Tracing the historical development and spread of a new religious movement from its origins to establish its beliefs, practices and global presence today.

Tracing the Historical Development and Spread of a New Religious Movement

A new religious movement (NRM) is a term used to describe a religious group that emerged in the modern era, usually after the 19th century, and that differs from the dominant or mainstream religions in terms of beliefs, practices, organization, or membership. NRMs are often characterized by their innovation, diversity, dynamism, and global reach. Some examples of NRMs are Scientology, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, and Wicca.

The origins of NRMs can be traced to various sources, such as social change, cultural crisis, religious revival, charismatic leadership, syncretism, or globalization. Some NRMs emerged as reactions to the secularization, rationalization, or pluralization of society, while others sought to restore or reform an ancient or original tradition. Some NRMs were influenced by Eastern religions, esoteric teachings, or new scientific discoveries, while others claimed to receive divine revelations or supernatural guidance. Some NRMs were founded by charismatic leaders who attracted followers with their charisma, vision, or authority, while others were based on collective experiences or democratic structures.

The spread of NRMs can be attributed to various factors, such as migration, proselytization, media, networks, or social movements. Some NRMs expanded through the migration of their adherents to new regions or countries, where they encountered different cultures and challenges. Some NRMs engaged in active proselytization or missionary work, using various methods and strategies to convert or recruit new members. Some NRMs utilized the media, such as print, radio, television, or the internet, to disseminate their messages and images to a wider audience. Some NRMs formed networks or alliances with other groups or organizations that shared their values or interests. Some NRMs participated in social movements or causes that aligned with their goals or ideals.

The beliefs and practices of NRMs vary widely depending on their sources, influences, and contexts. Some NRMs have distinctive doctrines or teachings that set them apart from other religions or worldviews. Some NRMs have unique rituals or ceremonies that express their identity or spirituality. Some NRMs have specific codes or rules that regulate their behavior or lifestyle. Some NRMs have alternative modes or forms of organization that reflect their vision or mission.

The global presence of NRMs is evident in their numbers, diversity, and impact. According to some estimates, there are more than 10,000 NRMs in the world today, with millions of adherents across different regions and cultures. NRMs represent a wide range of religious traditions and orientations, from monotheistic to polytheistic, from exclusivist to inclusivist, from conservative to progressive. NRMs have also influenced various aspects of society and culture, such as politics, law, education, health, art, and ecology.

In conclusion, NRMs are a significant phenomenon in the contemporary religious landscape. They reflect the complexity and dynamism of religion in the modern world. They challenge and enrich the understanding and practice of religion in the global context.


Barker E (ed.) (2013) The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dawson LL (ed.) (2006) Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hexham I and Poewe K (2004) New Religions as Global Cultures: Making the Human Sacred. Boulder: Westview Press.

Lewis JM (ed.) (2011) The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements Volume II. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Melton JG (2004) Encyclopedia of American Religions. Detroit: Gale.

Robbins T and Palmer S (eds.) (1997) Millennium Prophecies and Utopian Visions among New Religious Movements. London: Routledge.

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