Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement

By Andrew Holden | Go to book overview

2

The Jehovah's Witnesses in the modern world

Before we can begin to establish the Witnesses' status at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we need to know something about their organisation's evolution and doctrines. These details help us to understand the culture in which the Witnesses operate and allow us to consider the various compatibilities and incompatibilities between the Watch Tower Society and the outside world. Moreover, the hierarchical structure of the movement enables devotees to resist those forces that might threaten their status as bona fide members of a system they call 'the truth'. In short, an enquiry into what the Witnesses believe, how they came to believe it and how they are able to reaffirm these beliefs internally aids our understanding of their relationship with modernity.


History, doctrines and internal structure

From origin to present day

The history of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society spans 130 years and is rich in controversy. From the moment of its foundation by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) to the present day, reactions towards the movement include fascination, compassion, anger and hatred. Although the available literature indicates that their world-renouncing theology and adherence to millenarianism have been the sources of great strain in terms of their liaison with secular bodies (particularly the legal system), the Witnesses have managed to gain converts and expand on an international scale.

Surprisingly, there is very little information about Russell's background. Rogerson's sociological research reveals that Russell was educated in state schools and then by private tutors (Rogerson 1969). Russell inherited Presbyterian beliefs from parents of Scottish-Irish descent, but his mother died when he was only nine years of age. In 1867, at the age of fifteen, he entered into partnership with his father, who ran a chain of men's clothing stores in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Russell was an astute businessman. Before he was thirty years of age, he had expanded his father's clothing store, which he sold for $250,000-the equivalent of more than a million dollars today.

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - The End is Nigh 1
  • 2 - The Jehovah's Witnesses in the Modern World 17
  • 3 - Finding a Home 42
  • 4 - Rational Means to Rational Ends 58
  • 5 - Returning to Eden 82
  • 6 - Inside, Outside 103
  • 7 - Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother 125
  • 8 - The Fear of Freedom 150
  • 9 - Conclusion 171
  • Notes 176
  • Glossary 185
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 202
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