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

12
Intimations of Introversionist Responses

THE mutation of revolutionist aspirations into thaumaturgical preoccupations may, in many respects, be regarded as the reassertion of traditional religious concerns. The demand for therapy, for a dispensation from the normal laws of physical causation, is ubiquitous among mankind. Among less-developed peoples thaumaturgical demand is the primary and persisting religious orientation. Revolutionism, dramatic as it often is, is infrequent, episodic, and ephemeral. Revolutionist religion does not, in lapsing, always revert to thaumaturgical preoccupations, however. Millennialism has sometimes acted as a catalyst for a permanent restructuring of values as it has been superseded by another religious response--the introversionist. In western Christendom, and also in the context of Russian Orthodoxy, the introversionist response has characterized the most persistent sectarian movements. It represents a relatively stable institutionalization of sectarianism. It might, at times, be regarded as an over- institutionalization, a rigidification, not only of religious practices, beliefs, and procedures, but also of the entire pattern of life of a new community. What is rigidified is not, in fact, the actual pattern of the past, although it may be represented as such (or as a perfected pattern of social order). It is always a reconstruction, but in acquiring special sanctity, such a reconstructed way of life may be perpetuated, and even fossilized, as a total social system.

What was sanctified and fossilized, in such cases, was the way of life of a particular stratum of the population--whether they were peasants, like the Amish, or small businessmen, tradesmen, minor professionals, and clerks, like the Exclusive Brethren.1 Sometimes, of course, an essentially new pattern of life was evolved out of older elements and once established, sanctified and given permanency.2 In the case of less-

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1
On the Amish, see J. A. Hostetler, op. cit.; on the Exclusive Brethren, see B. R. Wilson, "'The Exclusive Brethren: A Case Study in the Evolution of a Sectarian Ideology'" in B. R. Wilson (Ed.) , Patterns of Sectarianism ( Heinemann, London 1967), pp. 287-342.
2
This was virtually the case with the Rappites and the Amana Society (the Society of the Truly Inspired). On the Rappites, see K. G. Arndt, op. cit.; on the Amana Society, see Bertha M. H. Schambaugh, Amana That Was and Amana That Is ( The State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City 1932).

-384-

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