Explaining the growth of NRMS

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  • Created on: 01-06-11 10:15

Explaining the growth of Religious Movements

Since the 1960's there has been a rapid growth of SECTS and CULTS. 3 explanations:


Weber says that sectd tend to arise in groups who are marginalised from society. He says that sects offer solution to this problem by offering members a THEODICY OF DISPRIVILEGE - which is a religious explanation and justification for their suffering and disadvantage. This therefore may explain their misfortune as a test of faith and holding out the promise of rewards in the future.

Moonies, however had recruited from more affluent groups however does not contradict Weber's view as many had been marginal to society as most were hippies and drug users.

Relative Deprivation.

Refers to the subjective sense of being deprived. This means that it is possible for someone who is quite priviledged to feel that they are still disadvantaged in some way. For example: middle class people are well off however they may feel they are spiritually deprived, therefore Wallis argues they may turn to sects for a sense of community.

Stark and Bainbridge argue that world-rejecting sects offer to the deprived the compensators that they need for the rewards they are denied in this world. By contrast, the priviledged are attracted to world-accepting churches that express their status and bring them further success.

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Explaining the growth of Religious Movements

Social Change

Wilson believes that periods of rapid change disrupt and undermine established norms and values, producing anomie (normlessness). In response to the uncertainty and insecurity that this creates, those who are affected by the disruption may turn to sects as solution.

For example: The industrial revolution in Britain led to the birth of Methodism, which offered a sense of community, warmth and fellowship, clear norms and values and the promise of salvation.Methodism recruited  large number of the new industrial working class.

Bruce sees the growth of sects and cults today as a response to the social changes involved in modernisation and secularisation. In Bruce's view, society is now secularised and therefore people are less attracted to the traditional churches and strict sects, because these demand too much commitment. Instead people now prefer cults because they are less demanding.

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The Growth of NRM's

World Rejecting NRMs: Wallis points to social change from the 1960's impacting on young people, including the increased time spent in education. This gave them freedom from adult responsibilites and enabled a counter-culture to develop.

Also the growth of radical political movements offered alternative ideas about the future. World-rejecting NRM's were attractive in this context because they offered young people a more idealistic way of life. Bruce argues that it was the failure of the counter-culture to change the world that led to disillusioned youth turning to religion instead.

World Affirming NRMs: Bruce argues that their growth is a response to modernity, especially to the rationalisation of work. Work no longer provides meaning or a source of identity - unlike the past when the Protestant ethic gave work a religious meaning for some people.

World Affirming NRMs provide both a sense of identity and techniques that promise success in the world.

Half way house back to more conventional lifestyle.

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Development of Sects.

Neibuhr argues that sects are world-rejecting organisations that have come into existence because of schism (splitting from an established church because of disagreement over religious beliefs).

He believes that sects are SHORT-LIVED and that within a generation they either die out, or they comprimise with the world, abandon their extreme ideas and become a DENOMINATION.

This is due to several reasons:

- The second generation, who are born into the sect, lack the commitment and only go because of their parents who had joined consciously.

- The Protestant Ethic effect: Sects that practice hard work and saving tend to become upwardly mobile and therefore members will comprimise with the wirld, so they will either leave or will abandon its world-rejecting beliefs.

- Death of the leader: Sects with a charasmatic leader either collapse on the leader's death, or a more formal bureaucratic leader takes over, transforming it into a DENOMINATION.

Stark&Bainbridge agree and say religious organisations move through a cycle.

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Established Sects

Wilson argues that sect may transfer to a denomination or die out due to how they answer the question 'WHAT SHALL WE DO TO BE SAVED?' There are 2 types of sects which Wilson points out.

CONVERSIONIST: Sects  such as EVANGELICALS, whose aim is to convert large numbers of people, are likely to grow rapidly into larger, more formal denomination.

ADVENTIST: Sects such as the Seventh Day Adventists or Jehovah Witnesses await the Second Coming of Christ. To be saved, they believe they must hold themselves separate from the corrupt world around them. This separatism prevents them from compromising and becoming a denomination.

Wilson argues that some sects have survived over many generations such as Pentecostalists, Amish, Mormons and Quakers. Instead of becoming denominations these groups become ESTABLISHED sects. 

Contrary to Neibuhr's predictions, many of them have succeeded in socialising their children into a high level of commitment, largely by keeping them apart from the wider world.

However Wilson argues that globalisation will make it harder in the future for sects to keep themselves from the outside world. On the other hand, globalisation will make it easier to recruit in the THIRD WORLD where there are large number of deprived people for whom the message of sects is attractive.

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