A New Religious Movement is the academic term for what some people might call a cult (Sekte in German). Mormonism is typically considered a NRM. For example, the two main academic bodies for disseminating measured information on NRMs — INFORM and CESNUR — include Mormonism on their rosters.
What is a NRM? Eileen Barker classifies NRM’s as:
- Mostly comprised of first generation converts
- Having a charismatic, authoritarian leader or founder
- Being atypical of society
George Chryssides writes of NRM’s:
- Being recent
- Outside the mainstream
- Attracting converts from the indigenous culture
For James Holt, NRM’s:
- Were founded in the last 200 years
- Are placed (or place themselves) outside of their parent faith
You may notice a frustrating fuzziness in these classifications. Is a Christian NRM an NRM by virtue of its exclusion from the World Council of Churches (what about the Roman Catholic Church?), its rejection of a key doctrine such as the Trinity (what about the Unitarians?), its being counter-cultural (what about strict Primitive Methodists?), its charismatic leader (Billy Graham?), its conversion rate (campus evangelical ministries?), or simply its age (will the Jehovah’s Witnesses cease being an NRM in 2070?)?
Clearly, academics need some way to classify religions and separate phenomenologically, say, Islam from the Nation of Islam. Is there a better way of doing this? Should there be sub-types of NRMs? (This has been attempted.)
Is Mormonism a New Religious Movement?
Barker, E. (1989) New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction
Chryssides, G. (1994) “New Religious Movements: some problems of definition,” DISKUS 2 (2)
Holt, J (MEd thesis in my possession)