Through the example of the Japanese new religious movements (NRMs), this essay argues that studies of NRMs must move beyond their current Western-oriented framework if they are to have any validity in a global context. It argues that neither the perspective of Eileen Barker, in focusing on chronological newness, nor of J. Gordon Melton, in centering on outsider status, alone suffices to provide a framing definition of NRMs in Japan. One needs to combine the concept of newness (which should not be limited to mere first-generation notions) with the idea of being alternative. There is much value in extending a definition of NRMs to movements several generations old, for this enables the development of more nuanced understandings of NRM processes. The Japanese example indicates that one can identify a number of shared characteristics that enable discussion of a coherent category of movements known as NRMs. Such shared characteristics are more important than any links NRMs might have to older traditions with which they identify. NRMs are associated not only with newness, but also can be seen as possessing enduring themes shared by movements a century or more old and those of very recent origin.

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