Growth of Religious Movements

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  • Sects tend to arise in marginalised groups.
  • Result of feelings of dispriviledge.
  • Sects offer members a theodicy of disprivilege.
    • a religious explanation for their disprivilege.
    • may explain misfortune as a test of faith.
    • promises future rewards for keeping faith.

Nation of Islam

  • Recruited from disadvantaged black Americans.


  • Drew membership mainly from middle-class whites.
  • However many members still became marginal to society.
    • e.g. most were hippies, dropouts and drug users.
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Relative Deprivation

  • Refers to the subjective sense of being deprived.
  • Materially privileged people may feel spiritually deprived.
    • i.e. middle-class people.
  • Society is now materialistic and consumerist.
  • Sects provide a sense of community to counteract impersonality and lack of moral value.


  • Relatively deprived break away from churches to form sects.
  • Deprived members then break away to form sects that safeguard the original message.
    • harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through eye of needle.
    • the meek shall inherit the earth.
  • World-rejecting sects offer compensators to deprived for rewards denied in this world.
  • Privileged are attracted to world-accepting organisations that increase worldly rewards.
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Social Change


  • Periods of rapid change undermine established norms and values.
  • Disruptions produces anomie.
  • In response to the uncertainty people turn to sects for structure.
    • e.g. Industrial revolution in Britain led to birth of Methodism.
      • provided sense of community for new working class.


  • Society is now secularised and people are less attracted to traditional churches.
  • Strict sects demand too much commitment.
  • People now prefer cults.
    • less demanding.
    • require fewer sacrifces.
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Social Change: NRMs


World-rejecting NRMs

  • Social changes from 60s effect young people .
  • Increased time in education gave freedom from adult responsibilities for longer.
  • Enabled counter-culture to develop.
  • Growth of radical political movements offered alternative ideas about future.
  • WRNRMs offered young people more idealistic way of life.


World-affirming NRMs

  • Growth is a response to modernity.
  • Work no longer provides meaning unlike past (i.e. Protestant ethic)
  • WANRMs provide sense of identity and techniques that promise success.
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Dynamics of Sects and NRMs


Denomination or Death

  • Sects short lived - either die out or compromise extreme ideas to become denominations.
  • 2nd generation members lack committment.
  • Asceticism leads to this worldly rewards so world-rejecting beliefs are compromised.
  • After charismatic leaders death sects collapse or are taken over by bureacratic leadership.


Sectarian Cycle

  • Stage 1: Schism.
  • Stage 2: Initial intense and passionate feeling driven by charismatic leader.
  • Stage 3: Denominalisationism - fervour dwindles in second generation.
  • Stage 4: Establishment - sect becomes more world-accepting and tensions decrease.
  • Stage 5: Further schism - less privileged members break away to form new sects.
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Established Sects


  • Conversionist sects seek to convert large numbers of people.
  • More likely to grow rapidly into formal denominations.
    • e.g. Evangelicals.

  • Adventist sects await the second coming of christ to be saved.
    • e.g. Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • Believe they must hold themselves separate from the corupt world.
  • Separatism prevents them from becoming a denomination.
  • Established sects are those which have survived over many generations.
    • e.g.Pentecostalists, Amish, Mormons, Quakers.
  • Children are socialised into high levels of committment.
  • Globalisation makes it harder for future sects to keep themselves separate.
  • However, makes it easier to recruit from the deprived Third World.
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Growth of the New Age


  • 'New Age' covers beliefs and activities widespread since the 80s.
  • 2,000 such activities and 146,000 practitioners in UK.
  • Two common themes that characterise the New Age:
    • Self-spirituality
      • turned away from traditional external religions to look within themselves to find spirituality.
    • Detraditionalisation
      • new age rejects spiritual authority of sources such as priests and sacred texts.
      • values personal experience and believes we can discover truth ourselves.
  • Include world-affirming and world-rejecting elements.
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Postmodernity and the New Age


  • Appeal of New Age is part of a shift towards postmodern society.
  • Loss of faith in meta-narratives.
    • Science promised to bring progress but has brought war, genocide and global warming.
  • People have lost faith in experts/professionals.
  • As a result turn to New Age idea that we can find truth for ourselves.
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New Age and Modernity


  • New Age is a feature of late modernity rather than postmodernity.
  • Modern society values individualism whch is a key principle of the New Age.
  • Also important value for those in expressive professions focused on human potential.
    • e.g. social workers, artists.
  • Beliefs often watered-down versions of Eastern religions adapted for self-centred Westerners.
    • e.g. Buddhism
  • Audience and client cults popular as they make few demands.
  • Spiritual shopping appeals to consumerist ethos of capitalist society.


  • Source of identity - little overlap in roles leading to fragmented identity.
  • Consumer culture - dissatisfaction bc perfection promised never delivered.
  • Rapid social change - disrupts social norms resulting in anomie.
  • Decline of organised religion- secularisation removes traditional alternatives to New Age.
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