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:
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.
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.
There are a number of professional groups, mailing lists, journals and Web sites that
promote study of the new religious movements (NRMs):
Academic organizations and institutions which concentrate on NRMs:
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: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/aar-nrm/
Center for the Study of New Religions (CESNUR) at and http://www.cesnur.org "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.
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
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: http://www.americanreligion.org/irdp/
Other academic organizations which research religions generally:
Association for the Sociology of Religion at: http://www.sociologyofreligion.com/ "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.
International Society for the Sociology of Religion at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/sisr/English.htm
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.
Increase understanding of the function of religion in persons and society through
application of social scientific and other scholarly methods
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
The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) at http://las.alfred.edu/~soc/SSSR/ 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: http://las.alfred.edu/~soc/SSSR/JSSR.htm
The Institute for Christian Leadership (ICLnet) is at: http://www.iclnet.org/ 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."
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 http://www.channel1.com/mpr/ appears to be off line. However, his essay "Y2K AfterThoughts" is
available at: http://www.nhne.com/y2kafterthoughts/
Journals, newsletters & bibliographies:
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: http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/nr/
Richard Cimino publishes Religion Watch. It is an (almost) monthly trend letter
that monitors about 1000 periodicals and other sources. See: http://www.religionwatch.com/ It often has
material on small religious groups.