New Religious Movements


Types of NRM - Wallis (1984)

World Rejecting NRM

  • vary in size 
  • clrarly religious with notions of God
  • highly critical of the outside world 
  • want radical changes 
  • requires a break from normal life
  • members live comunally 
  • strict moral codes
  • e.g. moonies, children of God and the Manson Family 

World Accomodating NRM

  • break away from existing mainstream religions 
  • neither accept not reject the world
  • focus on religion rather than worldly matters
  • e.g. neo - pentecostalists and subud 
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Types of NRM - Wallis (1984)

World Accepting NRM

  • lack conventional features of relgion like collective worship
  • accept the world as it is and act towards mainstream goals
  • non exclusive and tolerant of other religions
  • claim to have additional or special knowledge 
  • most are cults 
  • most followers are customers of some sort 
  • few demands
  • most successful of the three 
  • e.g. scientology, TM


  • useful classification system
  • ignores diversity within NRM (although Wallis recognises they rarely ever fit)
  • Stark and Bainbridge believe this typology is unuseful as it should be based on the amount of conflict between the NRM and wider society 
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Why do people join NRMS?


  • sects tend to draw on the poor and oppressed 
  • Weber (1922) NRMs appeal to the marginal groups in society with no economic or social status, this is the theodicy of disprivilage - a religious explanation for suffering
  • more recently the rich are attracted to NRMs, Wallis argues however, these groups are still marginalised from the rest of society 

Relative Deprivation

  • subjective sense of being deprived 
  • m/c are spiritually deprived, turning to NRMs for a sense of comunity 
  • Wallis and Stark and Bainbridge agree that the relatively deprivd for sects, normally world rejecting 
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Why do people join NRMS?

Social Change 

  • Wilson (1970)
  • periods of rapid change disrupts and underminds the established norms and values 
  • this produces anomie
  • people turn to religion as the answer 
  • Bruce (1996) modernisation means people are less attracted to traditional religion 

The Growth of NRMs

  • WR offer attractive ideals of reality and grew with the growth of radical politics 
  • social change in the 1960s
  • WA respond to modernity by offering a sense of identitiy and promising success 
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The Development of NRMs

Denomination or Death - Neibuhr (1929)

  • sects are short lived and are kept within generation, they either die out or compromise
  • the 2nd generation born into the sect lack commitment and can acquire conscious rejection
  • the death of a leader could mean beauratic control takes over, meaning there is a shift in attitudes
  • 'protestant ethic' effect occurs meaning the sect becomes more prosperous and it compromises to fit in with the world 

The Secterian Cycle - Stark and Bainbridge (1985)

  • 1st stage - schism, tension arrises between the deprived and the priviledged
  • 2nd stage - inital fervour, tension arrises between the sect and wider society 
  • 3rd stage - denominationalisation
  • 4th stage - establishment, the sect becomes more world accepting
  • 5th stage - futher schism, the less priviledge break away to form a new sect 
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The Development of NRMs

Established Sects - Wilson (1966 and 2003)

  • not all sects follow the pattern
  • conversionist aim to convert large numbers of people and are likely to rapidly grow 
  • adventists however await the second coming of christ and remain fairly stable in numbers
  • some sects survive multiple generations 

The Growth of the NRM - Heelas (2008)

  • loosely organised cults and sects are extremely diverse
  • self spirituality looks inside the individual 
  • detraditionalisation rejects spiritual authrotity and values personal experience 
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  • Drane (1999) people have lost faith in meta narratives
  • science has promised to bring progress but instead brought war
  • we now look for truth inside ourselves 

New Age Modernity 

  • Bruce suggests NRMs offer softer versions of religion which fit better with modern lifestyles 
  • Heelas adds that they offer a source of identity, relate to consumer culture, aid social change and signify the declind of traditional religion 
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