Beliefs in society: NRM's and NAM's


NRM's definition

A collective term applied to numerous religious groups, not necessarily Christian, that have emerged in increasing numbers, particularly in Western societies, in the last few decades.  These groups are so diverse in character that Wallis has attempted to classify them with regard to their view on, and interaction with, mainstream society

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Wallis' 3 main categories

Wallis suggests 3 main categories:

* World-affirming (broadly accept the world/society) (Transcendental Meditation)

* World-accommodating (encourage their members to remain within the world/society but are critical of it) (Neo Pentecostalism) 

* World-rejecting (critical of or even hostile to the world) (Heaven’s Gate)


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Evaluation of Wallis

Beckford (1985)criticises Wallis on the following points:

  • Wallis’s categories are difficult to apply.  
  • Insufficient attention is paid to the different views that exist within a sect or a cult.
  • ‘World-rejecting’ is a difficult concept because no group can afford to reject the wider economic system; they need it to survive.

Stark and Bainbridge (1985)argue that an alternative way of categorising would be to compare religious groups in terms of the degree of conflict that exists between them and wider society.

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NAM's definition

A term that describes a number of different organisations, loosely based on spiritual or mystic themes, which have moved beyond the traditional theology associated with the great world religions. Heelas and Woodhead (2005)use the term holistic milieuto describe the wide variety of beliefs and practices that make up the New Age.  It includes everything from tarot and astrology to yoga and complementary therapies such as reflexology. Many New Age beliefs are based on fundamental sacred principles taken from traditional religions, e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism.  However, these religious teachings are seen as a way of getting in touch with your own spirituality rather than as doctrines that must be followed.

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Increase in NAM's

There has recently been an increase in the number of people who describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious. Spiritual in a religious sense refers to believers submitting to a superior being that is external. Spiritual in a new age sense is focused on the individual discovering the divine within themselves.  

The New Age is ultimately a collection of diverse movements that revolve around the central belief that humans are capable of shaping reality and establishing the truth.  New Age followers are encouraged to “shop” for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with.

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Bruce (1995) identifies some common themes in line with New Age thinking:

 Rejection of science– the New Age favours subjectivity over objectivity, New Age believers see lack of scientific evidence for therapies and techniques as revealing the limitations of science.

 Rejection of organised religion– New Age followers see organised religion as too authoritarian and traditional. They feel it lacks spiritual intensity.

 Interest in ecology– the New Age is very ‘green’; respecting the earth and living in harmony with nature.

 Scepticism of professional expertise– New Age followers criticise main stream practitioners for concentrating only on the physical body while ignoring the mind and spirit (holistic). 

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Variations within New Age Movements

There are huge variations within the New Age; world-affirming aspects stress how to experience the best of the outer world.  For example, teachings may help people to learn how to succeed in business.  World-rejecting aspects may stress how to experience the best of the inner world: how to achieve inner spirituality and turn away from any concern with worldly success.  Most New Age beliefs though offer the best of both worlds, claiming that people can become successful and spiritually fulfilled.

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John Drane


John Drane (1999) argues that the appeal of the New Age comes from the failure of the modern world to deliver personal satisfaction. Bruce (1995) disagrees, claiming that New Age Movements are a symptom of individuality and people asserting their right to decide what is and is not true. 

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