How will these resources help you?

New religious movements (NRM) are a fascinating area for study. They are by nature part of our modern world, showing how religious ideas have been updated or recreated to respond to the challenges of modernity while often drawing on ancient ideas and seeking to appeal as genuine or untainted versions of their traditions. These resources give academic grounding to discussions around NRMs and case studies that students may be aware of and particularly interested in exploring. While members of those groups may not view themselves as part of NRMs, they are generally considered as such by the academic world due to their origins and characteristics. The further materials also offer the opportunity to explore the language we are using, specifically the terms ‘religion’ and ‘cult’.

Theories around cult violence

Beyond Brainwashing: Perspectives on Cult Violence

by Rebecca Moore, published by Cambridge University Press, (2018), 9781108448314

In this work, Professor Moore uses discourse around three extreme case studies of violent acts within NRMs (the Jonestown Massacre, the Waco Siege and the 9/11 attacks in New York) to show the different approaches taken by onlookers who observe these groups and the impact that these approaches can have. One approach is academic, which Moore calls ‘research based’, focussing on the reasons why people join such groups, why they emerge, and why some turn violent, and others do not. An older and unhelpful approach comes from a ‘cult watcher’ type, which is more sensationalist for the media and seemingly threatening to the layperson and readily available through various online platforms. This book will aid teachers and students to be more reflective of their discourse on an often controversial subject and highlight the need to take disciplinary approaches to other controversial and sensational topics we cover.

What NRMs are there?

The Bloomsbury Companion to New Religious Movements

by George D. Chryssides and Benjamin E. Zeller, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, (2016), 9781474256445

This book combines the writings of over 29 academics on themes within the study of NRMs. It begins by covering themes in the form of essays written by academics, which will be useful to teachers and students at A-level. Later in the book, short and clear responses are given to key questions and concepts relating to NRMs, which will be more accessible to GCSE students. The A-Z of key terms and the pointers for research and resources on specific NRMs will be of great use to Religion and Worldviews teachers to aid responses to the inevitable questions that students raise throughout this topic. The chronology provided puts movements and events in a historical order and would be well converted into a timeline display.

Case Study: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Days Saints

Around the World in 80 Faiths: Mormonism

published by BBC Two, (2009)

Although members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints would probably not view their religion as a NRM, the movement's teachings share many commonalities with other NRMs. With a growing membership numbering close to 17 million worldwide and in the UK nearly 200,000, they are a significant religious tradition worthy of study. This programme gives an insight into the setting in the USA where it emerged. The life of the founder, Joseph Smith, provides an opportunity to consider the theme of religious experiences and revelation and the Book of Mormon’s analysis of religious texts as an authority within a tradition.

Case Study: Rastafari

Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction

by Ennis B. Edmonds, published by Oxford University Press, (2012), 9780199584529

Each NRM is born out of its own specific cultural-historical context. In this concise introduction, Edmonds outlines the origins, teachings and practices of the Rastafari religion in an accessible, readable way. With its beginnings in 1930s Jamaica and also classed as a social movement, Rastafari spoke to people suffering the immediate effects of the Great Depression and the longer-term impact of colonialism and the slave trade. With a prophecy from Marcus Garvey to ‘Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer’, the coronation of Haile Selassie was to many the Second Coming of Christ promised in the Bible. With many shared ideas from Judaism and Christianity, Rastafari offers not only a case study as an NRM but also how religion more generally interplays with socio-political processes and events.

Further materials

‘You have to face the darkness within you’: meet the real-life Jedi knights by Daniel Lavelle, published by The Guardian, (2020) Read this article
The Conversation: Women in Cults, published by BBC World Service, (2017) Access this resource
Is There Any Difference Between a Cult and a Religion? by Andrew Henry, published by ReligionForBreakfast, (2017) Watch this video
Ruth Marx teaches Religion and Worldviews, is a Consultant for Religious Studies and PSHE, a Farmington Fellowship Scholar and a published blogger on Re:Online.

Text © Ruth Marx, 2023.