Beliefs in society: Reasons for the emergence of NAMS, NRMS, Sects and Cults




1. Marginality                                                                                     

Weber (1922)

According to Weber, those on the margins of society are most likely to join sects. For example, the poor and members of some ethnic minority groups. Many feel they have been denied the prestige, the occupational status, income and opportunities which they deserve. Their new status as the “chosen few” brings hope for the future. This could explain the appeal of world rejecting NRM’s to some members of ethnic minorities or the young.


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Relative Deprivation

2. Relative Deprivation                                                                      

Stark and Bainbridge (1985)

Deprivation refers to a lack of something – for example, a lack of prestige, employment, income or decent housing. Therefore, from the point of view of the individual concerned, deprivation is relative – it is relative to an expectation that is not fulfilled, to a position they feel they deserve but have been unable to attain. Relative deprivation refers to the deprivation or loss that people perceive or feel. NRM’s can provide a sense of community and mutual support. This could explain the appeal of NRM’s to some middle class people who feel that their lives are lacking spiritual meaning.


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Social Change

3. Social Change                                                                                 

Wilson (1970)

Sects tend to emerge during periods of rapid social change. Such circumstances can lead to social dislocation, to a feeling of being uprooted. This can result in anomie – a sense of normlessness, a feeling that traditional norms have broken down and that guidelines for action are no longer in place. NRM’s, with their clearly defined belief systems and strict moral codes, can provide certainty and direction.

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4. Rationalisation                                                                   

Weber (1984)

According to Weber, the meanings and motives which direct action in modern industrial society are rational. They are based on deliberate reasoning and the most effective methods of gaining goals. This led to desacralisation (the removal of religious experience and the sacred). Many NRM’s and NAM’s developed in response to this. They claim to make the world less rational and more magical. They may reintroduce elements of mystery (flying saucers, space ships, aliens, ghosts) into people’s lives and make a predictable world appear more exciting.



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EVALUATION of the emergence of NRMS,NAMS, Sects an

* The reasons for joining NRM’s and NAM’s and the type of NRM a person will join will vary. For example, young people who are working hard to achieve a career may choose a movement, such as Scientology, that promises future success. People who are failing to achieve and/ or who feel immense pressure to succeed may join a world rejecting movement. Older people may join a movement which makes work more rewarding for them. Also, for Weber there is a link between under privilege and membership of sects, whereas NAM’s appeal to those who are likely to succeed.

* Barker (1984) shows that many NRM’s and NAM’s are unsuccessful at keeping members. Only 7% of people who attended an initial workshop with the Unification Church were still affiliated to the church after one year; this fell to 5% after two years and 3.5% after five years. Membership turnover is very high.

* It is difficult to estimate the membership of NRM’s and NAM’s. Many members are not formally registered in any way, some groups may have disbanded but still have followers, many movements work overseas or through the internet. In addition, the commitment required varies considerably between movements.

* Much of the research has focussed on movements in the West from the 1960’s onwards, however, these movements are not just recent developments. It is therefore difficult to explain them solely as a response to specific developments in contemporary society.

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How to link the emergence of NAMS + NRMS to sects

Sects: Weber was one of the first to look at the membership of sects and argued that they attracted people who were marginal, relatively deprived and those experiencing social change. This fits well with some groups such as The People’s Temple which attracted poor black Americans under the persuasion of Jim Jones. It does not fit with other examples so well such as The Moonies who are more likely to attract young middle class people seeking a more meaningful life.




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How to link the emergence of NAMS + NRMS to cults

Cults: Wallis suggested that cults were more likely to attract older, MC people who have a strong desire for self-improvement. This might be because they want more successful careers or better quality personal relationships. Either way, it could be argued that they are responding to society’s increased emphasis on achievement. Some such as Scientology have appeal to both men and women but the fees charged confine the appeal to the better off. 


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