Since its relatively humble origins in Agra in the mid-19th century, Radhasoami has emerged as a significant "transnational religion" [1] with millions of adherents. Juergensmeyer and Lane estimate that presently worldwide there are two to four million followers of Radhasoami, which includes members from the Beas Satsang, Sawan-Kirpal Mission, Dayal Bagh, Soami Bagh, and other minor branches. Although the largest concentration of Radhasoamis are found in the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, there are roughly estimated fifty thousand initiated followers of Radhasoami in the United States alone, with a much larger number of interested seekers. [2] What is perhaps even more remarkable are the numerous groups in North America which have broken off from orthodox Radhasoami, but which have nevertheless retained many of its ideas. Groups such as Eckankar, for instance, now number their followings in the tens of thousands and continue to show steady growth around the world.

While Radhasoami has become a major transnational religion and a dynamic force in the development of new religions in North America, very little work has been done in detailing this. Outside of Juergensmeyer's groundbreaking study, Radhasoami Reality, Lane's The Radhasoami Tradition, and the in-house Beas publication, Dawn of Light, there is virtually no information about how Radhasoami gathered thousands to its various branches, how it has been transplanted into American soil, and how it has impacted the spiritual marketplace here. In this study the main objective is to provide this information, specially focussing on how Radhasoami has played an instrumental role in the development of new American religious movements. In fact, it can be argued that no other new Indian religion has had a greater impact on transforming the emergence of new religions in the United States in the past fifty years. The following is a chapter breakdown of this work:

In Chapter One I will outline how Radhasoami emerged as a major religion. I also will delineate the various branches in India and elsewhere which have a direct and acknowledged relation to Radhasoami's early days.

In Chapter Two I will document the history of Radhasoami in America from the early part of this century. My hope is that such a historical outline will help frame and contextualize how Radhasoami has directly impacted on the development of otherwise indigenous American groups, e.g., Eckankar and M.S.I.A.

In Chapter Three I will show how Radhasoami influenced Kirpal Singh's Ruhani Satsang [3], and how, in turn, Ruhani Satsang directly impacted on the teachings of one of the most successful new religions of the 1960s, Eckankar. What is perhaps most interesting about this transnational genealogical connection is that Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar, attempted to disconnect his life and work from his long association with Kirpal Singh and Ruhani Satsang. In so doing, Twitchell endeavored to establish Eckankar as something non-Indian, despite the fact that most of his terminology and writings stemmed primarily from Radhasoami theology (although, as we shall see, he did make some obvious alterations). By concentrating on this recent cultural transfusion it helps shed light on how religions evolve from other religions, while both integrating their ancestor's influences, and, to greater or lesser degrees, denying them.

In Chapter Four I will investigate two American guru movements, Dr. Bhagat Thind's Sikh Study Group and John-Roger Hinkins' M.S.I.A, both of which have developed quite unique versions of shabd yoga. While these groups have genealogical connections with Radhasoami and share some similar theology with it, they have also taken certain pregnant Radhasoami ideas and modified them in their own distinct ways. Such religions are of particular interest to historians and sociologists of religion because they clearly demonstrate how theological concepts can be divorced from their cultural and social moorings and thereby be transformed by new groups in a new social setting. By looking closely at this phenomenon we may then begin to get a deeper understanding of how certain religious ideas evolve over the course of time and geography.

In Chapter Five I will concentrate on three smaller guru movements (which I call "virtual" groups [4]). These groups are important not only because they contribute to the plurality of religion in America but also because they give us an opportunity to look firsthand at groups at very early stages in their growth. Of course, I am not absolutely certain that these organizations will not evolve over time to become well known entities, but at this stage at least they are relatively small and unknown. However, what is common to each of these "virtual" groups, Jerry Mulvin's The Divine Science of Light and Sound, Gary Olsen's MasterPath, and Michael Turner's The Sonic Spectrum, is that they were once connected to Eckankar but have now distanced themselves. What is perhaps most intriguing, though, is that in disconnecting with Eckankar these organizations have to greater or lesser degrees attempted to reconcile their teachings with Radhasoami theology (although developing their own unique version of it), illustrating once again the fluidity of religious ideas.

As a phenomenologist [5], I have been careful not to describe these new religious movements in America as "deviant aberrations" of an orthodox Indian group. Rather, I agree with Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge [6] that religion has been quite dynamic throughout history, with groups actively influencing each other. Indeed, religions can evolve from other religions, as they integrate core concepts and transform others to fit more properly into their new social milieu. It is this very process that interests me.

For my research, I have employed two primary methods: field research (including observation and interviews) and socio-historical/textual analysis. Besides visiting the major Radhasoami centers in North India and interviewing members and two Radhasoami leaders, Charan Singh and Darshan Singh, both of whom have since passed away, I have also visited several Radhasoami and shabd yoga related centers in California. In analyzing the data collected from field research and written sources, my primary interest has been to ground religion in material culture, utilizing the methods of sociology of religion, sociology of knowledge and sociology of culture, though being sensitive not to simply reduce it down to materialistic underpinnings. [7]

Overall, I have only touched upon some of the major (and more obvious) examples of Radhasoami's impact on new religions in North America. As such, it may serve as a framework for future studies that can further elaborate upon the relationship between Radhasoami and North American religions.