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New religious movements

New religious movements. A generic term referring to the literally thousands of religious movements (and occasionally secular alternatives to religion) that have emerged world-wide, but especially in Africa, Japan, and the West during this cent. Their adherents are to be estimated in millions. While for the most part highly syncretistic, the ritual and content of many of these new religions have been influenced, to a greater or lesser degree, by Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu spiritual techniques and perspectives. There is also a sizeable number of Islamic-and Jewish-oriented new religions, and numerous esoteric, metaphysical, and neo-pagan movements.

Although classification is difficult, one of the more successful is that of R. Wallis, using ‘response to the world’ as the principal distinguishing criterion: this separates two main types: world-denying and world-affirming movements—and a third, relatively minor category, the world-accommodating type. The first type emerged as participants of the counterculture, somewhat disillusioned with its approach and objectives, began to turn to religions such as Hare Krishna (see INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY …), the Divine Light Mission, the Unification Church (see MOON, SUN MYUNG), and the Children of God, which shunned the world and stressed the importance of the expressive, experiential approach to religious truth over against reason and reflection.

For a time these movements, highly authoritarian, rigid, demanding, and communalistic, exercised most appeal, sometimes rivalled by the world-affirming Scientology and Transcendental Meditation. More recently, however, world-affirming movements as a whole (embracing among others metaphysical movements such as the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, such ‘self-religions’ as Exegesis and Silva Mind Control, African and Japanese new religions, for example the Aladura churches and Sōka Gakkai respectively) have experienced considerable growth.

The world-affirming movements (or self- or psycho-religions) aim to transform the individual by providing the means for complete self-realization, in the sense of becoming fully aware that the real or inner self is divine and that the ultimate goal of the religious quest is not to know but to become God.

Other common characteristics include a strong millennial dimension, the use made of contemporary language and symbols, eclecticism, and an egalitarian emphasis which in theory permits all to attain the highest levels of spiritual growth. The world-accommodating movements (such as the growth of Christian house churches, and the various restoration and renewal groups) are more concerned with personal holiness and the revitalization of the established religions than with the wider society.

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