DOI link for Religion
DOI link for Religion
Earlier studies of the Internet and religion pointed out that the Internet might provide a useful medium for marginal and small religious organizations, especially for groups less related to older religious traditions or for groups emphasizing a direct contact with the “divine.” Some researchers indicated that the possibilities oﬀered by the Internet for accessing religious information, and sharing religious beliefs and systems might even “help facilitate the development of new religions” (Hozak and Stanina, n.d.) because people can patch together a religious system of their own based on beliefs and ideas they gather from others on the Internet. People who have never met in person may unite and form their own religion based on conversations in discussion groups. Zaleski (1997) argued that religious groups and teachings “that tend toward anarchy and that lack a complex hierarchy” (p. 111) might be favored by the Internet. Other scholars discussed the fact that the Internet “might well pose serious problems for religions that have historically stressed the role of a strong central authority, like the Roman Catholic Church or Scientology” (Dawson and Hennebry 1999: 34). In their work, Dawson and Hennebry discuss the impact of the Internet on new religious movements and point out the possibility of increasing competition between new religions “to secure a marked edge” on the Internet (1999: 35). They also discuss the fear over the possibility of “spiritual predators” on the Internet (1999: 19), especially following the tragic mass suicide of 39 members of Heaven’s Gate at Rancho Santa Fe, California on March 26, 1997. After the tragic event, the media reported that Heaven’s Gate not only had a sophisticated website and ran a web design company, but also that it used the Internet for online proselytism. The survey in Dawson and Hennebry’s 1999 paper, one of the earliest surveys
conducted on new religious movements on the Internet, included two Japanese new religions, So-ka Gakkai and Ko-fuku no Kagaku (pp. 22-3). The term “new religious movements” (often abbreviated to NRMs) is an umbrella term used especially in the sociology of religion for movements or organizations also described as, for example, “alternative religions,” “non-conventional religions,” “contemporary sects,” “new religious groups,” or “new religious sects.” new
religious movements are sometimes labeled with the derogatory term “cult.” Deﬁning new religious movements involves determining how to distinguish new from traditional religious movements and new groups from sectarian organizations: scholars often disagree on the criteria used to deﬁne how and in what ways NRMs are “new” (Melton 2004; Barker 2004; Robbins 2005). For scholars in the sociology of religion, “new” is always a relative term. Indeed, some “new” religions are now more than one hundred years old (for example Tenrikyo-, or a number of other new religious movements founded in Japan in the late nineteenth century). In Japan, the concept of “new religions” was ﬁrst used following the end of
World War II to denote the numerous groups whose historical development traces back to the mid-nineteenth century (Astley 2006: 93). These groups have been deﬁned, according to the period of their development and the classiﬁcation criteria adopted, as “new religions” (shinshu-kyo-), “new-new religions” (shinshinshu-kyo-) and “new spiritual movements and culture” (shinreisei undo-). Many classiﬁcations have been proposed in order to distinguish the most recently formed groups from the so-called “institutionalized religions” (kisei shu-kyo-) or “traditional religions” (dento-shu-kyo-), namely the various schools of Buddhism and shrine Shinto-. The deﬁnition of shinshu-kyo-(shu-kyo-is the standard term for religion and shin means new) is rendered problematic by the ﬂuidity and complexity of the various groups, their phases of development and their aﬃliation. Summing up, characteristics attributed to Japanese new religions include:
the role of leader: the group is often centered around a charismatic leader; syncretism and eclecticism: groups can draw on diﬀerent religious traditions
and change their aﬃliation over time; and dynamism: they are dynamic and can change quite radically in a short time.