New Religious Movement: Meaning and Characteristics

New religious movement (NRM), also referred to as the New age movement or Alternate spirituality, is a religious or spiritual group that has its roots in modern-day and has an important position in the country’s religious culture. They could either be newly originated ones or part of some religion. In the latter, they are different from the denominations of the religion that already exist. An NRM is also implied to address a cult. They are founded and led by charismatic leaders who are extremely authoritarian. Though the definition of an NRM hasn’t been decided by scholars, the term ‘New Religious Movement’ obviously suggests that the organization is novel and is in some ways different from a religion that already exists. Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith is considered to be the first NRM in the world.

NRMs question one’s understanding of a religion and its definition. There are so many NRMs that one cannot analyze them easily and there can be no amount of generalization made on them. They vary in their practices as well as in their beliefs. They also suggest unique religious responses to the society that exists today despite having been deeply rooted in conservative traditions. They are labeled as countercultural since they are regarded as alternatives for the mainstream religions. The NRMs easily inculcate new ideas and practices from all over their doctrine. The members show great loyalty and are stringent with regard to the work they do. NRMs rose since people don’t wish to be members of traditional religious groups since they don’t accept modernity.

NRMs are widespread in Asia and Africa. Though most have reasonably few members, some have thousands of members and some others have over 10 lakh followers. Many scholars believe NRMs have been founded as a result of globalization, individualization as well as secularization.

Let us now read about a few characteristics of NRMs...Some NRMs have their own set of scriptures while the rest make use of the literature that already exists. Also, some follow celibacy (those that are inspired by the Hindu practices). It is very rare for NRMs to be violent. And those cases in which there were, the group was led by a charismatic person.

NRMs are mostly made of those people who are the first generation in their families to not believe in religion. Hence, most of the members of an NRM are young. NRMs are usually founded by charismatic leaders whose death could eventually lead the movement to losing pace and nearing decline. It could make the movement get divided into two or more branches and this might possibly nullify the founder’s intention and might result in something else.

NRMs in India:

The British tried to introduce Western thought to India and challenged the Hindu culture and traditions. Due to this, Arya Samaj and Brahma Samaj were established in the nineteenth century. Due to these movements, many other NRMs were started in India. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s movement, Vedanta, aimed at increasing the scope of the Vedanta philosophy by making it accessible to the West. The transcendental meditation movement by Maharshi Mahesh Yogi followed the Vedanta movement. And then came the Hare Krishna movement that was affiliated with the Bhakti movement of the 12th century. It was started by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, fondly called as Acharya Rajneesh (and later as Osho).

In conclusion, I would like to quote the following which was penned by John A Saliba with respect to NRM in Understanding New Religious Movements:

Many of the new religions attract individuals by the promise of peace of mind, spiritual well-being, gratifying experiences, and material success. In doing so they stress their concern for the individual and highlight one’s personal worth and self-development.


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An undergraduate student of Arts, Uma Sathwika is studying in the University of Delhi. She is ardent about writing things- things that truly matter with great intricacy