The recent rise in support for NRMS comes mainly from an increased desire to reject mainstream religious values. Evaluate this claim
The recent rise in support for NRMS comes mainly from an increased desire to reject mainstream religious values. Evaluate this claim.
The concept “New Religious Movements” embraces both cults and sects. Eileen Barker (1984) created this term to avoid the negative connotations of “cults” and “sects”. “New” usually refers to “of recent origin” and “different from existing religions”. NRMS have grown over the past 30years and which may have stemmed from political, economic, technical and ideological changes. These movements are more likely to develop in societies in which the power of the church is in decline. It is estimated that there now may be as many as 25,000 new religious groups in Europe, with over 12,000 from the UK alone.
Peter Berger (1970) argues traditional religious values have declined as a result of urbanisation and industrialisation, as individuals have become more socially and geographically mobile. Individuals have become more accustomed to different belief systems and NRMS have appealed to some people, offering a better lifestyle.
However, some sociologists have offered other reasons for the growth of NRMS.
Roy Wallis (1984) divides NRMS into three main groups, distinguishing them according to whether they reject, accommodate or affirm the world. Troeltsch argues that World-rejecting NRMS have the same characteristics as a sect, in that their ideology is highly critical of the outside world and demand a high level of commitment from their members. World-rejecting groups can vary in size; for example, The Moonies are large group with over 926,000 members, whereas some groups are small and based locally. World-rejecting groups are often millenarian – expecting divine intervention to change the world. For example, The Moonies reject the world as evil, and have strong moral rules such as no smoking or drinking.
Over recent years, the general public has viewed world-rejecting groups negatively. This is largely because of mass suicides that have taken place. For example, the mass suicide of Jim Jones’s people’s temple in Guyana 1987.
Wallis sees World-rejecting NRM groups as sects. He also argues that they have “an authoritative locus for the attribution of heresy” and are hostile to the state and non-members.
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This evidence suggests that some individuals may join world-rejecting groups, as they are unhappy with the world that they live in and therefore turn towards a group that rejects the world, regarding it as “evil”.
On the other hand, world-affirming groups accept the world as it is and are not particularly critical of other religions. Wallis (1984) argues that “Such a group may have no church, no collective worship, and it may lack any developed theology or ethics”. World-affirming groups offer individuals salvation, which is seen as a solution to problems such as unhappiness, suffering or disability. These groups are not exclusive, and try to seek as wide a membership as possible, often by selling individuals services commercially. Unlike world rejecting groups, affirming groups have little social control over their members.
This evidence suggests that individuals may reject mainstream religious values in favour of a world-affirming NRM. A reason for this may be that world-affirming groups offer solutions to problems such as unhappiness or disability, which many individuals may suffer from.
World-accommodating new religious movements are usually variations of an existing church or denomination. These groups do not reject the world or accept it; they simply live within it. Wallis argues that World-accommodating groups stress that religion is more of a personal matter than a social one.
“The World-Accommodating new religion draws a distinction between the spiritual and the worldly in a way quite uncharacteristic of the other two types. Religion is not constructed as a primarily social matter; rather, it provides solace or stimulation to personal interior life”. World-accommodating groups seek to restore the spiritual purity to a religion, which it believes has been lost in more conventional churches and denominations.
However, there are some criticisms of Wallis’s categories. James. A. Beckford, (1985), criticizes Wallis, claiming that he fails to recognize that NRMS do not always fall into one category. Beckford criticizes him further, by stating that Wallis pays insufficient attention to the diversity of views that often exists within a sect or cult.
This evidence suggests that the recent rise in support for NRMS comes from mainly an increased the desire to reject mainstream values. There is evidence of this in World-Rejecting groups, in that members have joined this type of group to reject the kind of world that they are living in, creating their own religious values. Similarly, individuals may choose to join an NRM, in the hope of a better life.
This essay is now going to look at the reasons for the growth of New Religious Movements.
One reason for this is pragmatic motives – the desire to acquire personally beneficial practical outcomes. However, these are not the sorts of motives that many religious people would recognize and this is why the religious nature of many NRMS are questioned.
Another reason for the growth of NRMS is marginality. Weber argues that NRMS were more likely to arise within groups that were marginal in society: members of groups outside the mainstream of social life often feel they are not receiving the economic rewards that they deserve. Weber points out that those who are marginalized in society may find status or a legitimising explanation for their situation through a theodicy, (a religious explanation and justification) that offers salvation. Many NRMS offer explanations to individuals and promise them a “sense of honour” in the afterlife. The growth of NRMS in the USA was accomplished through the recruitment of marginal and disadvantaged groups. For example, black Muslims offered hope to “The Negro in the mud”.
However, it is not just disadvantaged groups that joined NRMS. Many members of NRMS in the 1970’s were white middle-class Americans and Europeans. Wallis argues that despite their middle-class backgrounds, they were usually “hippies, drop-outs, surfers, LSD and marijuana users.”
This evidence suggests that one reason for the growth of NRMS is marginality. New religious movements offered the disadvantaged groups within society a better life on earth and a “sense of honour” in the afterlife.
Similarly, one other reason for the growth of NRMS is relative deprivation.
Relative deprivation refers to deprivation that people actually feel. For example, Middle-class members may feel more deprived than the poor, in that they do not lack material wealth, but may be deprived spiritually.
This evidence suggests that NRMS appeal to certain members of the middle-class who feel their lives lack spiritual meaning.
Stark and Bainbridge (1985), employ the concept of relative deprivation in explaining the origin of sects. They define sects as offshoots from an established church, and that individuals who are relatively deprived are more likely to break away from an established religion. Splits take place when churches begin to compromise their beliefs, and some members may resent this and break away.
Bryan Wilson (1970) argues that another reason for the growth of NRMS is social change. New religious movements arise during periods of social change, in which traditional norms are disrupted and social relationships lack meaning. An example of this is of the early Methodist movement. Wilson sees the rise of Methodism as the response of the urban working class to the “chaos and uncertainty of life in the newly settled industrial areas”. He argues “They had no to evolve new patterns of religious belief to accommodate themselves to their new situation. In a situation of change and uncertainty, the sect offers the support of a close-knit community organization, well defined and strongly sanctioned norms and values, and a promise of salvation”
Similarly, Steve Bruce (1995) argues that the weakness of more conventional religions has encouraged people to seek less traditional alternatives. As modern societies began to develop, and faith in traditional churches declined, religious pluralism and diversity increased. Bruce argues that the world has become more secular and individuals who are less likely to hold strong commitments have contributed to the growth of NRMS. NRMS require fewer sacrifices and less commitment and are more popular in modern society.
This evidence suggests that social change has contributed to the recent rise in support for NRMS. Bryan Wilson argues that in a situation of change and uncertainty, NRMS offer individuals support, norms and values and the promise of salvation. Steve Bruce has a similar view, arguing that NRMS require fewer sacrifices and less commitment, which may appeal to many individuals.
One other reason for the growth of new religious movements is a spiritual void.
As society becomes more secular, individuals seek alternative belief systems to explain the world. Postmodernists would argue that science is unable to provide solutions to these problems. In the absence of grand narratives (a belief system, such as religion or science, that claims the explain the world), individuals seek their own personal rationale. They become “spiritual shoppers”, in that they try out various alternative religions until they find a belief system that they want.
This evidence suggests there is an increased cynicism about the ability of science or religion to provide answers to explain the world. In the absence of grand narratives, individuals may choose to seek a religion through the process of “spiritual shopping”. This suggests that individuals are rejecting mainstream religious values and turning to new religious movements to find the answers they have been looking for.
Overall, evidence suggests that the recent rise in support for New Religious Movements comes from mainly an increased desire to reject mainstream religious values. This evidence is supported by the secularisation debate.
Steve Bruce (2001) argues that Christianity has been in a state of decline for at least 150 years. During the 20th century, church attendances have dropped from 30% of the population to 10%. All this, Bruce claims is a far cry from the popularity of Christianity in former times. In the middle ages, the Church was the dominant social institution in Europe, wielding enormous social power. Bruce argues that the decline of Christianity in the modern world is not a result of people becoming more rational and less superstitious. He argues that the process of modernisation in the 16th Century undermined the place of religion in society.
However, Rodney Stark (1999) disagrees with Bruce’s argument in 2 key ways.
Firstly, Stark strongly disputes the claim that religion was dominant in the middle ages, claiming that it is a myth. He argues that historical records show widespread indifference to religion amongst the general population. Furthermore, he argues that when people did go to church, they did so unwillingly and behaved inappropriately.
This evidence suggests that religious participation is not in decline and it was never high anyway. Secondly, Stark argues that religion in modern society has not declined, but that it is flourishing. In the USA, he claims that church membership has trebled, not declined.
In conclusion, there is enough evidence to suggest that the recent rise in support for NRMS comes mainly from an increased desire to reject mainstream religious values. Individuals may reject traditional religious values in favour of a NRM, as it may offer solutions to problems such as unhappiness or disability, spirituality, or the hope of a better life. This evidence is supported by the secularisation debate, in that there is evidence to suggest that traditional religions are in decline. However, it would be wrong to conclude that religion in modern society is in decline, as argued by Rodney Stark.