Encyclopedia of New Religions: New Religious Movements, Sects and Alternative Spiritualities.

Christopher Partridge ed Lion, Oxford 2004, 446pp. 

Review by Dr Augustine Pagolu

This Encyclopedia is an excellent survey of the growth of new religious movements in today’s world, especially in the West. It’s a mine of information on religions you never heard of, and you may not even know that some of them come from your own backyard. Nevertheless all of them are being practiced by real people around us and this makes it very interesting, not just for academics but especially for the non‑specialists who are often at a loss to know where these new religions come from or how they are looked at by others. For instance, I have seen ‘Falun Gong’ being promoted as a new spirituality in many cities of the UK and we know of it only through the handouts given by the promoters, but their contents are very different from its actual origin and developments in China which are graphically described in this volume.


Similarly, you get an excellent overview of a host of new religions and spiritualities having their roots in Middle Eastern, South Asian and Far Eastern religions. Many of them are a mixture of older religions, such as Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Daoist, Radhasoami, Shintoist, Jainist, Sikh and Zoroastrian, whose leaders have established their communities in major Western cities after the Second World War. But a few of them sound completely new, such as the Nation of Islam, the Meher Baba Movement, Yiguandao and the Church of the Scientology. The last of these is so unique that it challenges the very definition of religion (you may be interested to know that Tom Cruise is an ardent follower of Scientology), and others seem to continually disturb the boundaries of established religions. A few others, such as Thee Church ov MOO, Jasmuheen, and the Breatharians even challenge the imagination of the most knowledgeable students of religion. Besides these, here is an overview of Western Esoteric and the New Age traditions that have their roots in Christianity since the sixteenth century and had beenrevived in the seventeenth century through Rosicrucianism, which gave birth to Freemasonry, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (ceremonial magic traditions), Spiritualism, Theosophy, Wicca and, most recently, the New Age.


While this is a reliable reference tool on new religions, it is written from the perspective of the West. The book assumes that the 20th century has witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of new religions since the time of Constantine. This is because of the media like radio, television, and the increased travelling which made literacy and information about other religions and cultures easy, and for various reasons many people, and sometimes whole communities relocated to the West and established their own faith communities and gradually have become a force to reckon with. So the West today is no longer a stronghold for Christianity, which, on the other hand, has drastically declined and majority of the people shunned the Church and are looking out for alternative spiritualities that focus on no external authority like God, the Bible and the Church, but ‘on the self’ and mystical experiences which are not necessarily related to any particular religious tradition. They would pick and mix from a variety of spiritualities including ‘the teachings of Jesus, Daoist ideas or even the spiritual significance of dolphins or UFOs, or take hallucinogenic drugs, and follow a course of meditation, but, whatever they do, they will follow a personally tailored path that focuses on “the self”...’ They not only ‘choose their religion but choose the level at which they wish to practise, from a dedicated fulltime religious existence to occasional attendance at a religious service’ (pp. 17, 12).


Each entry is handled by an expert in their field. Assuming that all new religious movements and spiritualities stem from one or the other older religions, the material is arranged under nine different religious traditions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Indian Religions, the Religions of East Asia, Indigenous and Pagan Traditions, Western Esoteric and New Age Traditions, and Modern Western Cultures, not withstanding the claims of some that their origin stems from more than one, or none. Each section begins with an overview of the parent movement, and then the new developments are described in a chronological order. The number of featured articles describing key themes surrounding new religions and illustrating their particular beliefs and practices in attractive pictures adds colour and contemporariness to this book, which would remain a reference tool for those concerned with any or no religion.


Chapel Notes


Chapel on 6 December, 2006

The chapel speaker on 6th Dec, Dr Augustine Pagolu, spoke on the theme of Advent: The coming of the Messiah. Taking the story of Joseph and Mary from Matt. 1: 18-25 he focused on what could have been Christmas like for Joseph when he first heard that Mary was pregnant? Apart from the fact that his plans for marriage and starting a home were shattered, he would have agonized for days before he came to a decision of secretly divorcing Mary. Joseph wanted to divorce Mary because he was a ‘righteous man’ which means that he followed the Torah and kept himself pure. But God was defining to Joseph the meaning of ‘being righteous’ in a new way, which is to accept Mary, accept the ‘Christ-Child’ and accept blame. For Joseph it meant to give up his right to divorce, his reputation as being righteous, and social standing, and may be loss of his business and friends. And eversince many have given up jobs, possessions, fame, and even their lives for the joy of bringing Messiah to the world that needed him. 

Chapel speaker on 20th Dec will be Dr Toh See Kiat.

News Bits

1.      Condolences. BGST council, faculty and staff extend their heartfelt condolences to Daisy Sim on the demise of her grandmother.

2.   Away from Office.

      Oriana Sun

      (Dec 7, 2006 - Jan 9, 2007),

      Dr Augustine Pagolu

      (Dec 21-22, 26-29),

      Dr Ng Peh Cheng

      (Dec 21-22, 27-29),

      Dr Quek Swee Hwa

      (Dec 26, 2006 - Jan 2, 2007).

3.   BGST Christmas Potluck Lunch on Dec 20.  If you are joining us for lunch next Wednesday, do call Kok Wee at 6227-6815 so that he can coordinate dish items contributed.



(Interim Semester, Term 1, 2007)

¨       *New Testament Textual Criticism (BG253, 1.5 credits), starting Jan 6, 2-3.30pm, at Bishan campus. Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

¨       The Gospel of Isaiah (Isa 40-55) (OT363, 1.5 credits), starting Jan 5, 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.

¨       New Testament Foundations I (NT101, 3 credits), starting Feb  5 (new date), 7.30 - 9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

¨       *Biblical Hebrew  Exegesis I (BH 211, 3 credits),  starting Jan 8, 7.30 - 9.30pm. Dr Augustine Pagolu.

¨       *The Counsellor as a Person: Self-Awareness & Maturity in Christ (CO101, 3 credits), starting Jan 10, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Mr Yam Keng Mun.

¨       Old Testament Foundations I (OT101, 3 credits), starting Jan 11, 7.30pm - 9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

¨       The Books of Kings: An Anatomy of Religious Decline in Israel & Judah ( OT365, 1.5 credits), starting Jan 16, 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

¨       Children’s Spirituality & Ministry Formation (CE355, 3 credits), starting Jan 16, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

¨       *Better Speech for Leadership & Ministry (AT231, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 16, 7.30-10pm. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

¨       *Masters of the Pulpit (AT241, 1.5 credits), starting Feb 21, 7.30-10pm. Lecturer: Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

¨       Contextual Hermeneutics: Reading the Bible in  the Asian Context (HE210, 1.5 credits), starting Mar 16, 7.30-9.30pm. Lecturer: Dr Augustine Pagolu.

¨        *Modern Hebrew (BH215, 1.5 credits) by Mrs Tsipi (Israel), Dates will be announced.


¨       Prof Paul Stevens; "Spirituality & Work: Journey Inward-Journey Outward" (MM254, 3 credits); Dates: Jan 25, 29, 31, Feb 2, 7, 7.15-10.15pm. Jan 27, Feb 3, 10, Sat 2.30-9.30pm.

¨       Prof James Houston; "The Psalms through the History of the Church" (OT214, 3 credits); Dates: Apr 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 7.15-10.15pm.

*Courses marked with an asterisk are not offered on audit basis. Visit our website for the course description


A Blessed Birthday to…


Mr Teo Chee Khiang  18/12

Ms Elaine Ng  18/12

Mr Chua Mun Kiong  19/12

Mrs Alice Tan  19/12

Mrs Penny Teo  20/12

Mdm Loh Mei Ling  22/12

Mr Joshua Sng  22/12

Ms Lim Sio Leng  23/12

Mr Teo Kian Lip  23/12

Ms Adelene Ho  23/12

Mr Beh Soo Yeong  24/12

Dr Chan Shaw Yan  24/12

Mr Jack Lim  24/12

Mrs Lily Gay  24/12


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