Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

19 On Founders and Followers Some Factors in the Development of New Religious Movements 1

Benton Johnson

The developmental course of new religious movements is influenced by the founder's personality and by a series of changing conditions that inevitably accompany growth. The way in which the founder and staff respond to these conditions helps determine whether religious movements achieve stability or undergo the dramatic and unpredicted changes of course and fortune that characterize such movements as Rajneeshism, the Children of God, Christ Commune, and the People's Temple. --Author's Abstract

THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT SOME OF THE FACTORS affecting the way new religious movements develop during the period when their founders can influence the shape these movements assume.

My focus will be on the actions of the founders and their chief disciples. I will concentrate on two sets of factors bearing on the developmental course of new religious movements. The first is a psychological factor, and the second is purely sociological. I make no claim that these two factors are "the key" to explaining how new religions develop. I claim only that they are important enough to be singled out for systematic study because they help determine whether new religions achieve stability, and they are usually of critical importance in understanding the dramatic and unpredicted turns of events that characterize some new movements.

The first factor I will consider is the personal characteristics of the founder and the other leading actors in establishing and implementing the policies of a new movement. I refer to the general psychological make-up of the principal players,

____________________
Sociological Analysis 53S ( 1992): S1-S13.

-367-

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