The introduction to this special issue on religious leadership in new religions discusses questions arising from existing published theoretical and empirical research into religious leadership. Theoretical contributions are made in articles by five authors, James T. Richardson, David G. Bromley, Liselotte Frisk, Susan J. Palmer, and Milda Ališauskienė. The articles by Frisk, Palmer, and Ališauskienė discuss original empirical data disclosing features of women’s religious leadership in new religions and the influence of social context and power relations to it. This special issue of Nova Religio on “Religious Leadership in New Religions: Theoretical and Empirical Trajectories” is dedicated to our colleague, Swedish scholar of new religions, Liselotte Frisk (11 March 1959–29 October 2020).
The sectarian paradigm places newly formed religious groups not sanctioned by the state into a category of sectarian ( jiaopai ). In imperial times such groups were treated as heterodox and banned officially. They nevertheless traditionally survived well in the margins of society, in provincial centers, or allied with newlyascendant social groups. This paper discusses Falun Gong in light of this paradigm. Falun Gong is compared with two other religious groups that to some extent also reflect the sectarian paradigm, Three in One and Yiguandao. The paper first introduces each group's history, then focuses on ideology as contained in doctrinal statements and writings. The sectarian model is found to be inadequate in analyzing newly arisen popular religions and trends in contemporary China. There are no apparent genetic links between many such groups, and ideas do not consistently overlap. The paper proposes an alternative model of new syncretic movements. This model looks beyond the adversarial stances implied by the sectarian rubric.