New Religious Movements

Opdracht week 5 Religious Pluralism

Dear fellow student who hasn’t read the articles of week 5, but has read the earlier articles.

Barker (1999) talks in her article about New Religious Movements (NRM). Her definition for a NRM is, that it's "new in so far as it has become visible in its present form since WOII, and that it is religious in so far as it offers not merely narrow theological statements about the existence and nature of supernatural beings, but that it answers to at least some of the other kinds of ultimate questions that have traditionally been addressed by mainstream religions" (Barker 1999: 16). This is but one of the definitions possible. 
There are many types of people who follow religious movements. These people also experience the NRM in different ways. But the significance of a religion is not only important to members, it also affects people outside the NRM, like for example family. Barker also mentions the cultic milieu, which means that even if people don't count themselves to a NRM they certainly can help to spread information about these NRM and even follow some of the ideas mentioned by NRM. NRM are very hard to generalise, there are only a few characteristics, like for instance first generation enthusiasms, but these will possibly change over time. 

Heelas (1996) talks about New Age Movements. According to Heelas, New Agers are people "who maintain that inner spirituality serves as the key to moving from all that is wrong with life to all that is right". Heelas also says what New Age movements are not, which elements I think do clarify a lot. So does 'New' not mean that the religious elements used are new and 'movement' means a process towards a new era, instead of an organised institution. Also does not everybody, who believes in inner spirituality, cal him- or herself a New Ager. 
New Age has three elements: it explains why life is not what it should be; it says what perfection is and third how you can come to this perfection. Other elements are the rejection of external voices of authority (like parents or traditional religions), the importance of Self-responsibility, -expressivity and -authority, and freedom to live life free from internalised traditions. How these elements are filled in depends on the individual and the movement. This ranges from total rejection of the world to affirmation. The place of authority also differs, some say it lies only at the individuals side, others say that you can also listen to the authority of others already liberated from internalised traditions. Furthermore, the ontologies also differ by individual and movement, because of their free ability to take from and merge between traditional religions and ideas as they see fit. 
People get attracted to New Age because they are unsure of their identity. This uncertainty comes from modernity. New Age not only provides something new, so people can find certainty of their identity and can thereby break with modernity, but it also provides old certainties so people can also identify themselves with the mainstream, and in this with modernity (Heelas 1996: 137). As I remember Lawrence (1998), Marty and Scott Appleby (1991) were also explaining the rise of fundamentalism out of modernity. Modernity becomes more and more a very strange process, from which a lot of other processes are explained. It is to bad that social sciences don’t already exist for a longer period of time. How would we have explained this modernity process if social sciences existed before the period of Colonialization, or even earlier. 

Dawson and Hennebry (1999) talk about the use of the Internet by NRM. The Internet has a lot of advantages above other media, but the question is whether these advantages are used by NRM. There are still a lot of questions unanswered or unclear, like whether conversion or even just contact via the Internet successful. We have to keep in mind with all this that Internet use especially worldwide is not very big.
It is very interesting that also the media used by NRM are examined, like Dawson and Hennebry (1999) do with the Internet. Especially for the Internet it is very hard to see what the successrate of a page is. It is possible to count the amount of people that visit page, but that’s actually like counting the amount of people who had a certain book in their hands in the bookstore. That part isn’t interesting, what is interesting is how many people buy the book. 

I must say that all the authors of this week actually stay very vague about what New Age or New Religious Movements actually are. Their definitions encompass so many movements, who also differ very much. As Barker (1999: 20) has said: “The only thing that they [NRM] have in common is that they have been labelled as an NRM or ‘cult’”. I think further research is necessary to specify different movements within New Age or within NRM. And perhaps even let go of the term New Religious Movement, because this definition will always have to change in time.


Barker, Eileen
1999 New Religious Movements; Their incidence and significance. In: Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell (eds.), New Religious Movements; Challenge and Response. London, New York: Routledge. Pp 15-31. 

Dawson, Lorne L. and Jenna Hennebry
1999 New Religions and the Internet: Recruiting in a New Public Space.
In: Journal of Contemporary Religion. Vol 14, Nr 1 1999. Pp 17-39.

Paul Heelas
1996 The New Age Movement; The Celebration of the Self and the Sacralization of Modernity. Oxford: Blackwell 1996. Hieruit: H1: Manifestations, H5: Uncertainties of Modernity. Pp 15-40, 135-152.

Lawrence, Bruce B.
1998 From fundamentalism to fundamentalisms: a religious ideology in multiple forms. In: Paul Heelas (ed.), Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell. Pp 88-101.

Marty, Martin E. and R. Scott Appleby
1991 Conclusion: An Interim Report on a Hypothetical Family. In: Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), Fundamentalism Observed. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Pp 814-842.

Wednesday 01 January 2003 - 10:34 am | | Culture and behaviour, All