This book on new religions is not a survey book of the many emerging traditions out there. For that one should turn to J. Gordon Melton's several encyclopedias of religions in which he exhaustively catalogs religions, both new and old. In fact, rarely in this study will specific religions be discussed. Rather, this book approaches new religions from a more theoretical perspective. My main concern here is the overall dynamic of new religions: how they come about, what accounts for their success or failure, whether there are recognizable patterns behind their emergence, etc.
Understanding new religions today is particularly valuable since it can give us an insight into how many of the world's older religions also began. Although we can not literally go back 2500 years ago to witness Buddha, 2000 years ago to observe Jesus or 1300 years ago to analyze Muhammad, by investigating new religions we can garner a glimpse into what was going on in their beginning. While their histories are of course specific to the times, the general structures may not be. Moreover, not only may the study of new religions help unravel the mystery behind more ancient ones, but in comparing the two perhaps we may be given a clue as to which new religions will be likewise successful.
But this study has an even greater, more personal, interest for me. I myself was for many years a participant in a new religion. What I found attractive about it and, more recently, what led me in a different direction away from it will be revealed in the following chapter. After opening this book with a personal account, my emphasis will then turn again academic, focussing in Chapter Two on what specifically a new religion is. In Chapter Three I could not resist drawing from the brilliant philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, to understand why new religions arise after cultural collapses. After our Nietzschian contextualizing, the question in Chapter Four becomes how do new religions prosper? To answer this I will utilize Susan Blackmore's latest theory on memes in which she explains how ideas are passed down in culture and which ones succeed. And, finally, in the last chapter I will intertwine Ken Wilber's Spectrum Psychology with a Nietzschian and Blackmorian twist.