Penn's Coronavirus COVID-19 Update
2020 SAS summer courses will take place remotely. For undergraduates, please check Penn InTouch for updated summer course information. For graduate and professional students, please consult your schools and programs. Summer study abroad remains cancelled.

The College of Liberal and Professional Studies staff is working remotely to comply with University protocols as we navigate the COVID-19 virus. Penn is committed to maintaining a safe campus and workplace for faculty, students, staff, and visitors. While we are not onsite, we are still available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. by phone and online in case you need support: (215) 898-7326 or

Visit, the University's dedicated coronavirus COVID-19 web page, for the latest updates.

Gurus, Prophets, and Aliens: Understanding New Religious Movements

You are here

Course Number: 
RELS 030 910
Course Description: 

This course offers a thematic introduction to the history of New Religious Movements (NRM) from the mid-19th century to the present day. Often labled as "cults" by the state and established religious institutions, new religions offer modern believers alternative spiritual and ideological solutions to age- old problems. In this class, students will be introduced to the teachings and practices of prominent NRMs in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, from wide-spread movements such as Scientology, Mormonism, and the Unification Church to lesser known groups such as the Church of the Almighty God, Neo- Paganism, and Raelism. We will explore the emergence of the anti-cult campaign in the second half of the 20th century, the relationship between apocalyptic sects such as the Peoples Temple and the Branch Davidians and political and social protest, and the role of Asian religions such as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation in the development of New Age religiosity. In addition, we will learn how new religious movements such as Wicca and the Children of God helped reshape gender roles and changed mainstream views about sexuality, and how developments in mass media and popular culture contributed to the creation of new groups such as the Star Wars inspired Temple of the Jedi Order (Jediism), the Church of the Latter-Day

Dude (Dudeism), as well as UFO religions such as Heaven's Gate. Throughout the semester, students will be exposed to a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, from academic articles and scholarly essays to documentaries, feature films, and TV shows. No previous knowledge in Religious Studies is required.

Programs for every

type of student


Study online,

all summer long


Summer is the best season

to be a Penn student


Penn Summer

3440 Market Street, Suite 100
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3335

(215) 898-7326

Facebook  Twitter  Instagram