Is the term new religion movement a better alternative to the term cult?

1 Answer | Add Yours

tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Some sociologists have advocated that we replace the term cult with the term new religious movement (NRM) since the term cult has become heavily burdened with negative connotations. Some argue that replacing cult with NRM will make the study of religion within sociology more objective. However, there are also still psychologists and sociologists who argue that a distinction between NRMs and cults needs to be made.

An NRM is any new faith that has emerged over the past few hundred years. NRMs are alternative religions, and though they break away from traditional religions, like Christianity, some NRMs see themselves as deeply rooted in the ancient traditions of conventional religions. In contrast to NRMs, traditional religions have grown to become considered valid over thousands of years. NRMs arise when people feel their specific needs are not being addressed by traditional cultural and religious practices. Since NRMs break free from traditional culture and religion, members often feel like outsiders and develop devoted senses of loyalty that lead to new social groupings, such as defining members of an NRM as a family.

Examples of NRMs that were formed rooted to ancient religions are the apocalyptic NRMs such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both were formed based on the Christian apocalyptic belief that Jesus Christ will reign on earth for 1,000 years in a period of peace before the Day of Judgement. Both were also formed based on the prediction of William Miller (1782 - 1849) that "Christ would return to earth sometime in 1843 or 1844" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "New religious movement (NRM)"). Though his prediction proved false, Miller's followers continued to believe his general assertion and formed the Seventh-day Adventists under Ellen G. White and the Jehovah's Witnesses under Charles Taz Russell.

The psychologists and sociologists, such as Dr. Charles Strozier of The City University of New York and Dr. Michael D. Langston of the American Family Foundation, who advocate for the continued use of the word cult do so because they see differences in behavior between NRMs and cults. Dr. Strozier has defined a cult, as opposed to an NRM, as a benevolent group that has become completely absorbed in its own praxes and can potentially become malevolent. Similarly, Dr. Langston argues for continuing to use the term cult when undertaking the task of "helping people harmed by group involvements or preventing people from being so harmed" (International Cultic Studies Association, "On Using the Term 'Cult'").

Hence, it can be argued that so long as we need to differentiate between benevolent and malevolent behavior, maintaining the usage of the term cult alongside the term new religious movement is still a good idea.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question