New religious movement (NRM) is the generally accepted term and less pejorative of the
word cult. NRM applies to all new religions, faiths, and philosophies that have arisen in the
world over the centuries. The term cult has attracted much criticism from religious scholars over
the years since it has faced negative connotation in the media and general public, the reason why
scholars less use it. New religious movements have similar characteristics and offer innovative
responses to different conditions in the modern world. Most of the NRMs are countercultural
because people perceive them as alternatives to western society's mainstream religion
(Christianity). An example of a new religious movement is the Rajneesh movement. Rajneesh
movement studies present an excellent model of a new religious movement and cult, although it
is an old movement.
Rajneesh movement, founded by Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, started in the 1970s in Manali,
India. The movement emphasizes the spiritual practice of dynamic meditation, which allowed
people to divine power. Also, the movement developed a new age healing program from the
west. The movement was based upon the principles of joyful and loving affirmation. Rajneesh
believed that every individual has the capability of finding their means in spiritual
enlightenment. Rajneesh movement's main objective was to form a community where
medication and spiritual practices will be achieved. Also, he believed that the secular mindset of
the world could be replaced by spiritual life. The believers in this movement advocates for
genetic engineering, sexual liberation, universal love, scientific advancement, and humans'
painless death . The movement encourages contraceptive use and abortions to discourage
reproduction. The movement is supported financially by investors, clients, and international
networks such as restaurants, schools, hotels, centers, and stores. Rajneesh meditation centers are
located in Asia, North America, and Europe, while the financial centers are located in Zurich and
London though some corporate identities appear in several countries.
Rajneesh movement faced hostility and conflicts from society. In 1984, on Election Day,
the Rajneesh movement put a block of candidates. It hindered the population voting in Oregon
and Dalles town, resulting in conflicts between his followers and town people. The movement
contaminated the salad bars deliberately in local restaurants using salmonella cultures, resulting
in the more than seven hundred residents' illness. The residents prevented Rajneesh candidates
from winning after they suspected that the movement was behind the attack.
Initially, the term cult designated a religious practice veneration and system based on
such veneration. The term was opted out in the 20th century and replaced by the word ‘New
Religious Movement’ by sociology scholars because of its negative connotation in the general
public and media (Barker 9). A cult is not a religion but a social movement. Some movements
were violent and self-destructive and could carry massive attacks such as mass suicide (Barker
9). New in NRM means that the religious are new even though not all the movements fit in
NRMs are new. For example, the Rajneesh movement becomes popular in the 1970s but could
classify it as NRM. NRMs have a modern religious and spiritual origin, but it has a boundary to
its religious dominance. New religious movement deals with the challenges the modern world
experience by embracing individualism. New religious movement becomes popular in many
countries in the 50s and 60s. The decline of revolutions in the late 1980s and communism in the
early 1990s promoted the the new religious movement's development and growth. The use of
internet has made it possible for the NRM to become popular in the 21 st century since the
information, meetings, ritual and recruit on new members is hold online. The membership and
belonging between the old and new religious movements are different even though one may join
multiple movements and retain their membership with the movement. Although the movement is
referred to as new, no movement had become the dominant faith in any nation, and most of its
concepts are used by the worldwide mainstream culture.
In today's world, cults and religious movements interact with society. Globalization and
science have become popular in the modern world. Religious and sociology disciplines consider
society as strong interdependent and interrelated. The new religious movements have developed
some global organizations that have helped in interconnectedness through communication.
NRMs have cultivated and used models, methods, and concepts of globalization theories from a
religious perspective (Warburg 47). However, religion is neglected in globalization theories,
which have led to a lack of faith in world society. According to scholars, the system theory of
religion is self-contradictory and lacks complexity as the religious theory of function.
Brainwashing theory has been believed to lure many people to cults and religious
movements. The theory claims to converts and forcefully program an individual to believe
certain beliefs instead of what the individual believes. The idea has its root in military
experiments during World War II; it spread lies and propaganda to describe the American
prisoners of war conversion to communism in china. The religious leaders and agents manipulate
individuals and lure them to their groups. Some scholars argue that NRM leaders used
brainwashing techniques to gain followers and keep their followers. Brainwashing involves
technical practices that induce a high level of ideological obedience to the victim ( Zablocki
Effective leadership is the key to the formation of any movement in the world. The type
of leader in the group determines how many members the group or association will have.
Charismatic and persuasive leaders form most new religious movements. Charismatic leadership
in NRM provides strong leadership skills and inspiration to his members. The leader keeps the
movement going, and the leader's death can result in the end of the movement or movement
moving closer to the mainstream religions. Without a charismatic leader, NRM and cult
movement cannot survive.
Brainwashing theories are a symbolic designation of negative embeddedness in religion,
while conversion theory is a positive designation symbol. Most of the time, brainwashing
emphasizes the individual's manipulation behavior to accept and believe a certain set of beliefs.
Conversion theories, on the other hand, argue that individuals convert voluntarily without
Some issues related to NRM and cult include; violence, terrorism, brainwashing, wars,
and conflicts. For example, the Rajneesh movement was involved in a conflict in both Dalles and
Oregon towns after being engaged in contamination of salad bars using salmonella cultures. Its
members were also arrested for various crimes, including attempted murder in multiple
In conclusion, even though new religious movements are considered new, no NRM has
penetrated and become the dominant faith in any country in the world. Most of its concepts are
used by the worldwide mainstream culture. Rajneesh movement studies present a good example
of a new religious movement and cult, although it is an old movement. The movement focused
on the spiritual practice of dynamic meditation, which allowed people to divine power. Despite
the movement being faced with hostility and conflicts with its neighbors, some of its principles,
such as affirmation to love and joy, the advancement of scientific technology, sexual liberation,
and genetic engineering, are essential principles in today's world.
Barker, Eileen. "New religious movements." The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (2007).
Warburg, Margit. "Religion and globalization, or Globalization and religion." New religions and
globalization (2008): 43-59.
Zablocki, Benjamin. 2001. »Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of
Brainwashing«. In Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial
Field. Edited by Benjamin Zablocki, and Thomas Robbins, 159-214.