Revision:Aqa sociology religion - new religious movements


From the early 60’s, there was a large growth of the number of religious organisations in society. CHURCH – Large, universalistic organisations aimed to include the whole of society. Run by a hierarchy of priests and claim to have the monopoly of truth. SECT – Small, exclusive groups whom draw members from poor and oppressed. Hostile to wider society and expect a high level of commitment. Typically led by a charismatic leader and claim to have the monopoly of truth. DENOMINATION – Lay midway between churches and sects. Membership is more inclusive and they broadly accept society’s values. They do not claim to have the monopoly of truth. CULT – Highly individualistic and loose knit. Led by “practitioners” or “therapists” who claim special knowledge. Tolerant of other organisations and beliefs. Do not demand strong commitment from followers.

WALLIS coined the term “new religious movement” to cover the different types of religious movements growing. He identifies between three different kinds of NRM.

- WORLD REJECTING –Similar to cults, extremely critical of mainstream society, members follow with total commitment and usually requires a change in lifestyle. For example - The People's Temple, The Moonies. - WORLD AFFIRMING – Similar to “client cults”. Offer a service, and claim to allow people to achieve their ‘full potential’. They require little commitment (apart from the cost), and members can live a normal life. They do not oppose mainstream society. For example, EST, Transcendental meditation. - WORLD ACCOMMODATING – These NRM’s neither fully accept, nor fully reject mainstream values. They often stem from traditional religion, and attempt to revive traditions/beliefs which they have been lost in society. Neo-Pentecostalism for example, attempts to revive the worships of the Holy Spirit.

STARK AND BAINBRIDGE – Three different kinds of cults – AUDIENCE CULTS – Least organised and do not involve formal membership or much commitment. CLIENT CULTS – Act as a relationship between a client and a consultant. Provide services to followers. CULTIC MOVEMENTS – Most organised and demand higher level of commitment.

NIEHBUHR stated that sects are typically short lived for various reasons – SECOND GENERATION - Those who are born into sects lack the commitment. “PROTESTANT ETHIC” – Sects that practice ascetism tend to become prosperous. Such members will leave the beliefs. DEATH OF A LEADER – Sects with charismatic leaders will collapse on the leader’s death.

ESTABLISHED SECTS – Not all sects follow the patterns outlined. CONVERSIONST (Evangelicals) – Aim is to convert large numbers of people. ADVENTIST (Jehovah’s Witnesses) – Await the second coming of Christ. They believe they must hold themselves separate from the corrupt world. Some sects have survived over many generations, such as Pentecostalism, The Amish and Mormons



MARGINALITY – WEBER – Sects tend to arise in groups who are marginal to society. Such groups may feel they are dis-privileged – not receiving their economic rewards or social status. Sects offer a solution to this through theodicy of dis-privilege – religious explanation of their suffering.

RELATIVE DEPRIVATION – Subjective sense of being deprived. Possible for someone who is in a privileged position to feel like they are deprived or disadvantaged in some way. Although m/c people are materially well off, they may feel they are spiritually deprived, especially in today’s materialistic, consumeristic world. It is the relatively deprived who break away from churches to form sects.

SOCIAL CHANGE – Periods of rapid change disrupts and undermines established norms and values, producing anomie or normlessness. In response, those who are most affected by the disruption may turn to sects as a solution.


DEFINITION – Loosely knit organisations. Includes astrology, crystals, psychotherapy, yoga, meditation and magic. Two common characteristics - SELF SPIRITUALITY – New Ager’s reject authority of traditional religions and look within. DETRADITIONALISATION – Reject authority of priests and sacred texts and value personal experience and inner truth. Beyond these common features, they vary.

DRANE – The appeal of NAM’s is to do with the shift towards a postmodern society. One of the features is a loss of faith in meta-narratives or claims to have the “truth”. Science promised to bring progress to a better world, but instead has given us war, global warming, ect. People have lost faith in “experts” such as doctors, scientists and churches. The New Age tells us each of us has the truth within us. It appeals to us because we live in an extremely individualistic society.

BRUCE – New Age is feature of late modernity. Modern societies value individualism, which is a key part of New Age beliefs. Those in expressive professions are attracted to the message. NAM’s are softer versions of stricter, more demanding self-disciplined eastern religions, like Buddhism. They are watered down to suit a Western palate.

HEELAS – New Age movements and modernity are linked in four ways – SOURCE OF IDENTITY – An individual has many different roles in modernity. NAM’s offer an “authentic identity”. CONSUMER CULTURE – Modernity never declines the perfection it promises. NAM’s offer an alternative way to achieve perfection. RAPID SOCIAL CHANGE – Modern society disrupts norms and values, resulting in anomie. New Age provides sense of uncertainty. DECLINE OF ORGANISED RELIGION – Modernity leads to secularisation and removes traditional alternatives to NAM’s.

Also See


  • Suitable for: OCR A2 Sociology
  • Written by: 8owman
  • From this thread.