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Denis Zukic

Miss Dabrowski

Assess the view that new religious movements are mainly for
the middle class and young. (33 marks)
The growth of new religious movements gained pace during the social change of the 1960s,
with an estimated 800 NRMs consisting of approximately more than half a million
individuals. With an increase of young professional men and women, more and more people
are turning to NRMs as a means of self-improvement and also due to an increase in
secularisation and losing faith in the metanarratives of old religious explanations (Lyotard,
1984). Consequently, the majority of members of these movements are young middle class
members. Despite this, the view fails to recognise that measuring the membership of some
of these movements can be difficult. It is also important to note that while NRMs have
experienced growth over the past 50 years, it should not be assumed that this means
traditional views are being abandoned; over the last fifteen years or so, fundamentalism has
increased due to people blaming the modernising influence of the Western for weakening
peoples sense of community particularly in the working class.
One of the main reasons for the young and middle class being attracted to NRMs is the
secularisation of religion. Traditional religions have seen a decline over time, with more and
more people turning to Atheism or simply abandoning traditional religions because their
lifestyles and the world around them are more suited to the new movements that are
providing better services and answers. Heelas and Woodhead theorised that the
congregational domain (traditional religion) is declining due to the high demands, while the
holistic milieu experienced growth due to their better services, particularly in Cumbria. This
could also be due to the structural differentiation of industrial societies, which according to
Parsons has led to religion being disengaged from the state. Secular states see religion as
more of a privatised part of society. Postmodernists have also argued that people now see
their beliefs as more personal, and therefore attempt to align their faith with their life,
particularly their career. As such, Heelas (1996) suggests that world affirming NRMs and
New Age movements appeal more to the university educated and affluent middle class
groups, who rely on the services of some movements to help deal with stress and encourage
financial success in their careers.
Despite this, some sociologists such as Mirza would be critical of this, as research into the
religiosity of young Muslims in Britain found that the second and third generation are
increasingly more faithful. They connect more with their Muslim identity in a society that is
constantly affected by British foreign policies, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only
does this reinforce their sense of identity due to the anti-Islamic nature of the policies, but
as there is very little alternative in sources of identity, the tradition Islamic identity is the
one that they feel they belong to. However, the case of Young Muslims is simply an
exception, and in most cases in todays society, the majority of young middle class people
look to NRMs. Bruce (Religion in Modern Britain, 1995) argues that the working class such
as unmarried mothers raising children on welfare will not have time for NRMs as they are

Denis Zukic
Miss Dabrowski

more concerned with feeding their children, unlike middle class women who may not have
children due to a career driven lifestyle and would therefore be able to join movements.
However, some may criticise Bruce for ignoring the case of the marginalised working class
who join World Rejecting movements because they feel a sense of inclusion and social
integration that they did not feel as part of society.
Another reason young people may turn to NRMs is because they are less religious. With
postmodern society being so diverse, mainstream religion seems more old fashioned and
the services boring and unattractive. Young people see the controversies caused by
traditional religions such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality as alien to their
values, and so they feel out of sync with the mainstream faiths, but due to the privatisation
of belief, young people see their faith more personal, as Davie phrased believing without
belonging. They may therefore turn to the NRMs who are more World Accommodating,
such as the Society of Friends (Quakers) who accept life choices such as homosexuality.
Despite this, Modood et al (1997) offers interesting counter-evidence: Having questioned
two generations of Asians, African Caribbeans and Whites regarding the importance of
religion to them, 67% of his age 16-34 sample of Pakistani and Bangladeshi deemed religion
to be important in their lives. This could show that despite the changing attitudes of young
people to religion, in terms of ethnicity this is not always the case. Regardless of this, the
majority of young people still have a changing view of religion and society. The writer
Jonathan Franzen argues that in todays society, fame is replacing religion, and that less
people are concerned with going to heaven, and more are concerned with being successful
and famous, explaining this as part of the ache of humanity today. This also shows the
abandoning of the Marxist view of theodicy of disprivilege, in that people will not suffer for
the sake of a better afterlife. This can lead to young people defining their own sense of
sacred; Lynch suggests that young people regard non-religious aspects of their life such as
football, celebrities or their love of the environment as sacred. Moreover, the increasing
influence of the media means that - as Baudrillard argues NRMs attract younger people
that can pick and choose based on information that is easily accessible online and
elsewhere, which generally young people find easier to access anyway.
Another reason why NRMs are more associated with the middle class is due to the fact that
in the past, the middle class showed the most voluntary commitment to religious practice.
Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that churchgoing is more associated with higher social
class individuals such as professionals. Their geographical mobility means that they can fit
into a new community should they move to work because they share a mutual faith in
religion. However, many NRMs do not fit into this trend. The Black Muslims in America are a
sect that is predominantly made up of working class members, because they are
antagonistic to the White Bourgeoisie and because middle class Black Americans have made
the most of the economic system and would not be as critical and therefore less likely to be
members. This could lead many individuals to join NRMs because of their relative
deprivation; they feel like they are lacking something in their lives in comparison to others in

Denis Zukic
Miss Dabrowski

their society, and may join movements that will help them to deal with this jealousy by
making them more focused workers so that they may get promotions and earn more too.
Moreover, NRMs would attract working class as according to Glock and Stark (1965) many
sects emerge as a form of religious social protest. The working class may feel that they have
been let down by their government or state, and join a sect that will protest for change, as
many Black Americans did in the 1960s when the Nation of Islam protested against the
white society. Considering this, it is not always correct to assume that the middle class are
more likely to join NRMs. However, young people are still more common members. Wallis
explained that during the change of the 60s and 70s many young middle class people were
let down by the failure of the hippie movements and resorted to NRMs.
In conclusion, the view that New Religious Movements are mainly for the middle class and
the young is partly correct. The middle class do reap the benefits of the range of services
provided by the NRMs, while young people have felt a sense of anomie towards the
traditional religions and their inability to compromise with controversial issues of modern
society, such as homosexuality and contraception. However, working class people do in
many cases turn to NRMs due to marginalisation, relative deprivation, and simply a decline
in the metanarratives causing a greater attraction towards the spiritual marketplace of
movements. People no longer see religion as being part of society, but are dropping in and
out of movements that give them personal satisfaction. This is not always the middle class
and not always the young, but can also be older people frustrated with their dead end jobs
or working class people looking to improve their career prospects.