The Draw of New Religious Movements

Why are so many people converting to non-traditional religions?

The religious world is diversifying. Previously, communities tended to be fairly religiously homogeneous. The United States, for example, was almost entirely Christian or non-religious, with a few minority religions existing in their own local communities.

Today, however, a single community can easily include a variety of different religions. Some of them are older, more traditional religions, often brought to the United States via immigration (such as Shinto or Zoroastrianism, not to mention more mainstream religions like Judaism and Islam).

Read more: Diversity in Modern Religion
However, many people are now converting to other religions, and these religions are often part of a group known as new religious movements: religions that have only come into being in the last century or two. Outsiders often view these religions, which include Wicca and other Neopagan movements, Satanism, Scientology, and Eckankar, with increased suspicion and skepticism because they do not necessarily fit established concepts of "religion."
Read more: Why People are Suspicious of New Religious Movements

Addressing Modern Life

One of the big benefits of new religious movements is that their core principles more directly relate to modern culture because these movements emerged from modern culture.

Older religions sometimes struggle with this issue. While you can certainly apply older ideas to the modern world, it often involves more interpretation. The scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example, very directly address issues and concerns of people from 2500, 2000 and 1400 years ago respectively, but those concerns aren't necessarily the concerns of modern people.

Multiculturalism

One of the major cultural changes of recent decades is the concept of multiculturalism. As communication systems (TV, Internet, etc) allow more information to be transmitted faster, we are much more aware of cultures others than our own, and many new religious movements reflect this wider scope of information.

Eastern religious and philosophical thoughts have been particularly influential.

While certainly not every new religious movement draws upon them, many have, reflecting concepts such as karma, reincarnation, yin and yang, chakras, meditation, and many more.

Self Discovery

Many new religious movements have a strong component of self-exploration and self-understanding, rather than focusing upon scriptures and other outside sources of authority and religious truth. Some of these religions do not have regular group services because it is contrary to the nature of the religion: followers should be seeking truth themselves in their own ways.

Syncretism

Many new religious movements have a strong syncretic component to them. While there are a few core beliefs that unite the believers, the details of individual understanding might vary considerably between people. This allows people to draw in from various different sources of inspiration.

Again, improvement in communication and education has a lot to do with this. In previous decades, the average person's knowledge and experience with multiple cultures, religions, philosophies and ideologies was fairly limited. Today we live in a sea of information from which many find inspiration.

Disappointment and Exploration Some people turn, at least temporarily, to new religious movements precisely because they stand in stark contrast to traditional religions.

Previously, if someone was unhappy in the religion of their upbringing, they either felt they just had to deal with it, or they would quit. Today there are more options. But often what turned them off to their own religion is also present in other mainstream religions, but not in whatever new religious movement draws them in.

Some of these people find a new love of religion. Others, however, eventually move on to yet other religions, or become non-religious (or even return to their old faith). It depends whether they find real meaning in their new faith, or if the attraction was mainly one of rebellion.