Magic and the Millennium: A Sociological Study of Religious Movements of Protest among Tribal and Third-World Peoples

By Bryan R. Wilson | Go to book overview

2
The Cultural Contexts of Religious Deviance

Western 'sects' and 'third-world movements'

ALL minority religious movements manifest, with whatever degree of ambivalence, a general response to the world, and suggest the means by which men save themselves from evil. In passing, we have already noted that there are certain profound differences between the sects of the western world and many of the religious movements that arise in other cultures in which similar responses are manifested. Where the term 'sects' is employed in this discourse, its use is not technical but is in general continuity with popular usage, even though that usage is sometimes extremely loose, covering at different times various phenomena, from such tightly-organized movements as Jehovah's Witnesses and the inchoate expression of religious unrest represented by Congolese Ngunzism. All too often, however, the use of the word 'sects' for movements in other cultures suggests all the characteristics of the sects in western Christendom. But in fact, in such cases most of these particular characteristics are absent. The extension of the term to the many and varied phenomena of religious protest suggests that the common element which is recognized, is the response of protest against the way in which things are in the world, and the demand for salvation from it.

In the west, a sect is generally a movement with a distinctive organizational structure: its boundaries are usually evident both to its own members and to outsiders. It shares the exclusivism of Christianity at large--the assumption that religious belief should be so articulated and defined that there can be no doubt about the doctrines to which an individual is committed, the authorities that he obeys, the rituals in which he participates, and the body to which he belongs, to the exclusion of all others. Plural allegiance is inconceivable in the Christian sect of western countries. Where dual allegiance occurs, 'sect' is not the term we employ. Thus Moral Re-Armament and British-Israelism are movements which, whilst maintaining distinct ideological positions with their own procedures, proselytizing agencies, and financial organizations, none the less have members who retain other affiliations.

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