Religions change, grow, and sometimes emerge in response to immigration, social problems, controversies within existing religions, or through individuals having unique experiences. A new religion may start as a variant of established religion that grows into an independent form. It may be syncretic—a blend of different existing religions. Finally, a new religion may surface independent of and distinct from established religions. New religions are often viewed with suspicion. While some new movements may pose a danger to society, most do not. Indeed, many of the major established religions began under similar circumstances and were small, sometimes persecuted, movements.
Sharing features with indigenous religions are Contemporary Paganism and Yoruba-tradition religions. Contemporary Pagan movements attempt to return to earlier, nature-based religions that predate Christianity. The movement of Wicca focuses on the feminine aspect of the divine, the prominent role of women as leaders, and seasonal ritual ceremonies. The Druid movement seeks to reclaim the religion of the ancient Celts and focuses on the male aspect of the divine. The religions of Santería, Voodoo, and Candomblé arose among slaves brought to the New World. These syncretic religions blend West African Yoruba traditions and Roman Catholicism. Practitioners believe in a single High God, supernatural beings who mediate between God and humans, and spirits of the dead that can affect the living.
Theosophy and Scientology draw on the traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Theosophists speak of multiple spiritual levels and psychic abilities that can be developed through training and meditation. Theosophy and its offshoots helped popularize in the West elements such as reincarnation, karma, and yoga. Scientology was founded in the 1950s by author L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology seeks to correct the process of knowing and interacting with the world to free the soul in progressive stages. This religion acknowledges past lives and has developed its own unique terminology describing the practices that overcome difficulties and blockages in life.
Much persecuted in present-day China, Falun Gong is a new religion whose roots lie in Daoism and Chinese Buddhism. Followers practice Qigong exercises composed of movement meditations, with the goals of gaining health, strength, virtues, and paranormal powers. Another strongly Chinese religion is Cao Dai, which blends elements of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Chinese belief in spirits, and Christian monotheism.
The Rastafarian movement arose in Jamaica in the 1930s and is strongly influenced by Christianity. Themes of social justice and freedom from oppression run strong in this religion that found a messianic figure in the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, believed to be a new appearance of Jesus.
Baha'i is a monotheistic religion with roots in Shiite Islam claiming the most advanced revelations from God. Teachings seek ways of harmonizing different religions with each other and with science. Baha'is advocate complete equality between men and women, an end to poverty and racial prejudice, and education for all.
New religious movements offer adherents a unique identity and sense of purpose in the context of small-group intimacy. Women play a key role in many of the new movements. The mystical element often is stressed as followers seek experiences beyond the normal and mundane. Many paths also offer clear programs for self-development.