Archive and Database

Significance of Collection

Our archive provides an exceptional record of the diversity of new and minority religious groups in twentieth-century Britain. The archive is a unique source in its historical records of the transformations of religious groups, as well as the responses and reactions of the state and other actors to these novel forms of religiosity.

Its existence allows for the potential of longitudinal research on new and minority religiosity, looking thematically at how and why specific groups have grown, transformed, and/or disappeared over time. Furthermore, Inform’s collection also clearly documents the unique British responses (by the government, media, organisations and private citizens) to religions which are seen as challenging social norms and the status quo consensus in areas relating to both ideological beliefs and practices.

Public Accessibility and Research Strengths

The variety and diversity of the collection is unparalleled. It has been specifically designed to capture religious diversity, which encompasses many minority religious traditions which found new forms in Britain with post-war immigration. This is the only collection in Britain which attempts to capture the range and scope of religious phenomena in all its variety.

Inform’s archive has acted as a unique and detailed resource for academics, researchers, government bodies, and families since Inform was founded in 1988. To the right are some examples of specific items within our archive collection.

We are currently fundraising to have our archives properly catalogued and made more directly accessible to the public.

In the meantime, Inform staff can assist enquirers in finding material relevant to their research. We welcome all who are interested in visiting our archives to get in touch.

We always adhering to strict confidentiality and GDPR guidelines with our archival material. See our Database and Archive Confidentiality Policy for more information.


Our database is perhaps the largest source of information on contemporary minority religions in the UK, with more than 5,000 different groups on file. However it is important to understand the database as always incomplete and provisional.

Inform’s database is inclusive – any movement or group that broadly considers questions relating to meaning and purpose in life can be included. This breadth is important to understand the diversity and range of new and minority religious activity and to avoid unfounded generalisations about minority groups. Because of the diversity of social characteristics, beliefs and practices involved in very distinct new and minority religions, it is important to get up-to-date and accurate information on any specific group of interest. Therefore the database is is constant need of updating.

We are currently fundraising to update the database infrastructure to enable more direct access to the public.

Our database provides a further level of information that can accompany collections within our archive. To the left are some up-to-date figures about the movements we currently have on file.

Inform’s archive documents the historical development, changes, and reactions to new and minority religious movements in Britain from 1945-2018. There are also records relating to Inform’s founding, governance and management of commissioned projects. Our archive has helped a diverse number of individuals who all seek information on minority religions. Some of the most common groups of people include:

We have a wide variety of material in our archive that cover a range of topics, including:

  • Loose material (consisting of newspaper clippings, leaflets, print-outs of
    early websites and confidential correspondence and enquiries).

  • Audio cassettes, VHS recordings, CDs and DVDs. 

  • Primary source printed literature that has been largely self-published by religious groups and are not publicly available in other archives. These are subject to revisionism by the groups themselves. 

Our material covers a diverse range of minority religious movements in Britain that can be categorised as having various religious and spiritual affiliations. Some examples include movements that possess ‘new age’, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, non-religious, and esoteric traditions. We have extensive files on certain movements, such as:

  • The Unification Church

  • The Family

  • Paganism/ Satanism

  • Scientology

What is a Minority Religious Movement?

No attempt is made to define too precisely the term ‘minority religious movement’.

It is used merely to provide a common-sense starting point to cover the wide span of organisations that have been referred to as non-conventional or alternative religions, cults, sects, or new religious movements (NRMs), and some of those spiritual, esoteric, communitarian and ideological groups, movements or organisations that have been perceived as exhibiting some so-called ‘cultic’ or ‘sectarian’ characteristics – as well as new movements within established religions and older movements that, whilst established in other parts of the world, are relatively new to Western Europe.

How do we Assess Information?

Inform assesses the wide range of often conflicting information it receives using the methodology of the social sciences, in which all its research staff have been trained.

Social science is concerned with statements that are empirically testable, rather than with moral evaluation or theological arguments, and it tries not to use value-laden concepts to praise or condemn. Thus, rather than saying ‘this is a bad cult’, Inform will say ‘Children in group X are beaten if they misbehave’; ‘Ex-members of group Y have reported that the guru uses his position to get young female members to have sexual relations with him’; or ‘The members of group Z are expected to hand over all their property to the community’.  The social scientist tries, furthermore, not only to be accurate in reporting facts, but also to put these in a comparative context so that visibility is not confused with frequency or typicality. If, for example, a cult has three suicides in a year, the media are likely to present this as a cult-related happening and publish the story with an eye-catching heading, such as Cult victim kills himself – what is it about the cult that makes people commit suicide?. One does not, however, see a headline stating that an Anglican has killed himself. The social scientist would want to investigate the suicide rate among Anglicans of the same age and social background. If it turns out that the rate is twice that in the cult, then the question might become what is it about the cult that stops people committing suicide? This is not to deny individual tragedies, but to suggest that it could be something other than just ‘cult membership’ which is responsible for the tragedy – and that it is even possible that membership of a cult might prevent some people from taking their own lives.

More information

If you have questions relating to the archive, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us via email