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New Religious Movements

1. What are New Religious Movements (NRMs)?

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In this lecture, we think about what New Religious Movements (NRMs) are and the terminology we use to define them, focusing in particular on: (i) issues with the term “cult”, especially the negative popular associations its developed since the 1960s; (ii) the consequent decision of many scholars to use the more neutral term New Religious Movement; (iii) problems around what constitutes a new religion – should, for example, nineteenth-century sects count as NRMS?; (iv) Professor Barker’s preference for “first-generation movement” as a term which avoids ambiguity regarding the “new” in NRMs.


In this course, Professor Eileen Barker (London School of Economics) explores the characteristics of New Religious Movements (NRMs) and their relationship to wider society. In the first lecture, we look at terminologies associated with new religions, including issues with the term “cult”, problems around defining a religion as “new”, and Professor Barker’s preference for “first-generation movement”. In the second lecture, we consider some common characteristics of first-generation movements, in terms of their beliefs and composition and their frequent exposure to persecution. In the third lecture, we think about how NRMs change over time, particularly as they become second-generation movements, and the internal and external factors which influence this. Next, we consider NRMs’ relationships with wider society, such as their portrayal in the media, the emergence of anti-cult activism. In the fifth and final lecture, we look at the “cult wars” between anti-cultists, scholars, and the movements themselves.


Professor Eileen Barker is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the London School of Economics. She is a leading expert on New Religious Movements (NRMs), founder of the Information Network Focus on New Religious Movements (INFORM), and author of The Making of a Moonie (1984), a foundational text in the study of new religions. Her recent publications include Reactions to the Law by Minority Religions (2021, as co-editor) and Revisionism and Diversification in New Religious Movements (2016, as editor).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Barker, E. (2021, September 20). New Religious Movements - What are New Religious Movements (NRMs)? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Barker, E. "New Religious Movements – What are New Religious Movements (NRMs)?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Sep 2021,

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