A new religious movement (NRM) is a term used to refer to a religious faith or an ethical, spiritual, or philosophical movement of recent origin that is not part of an established denomination, church, or religious body.
Christianity and Islam were NRMs once upon a time. My question to you, dear reader, is which of today’s NRMs do you think will eventually become dominant or commonplace in two or three centuries? In other words, which will be the religions of the future?
To lay claim to the future an NRM must have the following:
- institutional strength (but not necessarily with a central leadership);
- positive membership growth rates (either steady or exponential);
- influence on mainstream cultures (although general society may not be aware of the influence);
- and most of all, doctrinal freshness (how well it will be able to cope with modern scientific society).
All four factors are needed to give an NRM the cutting edge against the old-timers.
Below is a multiple choice poll that includes the major eight NRMs whom I believe are the top contenders based upon my four measures. I also made a ninth option for diehard agnostics and a tenth space for you to write in your own candidates.
When voting I ask you to put aside your biases and think dispassionately about each of the candidates. You might be surprised by your own opinion.
Not included are:
- revivalist movements within established religions, even if they are likely to be numerically superior to NRMs in the future, e.g., Pentecostalism or Wahabbism;
- single-issue or secular movements, e.g., Veganism or Ethical Humanism;
- utopian- or doomsday-political movements, e.g., Communism, Anarchism, or Salafism;
- racialist movements, e.g., Neo-Nazism or various Lost Tribes of Israel claimants;
- esoteric movements, their influence on several NRMs notwithstanding, e.g., Free Masonry and Theosophy;
- and cults, technically defined as a relatively small movement centerred around one or few charismatic personalities without which whom it has no long-term sustainability, e.g., Nuwabianism or Aum Shinrikyo.
I recognize that the eight main choices in my poll may be problematic. Some examples…
- Scientology certainly has institutional strength and influence (or notoriety), but it lacks strong membership growth (outside Hollywood) and its hostility toward psychiatry does not bode well for its adaptability;
- Anthrosophy has institutional strength and membership growth; it also deeply influences a wide range of alternative lifestyle, racialist, and esoteric groups. However, it has ambivalence toward modernity and its members might demur at being called a religion;
- Rastafarianism has no institutional strength and debatable membership growth, but what it lacks in these it recoups in spades with its enormous impact on mainstream cultures of as vastly different societies as the United States, Israel, and Japan;
- Many in the West may protest the exclusion of Unitarian Universalism, the New Thought movement, Jewish Reconstructionism, etc. Although these score well in all four of my measures, I feel they critically lack purpose and goal, hence making them non-contenders;
- and voters may dispute my choice of Falun Gong and the Unification Church as the East Asian candidates over other similar NRMs in the region like Cao Dai or Cheondo.
So, please let me know if there are any specific errors or gross objectionables with the poll. I have also designed a second poll to survey spiritual trends of the future which may plug any gaps.
A final comment: for what it’s worth, my two top votes go to the Bahá’í and Mormon communities, followed by Falun Gong and the Unification Church.
These four NRMs are very organized, are growing fast, have believers in prominent positions of respect, and have not only embraced modernity but are guiding it with systematic constructive criticism.