TOPIC 5- NEW RELIGIOUS AND NEW AGE MOVEMENTS

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  • Created on: 09-06-15 20:38

The emergence of new religious movements (NRMs)

·      It is estimated that there may now be as many as 25 000 new religious groups in Europe alone, over 12 000 of whose members reside in the UK.

Difficulties in measuring affiliation to NRMs in the UK

·      Many of the organisations have a large number of followers who are not formally registered in any way. It is estimated that about 30 000 people have attended meditation courses run by Brahma Kumaris.

·      Some groups have disbanded their organisations but still have 'devotees'- e.g. Divine Light Mission still have members that practice the technique of meditation independently.

·      Many organisations are based overseas and their supporters in the UK are not traceable.

·      The commitment required varies enormously between organisations. While those who devote themselves full time to their movement are quite visible, part time commitment is more difficult to identify.

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Classifying NRMs

Wallis identifies three main kinds of NRM:
1.   World-affirming groups
2.   World-rejecting groups
3.   World-accommodating groups.

World-affirming groups  -  These are usually individualistic and life-positive, and aim to release 'human potential'. They tend to accept the world as it is, but involve techniques that enable the individual to participate more effectively and gain more from their worldly experience.
·      Research suggests that these are more common amongst middle-aged, middle-class groups - often in people who are disillusioned and disenchanted with material values. One example of world-affirming groups is The Church of Scientology.

World-rejecting groups -   These organisations are usually sects, in so far as they are always highly critical of the outside world and demand significant commitment from their members. They are exclusive, often share possessions and seek to relegate members' identities to that of the greater whole. They are often millenarian- expecting divine intervention to change the world. Examples include the Unification Church and Members of Hare Krishna.
·      World-rejecting sects are the movements that have come under most public scrutiny in recent years, largely because of the public horror at the indoctrination that has even led to mass suicide e.g. the mass suicide of People's Temple members.

World-accommodating groups -  World accommodating groups maintain some connections with mainstream religion, but place a high value on inner religious life. For example, spiritualists who claim to be able to contact the spirits of the dead.

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Signs of Cultist behaviour

Robbins identifies the following signs of cultist behaviour:

·      Authoritarianism- Control of the organisation stems from an absolute leader.

·      Infallibility- The chosen philosophy is the only path to salvation, and all others are worthless.

·      Programming- The belief in the infallibility of the cult's philosophy, leader etc are derived from the abandonment of critical and rational thinking.

·      Shunning- Members are encouraged to sever communications and relationships with friends and family.

·      Secret doctrines- Certain teachers are 'secret' and must never be revealed to the outside world.

·      Promised ones- Members of the cult are encouraged to believe they were chosen, or made their choice to join the cult, because they are special or superior.

·      Fire and brimstone- Leaving the cult, or failing the cult's requirements will result in consequences greater than if one had never joined the cult in the first place.

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New Age movements (NAMs)

·      Many NAMs can be classed as 'world affirming' as they focus on the achievement of individual potential.

Bruce suggests that these groups tend to take one of two forms:

1.   Audience cults involve little face-to-face interaction. Members of the 'audience' are unlikely to know each other. Contacts are maintained mostly through the mass media and the internet as well as occasional conferences e.g. astrology.

2.   Clientcults offer particular services to their followers. They have led to a proliferation of new 'therapists', establishing new relationships between a consumer and a seller e.g. tarot reading.

·      NAMs seem to appeal to all age groups, but more to women. Bruce suggests that those affiliated, however, already subscribe to what Heelas calls the 'cultic milieu' or 'holistic milieu'- a mish-mash of belief in the power of spirituality, ecology and personal growth, and a concern that science does not have all the answers.

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New Age movements (NAMs)

·      Many NAMs can be classed as 'world affirming' as they focus on the achievement of individual potential.

Bruce suggests that these groups tend to take one of two forms:

1.   Audience cults involve little face-to-face interaction. Members of the 'audience' are unlikely to know each other. Contacts are maintained mostly through the mass media and the internet as well as occasional conferences e.g. astrology.

2.   Clientcults offer particular services to their followers. They have led to a proliferation of new 'therapists', establishing new relationships between a consumer and a seller e.g. tarot reading.

·      NAMs seem to appeal to all age groups, but more to women. Bruce suggests that those affiliated, however, already subscribe to what Heelas calls the 'cultic milieu' or 'holistic milieu'- a mish-mash of belief in the power of spirituality, ecology and personal growth, and a concern that science does not have all the answers.

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The appeal of NRMs and NAMs

Drane argues that Western societies are turning against modern institutions and belief systems. Modern rationality is increasingly being blamed for disasters such as the World Wars, global warming etc. People have lost faith in institutions e.g. the medical profession, which is now seen as more likely to misdiagnose or even cause illness through new diseases rather than improve the health and welfare of those they treat.

 In the absence of either grand narrative (religion or science), people may seek to acquire a personal rationale. This can involve a process of 'spiritual shopping', trying out various alternatives until they find a belief system that makes sense to them.

·      Pragmatic motives- Motivations for affiliation with world affirming groups can be practical- financial success, for example. These pragmatic motives are not the sort that many religious people would recognise and this is probably one of the main questions why the religious nature of many NRMs is questioned.

·      Marginality- Weber pointed out how those marginalised by society may find status and/or a legitimising explanation for their situation through a theodicy that offers ultimate salvation.

·      Relative deprivation- People may be attracted to an NRM because it offers something lacking in the social experience of the seeker- whether spiritual or emotional fulfilment.

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Appeal toyoung of world-rejecting movements

·      Being unattached is an outcome of the increasing gap between childhood and adulthood which, as Wallis has argued, has been further extended by the gradual lengthening  of education and wider accessibility of higher education. It is to these unattached groups that world-rejecting movements appeal. They try to provide some certainty to a community of people who face similar problems and difficulties. 

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The appeal of world-affirming movements

There are two issues in the modern world that add to the appeal of world-affirming movements:

1.   As Weber suggested, the modern world is one in which rationality dominates- that is, one in which magical, unpredictable and ecstatic experiences are uncommon.

2.   There is tremendous pressure to become materially, emotionally and sexually successful.

According to Bird, world-affirming sects simultaneously do three things to address these issues:

1.   They provide a spiritual component in an increasingly rationalised world.

2.   They provide techniques and knowledge to help people become wealthy, powerful and successful.

3.   They provide techniques and knowledge which allows people to work on themselves to bring about personal growth.

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