRMs have been formed by academics like Massimo Introvigne (left) and Eileen Barker (right)

In Japan, the academic study of new religions appeared in the years following the Second World War.[149][150] Conversely, in Western nations the study of new religions only formed into its own distinct field in the 1970s;[151] prior to this, new religions had been examined from varying perspectives, with Pentecostalism for instance being studied by church historians and cargo cults by anthropologists.[151] This Western academic study of new religions emerged in response to growing public concerns regarding the emergence of various NRMs during the 1970s.[152] By the latter part of that decade, increasing numbers of papers on new religions were being presented at the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Association for the Sociology of Religion.[147] The manner in which the scholarly study of new religions rose to prominence due to the public perception that these movements were social threats bore similarities with the manner in which Islamic studies grew in Western nations following the September 11 attacks in 2001.[148] The study of new religions would only be fully embraced by the Western religious studies establishment in the 1990s.[151]

In 1988, the charity INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) was established by Barker, who was then a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics. The organisation was supported by the UK Home Office and the British established churches and was designed to conduct research and disseminate accurate information about new religions.[153] Barker established INFORM due to her "conviction that a great deal of unnecessary suffering has resulted from ignorance of the nature and characteristics of the current wave of [NRMs] in the West."[154] Also in 1988, the Italian scholar Massimo Introvigne established CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religions) in Turin; it brought together academics studying NRMs in both Europe and North America.[155] In the United States, CESNUR gained representation through the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, which was directed by J. Gordon Melton.[156]

Scholars of new religion often operate in a politicised environment given that their research can be cited in legal briefs and judicial decisions regarding NRMs.[157] In Barker's view, academic research into NRMs had practical applications in dealing with the problems that people experience with regard to NRMs.[158] It can, for example, provide accurate information about a particular religious movement that can help guide an individual's reactions to the group; "an awareness of the complexity of a situation might help people to avoid precipitous actions that would later have been regretted."[159] However, given that scholars of new religions often reject the stereotypes about "cults" promoted by the anti-cultist movements, they have often been criticised by proponents of the latter.[157] Anti-cult groups have sometimes criticised scholarly groups such as these, claiming that they uncritically believe what NRMs tell them, that they are pro-NRM, or that they ignore the issues raised by ex-members.[160] They sometimes have accused academic researchers of being "cult apologists".[161]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ John Bowker, 2011, The Message and the Book, UK, Atlantic Books, page 13-14
  3. ^ Eileen Barker, 1999, "New Religious Movements: their incidence and significance", New Religious Movements: challenge and response, Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell editors, Routledge ISBN 0415200504
  4. ^ a b Introvi gne, Massimo (June 15, 2001). "The Future of Religion and the Future of New Religions". Retrieved 2006-12-13. 
  5. ^ Oliver 2012, pp. 5–6.
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  132. ^ CESNUR — APA Brief in the Molko Case. "The methodology of Drs. Singer and Benson has been repudiated by the scientific community... The hypotheses advanced by Singer comprised little more than uninformed speculation, based on skewed data... The coercive persuasion theory...is not a meaningful scientific concept. ... The theories of Drs. Singer and Benson are not new to the scientific community. After searching scrutiny, the scientific community has repudiated the assumptions, methodologies, and conclusions of Drs. Singer and Benson. The validity of the claim that, absent physical force or threats, "systematic manipulation of the social influences" can coercively deprive individuals of free will lacks any empirical foundation and has never been confirmed by other research. The specific methods by which Drs. Singer and Benson have arrived at their conclusions have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field."
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Sources[edit]

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 Stationary Office. ISBN 978-0113409273. 
 ———  (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 978-0304355921. 
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 978-0521145657. 
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 978-0521145657. 
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 978-0195149869. 
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 978-0195149869. 
 ———  (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 978-1441101976. 
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. 515–24. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 9780700711857
  • 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[edit]