New Religious Movements

Prentice Hall
Elijah Siegler / Ninian Smart / Richard Hecht  
Total pages
August 2006
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For undergraduate courses in New Religious Movements (NRMs) or Religious Cults.


Taking the approach that new religious movements are neither new nor inherently evil or dangerous, New Religious Movements takes a more historical and cultural perspective than other books on the market.


Elijah Siegler wrote this book to counter the common misconception that NRMs first appeared suddenly in North America and Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s.  He argues that this is a myopic perspective that derives from the fear that "cults" were seducing a young and na├»ve generation into leaving their comfortable lives and shows that NRMs have been developing across the globe over the last few centuries.  Most books about NRMs also begin from the question as to why anyone would join them but Elijah Siegler argues that this is not the most important question for students in classes on NRMs and his text assumes that people join NRMs for all sorts of psychological, theological, or cultural reasons.



How do you teach your course on new religious movements (NRMs)?

  • An approach that new religious movements (NRMs) are neither new nor inherently evil or dangerous.  This text takes the approach that NRMs are best defined as religious groups that are different enough from the values of the culture's dominant religious values to be in high tension with society. The Introduction colorfully demonstrates the variety of NRMs today and how our first impressions of them may be wrong. 
    • Allows students to study NRMs more objectively.
  • A focus on NRMs as the product of historical processes and a consideration of NRMs around the globe.  This text argues that NRMs are a normal response to cultural and social change, not just something that has "happened" to the Western World since the 1960s.  The first half of this book examines how today's NRMs are products of historical processes. The second half looks at NRMs around the globe, covering Europe, America, Africa, Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East. 
    • Provides students with a well-rounded introduction to Western and Eastern NRMs.
  • Accessible and colloquially-written with vivid snapshots of the history and practice of specific NRMs.  A close-up section at the end of each chapter focuses inmore detail on key movements such as the Unification Church, Soka Gakkai, and Falun gong.
    • Helps students to truly understand the variety of NRMs.
  •  Big questions in the academic field of religious studies addressed.  This text touches on important issues such as religious identity and prejudice, globalization, heresy, and religion and the state.
    • Provokes thought and generates discussion.

 Is it important to you that your text reflect the latest research?


  • Up-to-date research.  By definition, NRMs are a fast changing phenomenon.  This book includes the latest research on important NRMs such as Al-Qaeda and Falun gong.  In addition, this text includes a very up-to-date and useful list of accessible books and websites.
    • Ensures that students receive the most relevant and accurate information about NRMs today.

Table of Contents








1: What Are New Religious Movements?


Stereotyping NRMs


Defining NRMs


Explaining NRMs

            Social change

            Historical continuity and cultural context


Studying NRMs



2: NRMS as Modern Heresy


A Short History of Heresy

Christian heresy after the Reformation


The End of Heretics and the Beginning of Enthusiasts and Cults

Development of the modern cult stereotype in nineteenth-century America


The Christian Countercult Movement

            The current anticult movement



Close-up: The Unification Church



3: NRMs as Esoteric Revival


The Ancient and Medieval Worlds


From Renaissance to Enlightenment 


NRMs in the nineteenth century




            Mind Cure movements

            Where are the nineteenth-century new religions now?


Esoteric Currents in the Twentieth Century

            UFO movements

            Esotericism meets science


            The New Age


Close-up: Channeling NRMs: Lazaris and Ramtha



4: NRMs as Asian Missions to the West


The Missionary Impulse

            Global Buddhism

            Modern Hinduism

            Sikh influences

            East Asian traditions


Asian “NRMs” in the West Before 1965


The World's Parliament of Religions and its Aftermath


Asian NRMs in the West: The Post-1965 Boom





Close-up: Soka Gakkai



5: New Religions in East Asia



            From prehistory to the early twentieth century

            The early twentieth century

            Religion in China today

            NRMs and qigong







            The history of Japanese NRMs


Close-up: Konkokyo

Close-up: Falun gong




6: New Religions of Africa and the African Diaspora


African Neo-traditional NRMs


African Initiated Churches

            Christianity in Africa: background

            The development of AICs

            Understanding AICs


NRMs of the African Diaspora

            Afro-Catholic NRMS

            African NRMs in North America


            Nation of Islam


Close-up: The Kimbanguist Church



7: Islamic New Religions


Mystical Islamic NRMs: Sufism


Revivalism and Scriptural Fundamentalism

            Al-Qaeda as NRM


Close-up: Baha'i



8: The Global Future of New Religious Movements


NRMs and Globalization


Global Connections: NRMs and the Internet


Global Fears: NRMs and Violence


Is There a Future for NRMs?




Suggested Further Reading

Internet Resources