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New Religious Movements

2. Characteristics of First-Generation Movements

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In this lecture, we think about common characteristics of first-generation NRMs, focusing in particular on: (i) the fact that first-generation movements are made up of converts and the unusually enthusiastic character this often gives them; (ii) their appeal to specific sections of society, notably white young people in late-twentieth century NRMs; (iii) their basis in the authority of charismatic individuals rather than in rules or traditions; (iv) their dichotomous worldview and rejection of wider society; (v) their frequent exposure to prejudice and persecution by wider society.


In this course, Professor Eileen Barker (London School of Economics) explores the characteristics of New Religious Movements (NRMs) and their relationship to wider society. In the first lecture, we look at terminologies associated with new religions, including issues with the term “cult”, problems around defining a religion as “new”, and Professor Barker’s preference for “first-generation movement”. In the second lecture, we consider some common characteristics of first-generation movements, in terms of their beliefs and composition and their frequent exposure to persecution. In the third lecture, we think about how NRMs change over time, particularly as they become second-generation movements, and the internal and external factors which influence this. Next, we consider NRMs’ relationships with wider society, such as their portrayal in the media, the emergence of anti-cult activism. In the fifth and final lecture, we look at the “cult wars” between anti-cultists, scholars, and the movements themselves.


Professor Eileen Barker is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the London School of Economics. She is a leading expert on New Religious Movements (NRMs), founder of the Information Network Focus on New Religious Movements (INFORM), and author of The Making of a Moonie (1984), a foundational text in the study of new religions. Her recent publications include Reactions to the Law by Minority Religions (2021, as co-editor) and Revisionism and Diversification in New Religious Movements (2016, as editor).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Barker, E. (2021, September 20). New Religious Movements - Characteristics of First-Generation Movements [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Barker, E. "New Religious Movements – Characteristics of First-Generation Movements." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Sep 2021,

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