An Introduction to New Religions

J. Gordon Melton

in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780195369649
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 An Introduction to New Religions

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This article addresses some issues concerning what is or is not a “new religion.” Some fuzziness at the boundaries of the field has grown out of its peculiar history, the field emerging as it did from the pre-1970 study of “cults.” A different approach to the problem was adopted by European scholars who until recently operated without the joint categories of “sect” and “cult” that were implicit in North America throughout the 20th century. In addition, the cult/anti-cult controversy has had a unique (and some would say distorting) role in shaping the academic discussions on new religions. The article integrates several lines of research and considers new religions to reach a definition of this field of study of fringy religious phenomena. In doing so, it suggests that the field of new religions studies are concerned with a groups of religious bodies/movements that, though they do not share any particular set of attributes, have been assigned to the fringe of the dominant religious culture and secondarily by elements within the secular culture, and hence are a set of religious groups/movements that exist in a relatively contested space within society as a whole.

Keywords: new religions studies; cults; sects; religious groups; religious movements; religious culture; secular culture

Article.  9114 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Alternative Belief Systems

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