A degree of incoherence has marked discourse about "new religions." This is partly related to the tendency to equate "new religions" with "alternative religions," as if they were identical phenomena. Intrinsic conceptions of "new religious movements" emphasize internal properties such as first generation membership. Extrinsic, relational conceptions shift the focus to the group's lack of alignment with dominant sociocultural patterns. But some "misaligned" groups may not be chronologically "new," while some "new" groups may actually be well aligned. Lack of alignment should be treated as the hallmark of "alternative religions," which may or may not be (intrinsically defined) "new religions." However, in the relatively tolerant United States, persisting religions tend to become aligned quickly, such that it is mainly organizationally new religions which lack alignment.

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