There is thus an increasing influence of religion on contemporary life. People are turning to a variety of religions for answers to ultimate questions of existence or to seek help during the period of crises. In all major religions—Christian, Islam and Hinduism—a number of new sects and movements are emerging over the last few decades all over the world. Many of these are based on the personal religious experience of some man or woman (such as Brahmakumari, Gayatri); they are not rational, bureaucratic organizations. Such newly formed organizations also found in Christianity and Islam.
Why have these groups and movements arisen? A number of factors may be responsible for this. According to an early sociologist of religion, Emile Durkheim, as societies become more complex and diversified, so do the forms of religious beliefs and practices. Hans Mol (1976) suggested that the new religious consciousness is a sacred for identity and meaning.
There are people who regard these movements as a reaction against the capitalistic and militaristic values that are emphasized by the contemporary modern society. Some scholars contend that the new religions have arisen in response to the environment of moral ambiguity.
The decline of the established organizations such as Ram Krishna Mission or the Theosophical Society may also be responsible for this new phenomenon. In all probability, each of these factors along with some others may have an effect.
Almost in all the three world’s major religions, the trend of resurgence and revivalism is going on. Many fundamentalist groups have recently appeared in a new garb. These groups share a conservative, ‘back-to-basics’ approach to religion and stress strict interpretation of holy books (Bible, Koran, etc.).
This religious revival is called ‘resurgent fundamentalism’—a term given by theologian Martin Marty. Revivalist groups place great emphasis on the adherence of the basic principles of religion enshrined in the holy texts and ask the believers to spread the faith among non-believers.
Many such people not only hold the revivalist spirit but also infuse it in others through faith healing and many other persuasive techniques. At times, they resort to aggressive activities to spread their doctrine among others. This resurgence of fundamentalism has led to intense debate about secularization. We can agree to this view that liberalism in religion is increasing day by day but there are many other marks that reflect that human commitment to supernaturalism will remain.
There are people who claim that they have no affiliation with any sect or religious organization, yet they accept whole range of supernaturalism—from astronomy to Zen. The findings of some studies carried out in the West and America reveal that a sizeable part of population has no commitment, although they are concerned with some religious belief.
The rebellious spirit towards established major religious may be said to be a source for the development of new religious consciousness among many youth. Renewed efforts are being made to restore the sacred in the lives of human beings which is being eroded by the process of secularization. For that reason, though in forms possibly strange and never before experienced, moves back to the centre of human experience.
Since the 1960s, in the Western world, a renewed interest has emerged among American and British youth. The forms the new religious interest has taken are diverse and follow no single pattern. Hare Krishna and Zen Buddhism are examples of such new religious movements.
Through these movements, people try to seek a radically new approach to spiritual meaning. In India, we can easily witness the increase of new religious consciousness during Navratra and Ganpati festivals when Goddess Durga and Lord Ganpati, respectively, are worshipped through community dances till late nights.