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Academic studies of new religious movements (a.k.a. cults)


University professors who study new religious groups are often referred to disparagingly by those in the anti-cult movement as "cult apologists." This is not a good term:

bullet The term "cult" is generally interpreted by the press and the rest of the public to refer to dangerous, doomsday destructive religious groups. The vast majority of new religious groups are benign.
bullet The term "apologist" refers to an individual who defends a belief system. Academics rarely defend the beliefs of new religious groups. They generally defend only the right of those groups to practice their faith without harassment.

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There are a number of professional groups, mailing lists, journals and Web sites that promote study of the new religious movements (NRMs):

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Academic organizations and institutions which concentrate on NRMs:

bullet The American Academy of Religion's New Religious Movements Group "seeks to enhance understanding of New Religious Movements (NRMs) past and present."   Its steering committee members are listed at:
bullet Center for the Study of New Religions (CESNUR) at and "is an international network of associations of scholars working in the field of new religious movements." Its original aim was directed at scholars who "specialized in religious minorities, new religious movements, contemporary esoteric, spiritual and gnostic schools, and the new religious consciousness in general." They became alarmed at misinformation being disseminated both by the Anti-cult movement (ACM) and by some new religious groups. They have since become actively involved in spreading "reliable and responsible information" on NRMs. They are concerned that the anti-cult and sect panic in some countries in Europe may lead to special legislation against cults or "brainwashing," thus threatening religious freedom.
bullet The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Sterling (UK) has a "New and Alternative Religions Page" at:
bullet The Institute for the Study of American Religion (ISAR) was founded in 1969. Its collection of NRM literature, the American Religious Collection, is located in the Davidson Library at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Some of its main projects are:
bullet The Encyclopedia of American Religions. Gale research, Detroit MI, (1996). Read reviews and/or order this book from A previous edition listed some 1,500 different religious bodies.
bullet Descriptive material on many "controversial religious movements, which are popularly labeled as cults;" at: and
bullet The International Religions Directory Project which will include "a comprehensive country-by-country directory with a complete listing of the headquarters of each separate denomination and religious group and each interfaith and ecumenical organization in each country."  See:

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Other academic organizations which research religions generally:

bullet Association for the Sociology of Religion at: "is an international scholarly association that seeks to advance theory and research in the sociology of religion." Recent main themes of their annual meetings have been: Reinventing Religion; Community, Globality, and Research Paradigms and Understanding Religion, Understanding Society.
bullet International Society for the Sociology of Religion at  was founded by scholars in religion and social science. "Its purpose is to stimulate and communicate significant scientific research on religious institutions and religious experience." "Membership is open to scholars, church leaders, and others interested in systematic and/or scientific studies of religion." They publish a quarterly journal.
bullet The Religious Research Association at:  has as its main goals to:
bullet Increase understanding of the function of religion in persons and society through application of social scientific and other scholarly methods
bullet Promote the circulation, interpretation and use of the findings of religious research among religious bodies and other interested groups

The RRA publishes a quarterly journal, the Review of Religious Research. They hold an annual meeting in conjunction with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR).

bullet The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) at was founded in 1949. "Its purpose is to stimulate and communicate significant scientific research on religious institutions and religious experience." Their home page has a background image that is identical to our home page; this is a coincidence. They publish the quarterly Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. See:

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Academic and other Web Sites dealing with NRMs:

bullet The late Jeffrey Hadden created a site "New Religious Movements," at:
 It is linked to the undergraduate course Sociology 257 at the University of Virginia
bullet Anne Eyre, "Religious cults in twentieth century America," at: 
bullet Mike Madin maintains a site: "Academic Info: Your Gateway to Quality Internet Resources." Information on NRMs is at:
bullet Irving Hexham maintains a site "Nurel Home Page: sources for the study of cults, sects, new and contemporary religions," at:
bullet The Institute for Christian Leadership (ICLnet) is at: It has a large data base which includes information on NRMs. It is a Christian fundamentalist group. In their discussion groups, "the Bible is assumed to be inerrant and the standard to be used for the evaluation of any theological belief."
bullet Ted Daniels founded The Millennium Watch Institute in 1992 to collect "ephemeral literature, printed and electronic, from more than 1200 American and foreign prophetic and predictive sources" about the millennium. His website at appears to be off line. However, his essay "Y2K AfterThoughts" is available at:

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Journals, newsletters & bibliographies:

bullet Nova Religio is "the Journal of Alterntaive and Emergent religions" co-edited by Rebecca Moore and Catherine Wessinger." The journal provides a comprehensive interpretation and examination of alternative religious movements, which are often misrepresented and misinterpreted in both public and scholarly forums." See:
bullet Richard Cimino publishes Religion Watch. It is an (almost) monthly trend letter that  monitors about 1000 periodicals and other sources. See: It often has material on small religious groups.
bullet Rob Nanninga maintains a bibliography of "Cults and New Religious Movements" at:

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Site navigation: Home page > Cult menu > here

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Copyright © 1997, 1999, and 2001 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-MAY-11
Author: B.A. Robinson
Hyperlinks checked on 2003-MAY-11

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