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The United States has provided fertile soil for thousands of new religions, in large part because the constitutional separation of church and state led to a vigorous religious voluntarism that allowed for any religious expression imaginable. Most new religions have roots in older traditions but are new by virtue of unorthodox practices or beliefs, the charisma of a prophet who receives new revelations, or the tension in which they coexist with the dominant society. In the United States, four primary types of new religions predominate: communitarian, millenarian, Asian inspired, and Western esotericist. Some of these categories are overlapping, while a few groups may fall outside this typology. Overall, however, most new religions in the United States fall comfortably within these four categories.

Pejoratively called “cults” by ...

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