World accommodating new religious movements
The early Christians were fed to the lions, the Cathars were burned at the stake, the Baha’i continue to be persecuted in Iran and the Ahmiddya in Pakistan.
At the turn of the third millennium, the People’s Republic of China have imprisoned tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners for “reeducation” on the grounds that they are considered a threat to individuals and the state; Jehovah’s Witnesses have been physically attacked in Georgia, and “liquidated” by a Moscow court.
With the hindsight of history, it is possible to recognize periods that have been particularly prone to the growth of new religions.
Examples would be the 1530s in Northern and Central Europe; England between 16 and again at the turn of the nineteenth century; the Great Awakening of the late 1730s followed by the Second Great Awakening of 1820-60 in the United States; and a ”Rush Hour of the Gods,” to borrow Neill Mc Farland’s (1967) term, arrived in Japan when the new religions that had been suppressed during World War II became liberated in the mid 1940s; then, roughly 30 years later, they were joined by what are now referred to as the Japanese new new religions (Shimazono 2004).
This has, however, led to ”NRM” being associated in the rhetoric of the movements’ opponents with what they consider to be not a neutral but a ”cult apologist” position.
This politicizing of the term, the con fusions caused by the fact that many of the movements had (or now have) been in existence for some time, and the ambiguities associated with the label ”religious” have led to attempts to find other terms, such as alternative religions, minority faiths, or spiritual communities.
Another terminological difficulty arose when many of those movements resisted being called a religion – the Brahma Kumaris, for example, prefer to be seen as a spiritual or educational movement.
The new religions come, however, from a far wider range of traditions – not only Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Shinto, paganism, and various combinations of these, but also from other sources such as science fiction, psychoanalytic theories, and political ideologies.Furthermore, being unbounded by rules or traditions, they are likely to be unpredictable, changing revelations and instructions at a moment’s notice.Thirdly, NRMs tend to appeal to an atypical representation of the population.Some, however, adopted new characteristics when they were embraced by westerners, making it possible to argue that they had become new movements in the more common, second sense, which referred to the motley assortment of groups that had been founded since World War II and were being identified as ”cults” or ”sects” in the popular media.These NRMs were new in the sense that they consisted predominantly of first generation converts, and their founding leaders were still alive.
There are those, particularly historians of religion such as J.