Assess the view that cults, sects and New Age movements are fringe organisations that are inevitably short-lived and of little influence in contemporary society. (33 marks)
There are in fact a range of debates about the nature of cults, sects and New Age movements. Some sociologists suggest that they are fringe organisations in the sense that they appeal to only a minority of the population, however Heelas found a large increase in New Age activity in his Kendal research. Other sociologists, such as Niebuhr, argue that sects, cults and New Age movements are short-lived, either becoming denominations or dying out altogether. Some post-modernist sociologists propose that the growth of new religious movements shows the increasing influence they have in society today.
Many sociologists state that sects, cults and New Age movements only appeal to a minority of the population. For example, people on the margins of society who are poor are often attracted to sects as they offer them a sense of belonging. Others who may be undergoing a personal crisis such as the death of a loved one, may find that belonging to a sect or cult may help them to overcome this crisis. However, when they feel they have been helped to get over the crisis, they often leave the sect as there is no further reason to belong to it. This seems to suggest that these organisations only appeal to a small section of the population perhaps seeking short term help, so they will remain fringe organisations. However, other organisations such as the Scientology movement are still around today, and with a well recognised and idolised member such as Tom Cruise, this influence on society will perhaps remain high.
Heelas rejects the claim that these organisations are fringe organisations, particularly New Age movements. His research in Kendal suggests that participation in New Age activities is widespread among the population there, which suggests that New Age movements are not fringe organisations....
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