III. Contemporary New Religious Movements

With the passage of time, once‑new religious movements tend to attain greater social acceptability. The sects and movements that were new a century or more ago—Seventh‑day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, became familiar and more or less tolerated. Whilst still often the victims of social opprobrium, they have been increasingly allowed to function in their own way. But discrimination and opposition persists, focusing, as before, on newly emerging religious organizations. In the last five decades, the number of new religions in Western society has increased dramatically. Some are derived from variants of the major oriental faiths; others have emerged from eclectic reappraisals of elements in various religious traditions. Yet others have drawn on indigenous folk religion, or claim to be modern reformulations of ancient paganism. Still others appear as spiritual responses to the advances in natural science, communications technology, and various forms of mental therapy. Many seek to awaken and release human potential and to cultivate a spiritual dimension for the increasingly secular experience of man in modern society. Scholars in this field unanimously emphasize the diversity of these new movements, most of which have in common only the contemporaneity of their emergence. Yet, what is apparent is a tendency, evident in the media and in the utterances on this subject of public figures, for all new religious movements to be lumped together as if they conformed to one particular stereotype. That this disposition is in itself inimical to the fair treatment of new religions must be apparent. When—rightly or wrongly—one movement is openly accused of actions or attitudes contrary to the public good, the allegation tends easily to be transferred to all such movements, concerning the specific stance and activities of each of which the public at large is not well‑informed. Since these movements are little known, misunderstanding, rumour, myth, and calumny easily accrete around their reputations. Because of the way in which the media themselves operate, an allegation, once made, tends to be reiterated as journalists, who often rely on earlier media reports, whether authenticated or not, repeat a familiar story‑line and so produce what sociologists have termed “negative summary events”.

IV. The Influence of Pathological Cases