This article argues that the field of new religions studies is driven in large part by a paradigm based in the assumption that new religious movements are comparable because they are social problems. It outlines a social problems paradigm drawing upon the work of Joel Best, illustrates how the paradigm is taught in textbooks on new religious movements, shows its value through the recent work of Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer, and offers a criticism of the paradigm through Benjamin E. Zeller’s study of Heaven’s Gate. The question of what makes each movement and its study significant is raised and challenged. The article concludes with reasons for moving new religions scholarship beyond the social problems paradigm in favor of a paradigm of social possibilities.

This content is only available via PDF.