A new religious movement or NRM appears as a religious, ethical or spiritual grouping that has not (yet) become recognised as a standard denomination, church, or body, especially when it has a novel belief system and when it is not a sect.
Some scholars prefer this neutral term to the pejorative term of "cult", but anti-cult activists still continue to use it. Debates among academics on acceptablity of the word "cult" in scholarly research papers continue.
Eileen Barker, who is influential in this field, uses the adjective new in this context when the movement started after World War II and new for a certain culture. For example, ISKCON/ the Hare Krishnas is generally considered an NRM in the west because it is new to western culture and because it is a separate organization. In India it is unlikely that it will be considered an NRM because the Gaudiya Vaishnavism sect of Hinduism that formed the basis for ISKCON's organization has existed since the 16th century.
NRMs are very diverse both in its beliefs, practices, the way they are organized, and the degree of acceptance by society. Except for Japan, only a small or very small part of the population is or has been involved in an NRM.
Examples of new religious movements might include:
- Neo-Paganism, in which followers seek to revert back to the pre-Christian earth and nature worship of Western Europe.
- Eclectic combinatory movements, such as Celestialism and Theosophy, which posit concordant elements to all religions.
- New-World African hybrid religions, such as Rastafarianism, Voodoo or Vodun, and Santerķa, which combine African naturalistic religions with Judeo-Christian traditions.
- Subud, which has no specific religious beliefs, many members of which actively practice various traditional religions or no religion at all.
- Unification Church
NRMs and their critics
Advocates who regard certain fringe religious organizations, new religious movements or (controversially) "cults" as spurious and condemn their methods, also call them "hate groups". For example, the prominent counter cult activist Anton Hein considers Scientology a hate group because that religious movement has, in his opinion, a long, documented history of hate and harassment activities, which—along with lying and deception—are condoned and encouraged in Scientology's own 'scriptures.' (See, for example, Scientology's Fair Game  policy.)
In turn, a number of new religious movements have used the term "hate group" to label certain former members of these groups. Disaffected former members of these organizations have worked to expose what they believe is the "truth" about the groups in question, though the methods used by some of these former members have been known to be polemic, hostile and verbally abusive. Alleged cults and new religions have seized upon the hostile acts of their former members and cited them as examples of persecution and bigotry by these former members. Supporters of these groups have waged campaigns of their own to label former members as hate groups, even to the point where they publish literature and Web sites dedicated to attacking these disaffected persons.
CESNUR’s president Massimo Introvigne, writes in his article "So many evil things: Anti-cult terrorism via the Internet", that fringe and extreme anti-cult activism resort to tactics that may create a background favorable to extreme manifestations of discrimination and hate against individuals that belong to new religious movements. Critics of CESNUR, however, call Introvigne a cult apologist who defends harmful religious groups and cults. Somewhat in concurrence with Introvigne, professor Eileen Barker asserts in an interview that the controvery surrounding certain new religious movements can turn violent by a process called deviancy amplification spiral. 
Elan Vital, an NRM and an organization that supports the work of Prem Rawat, accuse its vocal critics that call themselves "Ex-Premies", to harbor the hatred and ill-will typical of a hate group, such as hate speech and harrasment. The ex-premies reject these accusations asserting that the evidence for these allegations is uncorroborated, and assert that they are performing a public service by providing information not disclosed by Elan Vital. See Criticism of Prem Rawat.
In a paper by Anson Shupe and Susan Darnell presented at the 2000 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, they affirm that although the International Cultic Studies Association ( ICSA, formerly known as AFF or American Family Foundation) has presented "slanted, stereotypical images and language that has inflamed persons to perform extreme actions", the extent to which the ICSA and other anti-cultist organizations are hate groups as defined by law or racial/ethnic criteria in sociology, is open for debate. See also Verbal violence in hate groups.
The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities, associated with the Adidam NRM, sees the use of terms "cult" and "cult leader" to suggest that these are to be detested, avoided at all costs and see this as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them in the same manner as "nigger" and "commie" were used in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.
Sometimes a non-existent religion or spiritual practice described in a work of fiction attracts converts, who then re-create it in reality.
One example is the Church of All Worlds, inspired by the science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Also warranting reference is the Jedi census movement, in which participants recorded their religion as "Jedi" on the national censuses of a few English-speaking countries. While there is little to no evidence that the movement constituted a bona fide new religious movement, it did serve to raise new questions about religion and fiction, especially in light of rumors that high numbers of registered Jedi would cause "Jedi" to be listed as an official religion.
Critics sometimes question whether claiming belief in a given Fiction-based NRM indicates sincerely-held faith or occurs for baser motives, such as attention seeking, or to claim a religious exemption for otherwise-illegal drug use.
- Barker, Eileen New religious movements: a practical introduction London, Her Majesty's Stationary Office. (1989)
- Kranenborg, Reender (Dutch language) Een nieuw licht op de kerk?: Bijdragen van nieuwe religieuze bewegingen voor de kerk van vandaag/A new perspective on the church: Contributions by NRMs for today's church Published by het Boekencentrum, (a Christian publishing house), the Hague, (1984). ISBN 90-239-0809-0