Tell Us: Have You Been Part of a New Religious Movement?

Paul Spella / The Atlantic
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Jon Emont reported from Indonesia this week on one prophet’s stymied attempts to kickstart a new religion called Millah Abraham. The story is interesting not only for the specific challenges it details—the prophet is imprisoned and his followers face government persecution—but also as a test case for a much broader question: What does it take to successfully create, sustain, and grow a religion?

As Emont notes, our world today is dominated by Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam—the same four faiths that dominated the globe a millennium ago. New religions crop up all the time, but the followings they gain are vanishingly small compared to the followings of the “big four.” Why is that?

Is it because we find it harder to believe in miracles if we’re told they happened 20 years ago as opposed to 2,000 years ago—because, as one expert put it, “the mist of time lends its authenticity”? Or is it because in 2017 fewer governments see it as their job to push a particular religion, resulting in a lack of state sponsorship? Or maybe it’s because people in the market for a religious belief system now have access to a huge array of options, and such a glut makes it harder for any one religion to distinguish itself from its competitors?

One thing’s certain, as Emont writes: “Any new religion, to be successful, would have to present millions of believers with an offer they couldn’t refuse.”

We want to know what that offer looks like for you.

Have you participated in a new religious movement or group? What about it was most powerful for you? What did it allow you to experience that doesn’t get enough credit or attention among more established religious groups?

Let us know in this form. And in case you’re wondering what counts as “new”: Experts are divided on that, but we’re interested in hearing about experiences with movements that have sprung up in the past 100 years. Whether you’re part of a group that’s strikingly distinct from existing religions (like readers of The Urantia Book) or a group that remixes an existing religion in fresh ways (like the Neo Hasids who attend Chulent parties in New York), we want to hear about your alternative religious communities—particularly if they’re ones we may never have encountered before.