New Religious Movements: Five Pathways

In a previous Presentation we identified a range of defining characteristics of New Religious Movements and this Presentation compliments this work by identifying and outlining the general characteristics of five different, but frequently interrelated, types of NRM.

The Presentation is based on Daschke and Ashcraft’s (2005) categorisation of “five interrelated pathways” into membership of New Religious Movements, where each route they identify reflects the broadly-unique features of a particular group of NRMs. To this end the Presentation is focused on two areas:

1. Identifying different pathways into NRMs.

2. Outlining the key features of each pathway.

The Presentation functions, in this resepct, to provide both a broad typology of NRMs and a simple overview of their differences. This overview can then be used as the basis for the introduction of examples of different types of NRM, wider discussion of their significance, social impact and so forth.


If you want a few additional notes to expand the Presentation, the five different Pathways can be characterised in the following terms:

1. Perception: This identifies movements that involve a new way of looking at the ‘problem of existence and understanding’. Their focus – and attraction – is on philosophical questions (like the meaning of life).

2. Identity overlaps with perception in the sense it focuses primarily on the Self. However, ‘identity movements’ are less likely to address questions relating to ‘the cosmos’ (the scheme of things) and more likely to focus on human potential – in particular, the development of new personal identities. These movements attract those who seek personal enlightenment through the mastery of certain techniques and practices designed to release their ‘inner spirituality’.

3. Family types focus on the social solidarity aspect of religious practice; their primary attraction is the offer of a sense of community and well-being through the development of close, personal relationships with like-minded individuals. In this category people want to explore different (‘alternative’) ways of living and working, usually by distancing themselves, as a group, from wider society.

4. Society movements focus group solidarity outwards rather than inwards – a major attraction here is the possibility of changing society to align it more closely with the (spiritual) beliefs of the group. This involves transforming social institutions (such as work, school and the family) through the application of a particular moral or ethical code (a ‘design for living’, if you like).

5. Earth movements: The goal here is to transform the whole world. Some of these movements focus on:

• Planet transformation, usually through beliefs in an apocalyptic end to the earth and, from the ruins, the creation of a new ‘golden age’ (whether this is through supernatural or human intervention). Other variations focus on:

• Group transformation – the idea, for example, that the group will be transported to a new planet (what are sometimes called ‘exit-orientated’ movements).

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