Religious Movements in Contemporary America

Religious Movements in Contemporary America

Irving I. Zaretsky
Mark P. Leone
Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 873
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    Religious Movements in Contemporary America
    Book Description:

    Contemporary religious movements in America vary greatly in their organization, goals, methods, and membership. Reflecting the striking diversity of the current religious movement, the papers in this volume consider three categories of religious movements: native American churches, recently founded religious groups, and syncretistic groups based on imported cults. The general aim is to understand the varieties of human behavior within these institutions and to point out their relationship to society in the United States.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6884-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
    (pp. x-xvi)
    Irving I. Zaretsky and Mark P. Leone
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Common Foundation of Religious Diversity
    (pp. xvii-xxxvi)

    Renewed anthropological interest in the varieties of religious experience has begun to include the churches founded outside the mainstream institutional churches. Current field research in the area of religion comes at a time when some of the most vigorous churches in America are the unorthodox groups tracing their origins in this country to the early and middle nineteenth century. Jehovah’s Witnesses; New Thought churches; Mormonism; Pentecostalism, both Protestant and Catholic; Spiritualism; Scientology; Satanism; Spiritism; Occult groups devoted to witchcraft or psychic experiences; imported cults such as Santeria, Meher Baba, and Hare Krishna; movements devoted to revival preaching and Gospel meetings;...

      (pp. 3-8)

      Church and State is too restrictive a label, in its traditional legal inquiry into conflicts over religious practices, for the material we wish to cover. The term is borrowed from legal scholarship to help identify a body of literature that deals with at least some of the issues we wish to raise. By church and state we do not mean two unitary structures easily identifiable in jurisdiction. Rather, we view “church” as a diffuse notion used to cover highly structured and loosely structured religious groups, or organizations that operate with a corporate charter from a religious organization. We also refer...

    • The Legitimation of Marginal Religions in the United States
      (pp. 9-26)

      In one sense the title of this paper is fraudulent. There is in the United States neither legitimation nor marginal religions, at least in the constitutional or legal sense. From time to time one reads in the press that a new sect or denomination has been permitted to open a church in some country such as Spain or Greece or Israel after acceptance of its registry by the Minister of Religion. In this country no governmental permission is needed to open a church; we have no ministry of religion, and there is neither the need nor the means for official...

    • “The Law Knows No Heresy”: Marginal Religious Movements and the Courts
      (pp. 27-50)

      This paper is concerned primarily with the dimensions of legally recognized religious freedom as experienced by marginal religious groups. It focuses on judicial response to unorthodox claims advanced in the name of free exercise of religion. We shall first trace the historic steps leading to the present-day interpretation of the religion clause of the First Amendment, with particular attention to the landmark decisions involving representatives of marginal movements. Following a survey of the contemporary scene, we conclude by examining some major theoretical questions raised by the conflict of freedom and order in the realm of religion.

      Marginal religious groups have...

      (pp. 53-59)

      This section deals with spoken language in various ritual and church contexts. The religious groups discussed are Spiritualist churches, Afro-American churches on the east and west coasts, Afro-Cuban Santeria cults in Puerto Rico and New York, independently organized prayer groups in Massachusetts, and independent revivalist churches in Kentucky, California, and Oklahoma., Many of these marginal churches in America have developed an indigenous and unique oral tradition in the form of chanted sermons, gospel and soul music, glossolalia, prayers, and specialized religious argots. These verbal forms are codes which are used by members of these groups to communicate about their social...

    • Uncovering Ritual Structures in Afro-American Music
      (pp. 60-134)

      In this study I am presenting a theory of ritual behavior among cer tain groups in the New World. I am attempting to answer the following questions: What social information do, or can, these rituals contain? What form must these rituals assume in order to communicate such information? What are the signals by which we recognize ritual form in communication events in these particular cultural contexts? In attempting to answer these questions, I deal principally with three sources of data: Brazilian Carnival; Afro-Cuban santeria; and the sermons and gospel music of North American blacks.

      I am paying particular attention to...

    • The Psychology of the Spiritual Sermon
      (pp. 135-149)

      Had it not been for the controversy concerning the alleged oral creation of epic narratives such as theOdysseyandBeowulf,I would never have sought similar compositional modes in the spontaneous and oral sermons of the rural South and Southwest. The pioneer field work in oral composition, conducted by Milman Parry and Albert B. Lord in the mid-1930s, concerned the talent of the individual singer: specifically, how he is able to perform while composing a heroic song several hundred or even several thousand lines in length. Parry thought that the basic unit of composition was the formula: “A group...

    • Ritualization: A Study in Texture and Texture Change
      (pp. 150-165)

      In the following paper, I will attempt to use a linguistically derived model to characterize those religious phenomena calledritualsin terms oftexturalrather thanstructuraldifferences from other types of interaction. After presenting an emic theory of structure derived from Kenneth Pike, I will derive a heuristic unit of texture, thepraxon,from a description of the emerging rituals of a charismatic (tonguesspeaking) prayer group. The praxonic analysis of texture is explicitly formulated to apply to the development of rituals (or the process of ritualization) through textural changes to be described asfusion.

      In the study of religious...

    • In the Beginning Was the Word: The Relationship of Language to Social Organization in Spiritualist Churches
      (pp. 166-220)

      On Tuesday evening, after a long and crowded church service, Reverend Kelly of the Metaphysical Temple of Spiritual Life, went about her chores closing the church for the night and started speaking about the service that had just ended: “You see, like tonight I had them packed in, I read for thirty-five people . . . did you see those kids trying to test me with those mathematical questions, I tell them Spirit’s got more important things to do. And those women over there, sitting in the back, I think they’re from [Reverend] Watkins’ place . . . and who...

      (pp. 223-227)

      In the previous section we pointed out that altered states of consciousness provide a context for certain linguistic forms. In this section three papers deal specifically with the phenomenon of altered states of consciousness and relate it to processes of social change.

      Bourguignon, who has directed an extensive cross-cultural study on altered states of consciousness, points out that certain features which appear to deviate from the practices of mainline American denominations appear in significant numbers of marginal religious movements. One of these is altered states of consciousness such as trance, dissociation, and visionary experiences. Allied to these are beliefs in...

    • Cross-Cultural Perspectives on the Religious Uses of Altered States of Consciousness
      (pp. 228-243)

      It is the aim of this paper to consider, in a comparative and crosscultural perspective, certain aspects shared by many of the contemporary American “marginal” religious groups and movements, but which appear to be virtually absent from the “mainline” religious institutions of modern Western society. That is, the “marginals” tend to foster religious experience of a particular intensity, a subjective verification of their religious truths through ecstatic states, which we might most generally term “altered states of consciousness.”¹ Such altered states are frequently interpreted by them as possession by spirits (The Holy Ghost, demons, spirits of the dead, etc.). I...

    • Prognosis: A New Religion?
      (pp. 244-254)

      In societies under stress there is a tendency for new cults to arise. La Barre (1970, 1971) terms them crisis cults, and characterizes them as arising in the environment of acculturation, as a response to culture shock. Wallace (1956) designates them as revitalization movements and views them as conscious attempts at affecting culture change in a society. Usually, although perhaps not always, these cults incorporate a supernatural premise.¹ The questions to be examined in the following discussion are: (1) What traits would have to be present in a societal phenomenon—to put it into the most general possible terms—in...

    • Cocoon Work: An Interpretation of the Concern of Contemporary Youth with the Mystical
      (pp. 255-272)

      The most striking element in the American metaphysical movement today is the preoccupation of middle-class youth with mystical experience. Mysticism is strongly linked with the use of psychedelic drugs on the one hand, and with a variety of contemplative religious traditions on the other. And, as have mystics in other times and places, today’s psychedelic youth is antimaterialistic and caught up in experiments with communal styles of living. In this paper I will discuss the development of this movement and attempt to interpret it as a self-imposedrite de passage.To choose a different image, it is a metamorphic struggle,...

      (pp. 275-282)

      In this section a variety of religious movements are examined from the perspective of culture and personality. The authors are interested in the psychological dimensions of participation in these groups and the psycho-social implications of such groups for the larger society. The specific movements discussed are: some meditation groups on the West Coast, healing cults, Pentecostals on the East and West Coasts, Satanists, Spiritists, Spiritualists, and several fundamentalist churches. They are here grouped together not to claim or demonstrate that they are ethnographically alike. Rather, the grouping serves to point out empirically the different approaches each movement takes to essentially...

    • Ritual, Release, and Orientation: Maintenance of the Self in the Antinomian Personality
      (pp. 283-297)

      Now again, as in recurrent times of crisis and change, the shakers and quakers renew the world—out of Babylon, by way of Bethlehem, on the way once again to the new Jerusalem. Man has a limited repertoire of characteristic responses to recurring needs. Although the metaphors used to formulate the experience may change, the behavior is similar. I am interested not so much in evaluating any specific religious or quasi-religious movement, as in making a theoretical and historical examination of the lawful relationship I think I find between such movements and their stressful social contexts. I hope to demonstrate...

    • Sectarianism and Psychosocial Adjustment: A Controlled Comparison of Puerto Rican Pentecostals and Catholics
      (pp. 298-329)

      In the light of cross-cultural research on ideological movements and new data from major church and sect members drawn from the Puerto Rican population of a low-income neighborhood in New York City, it is possible to reevaluate and integrate some of the conflicting and often untested hypotheses on the psychosocial characteristics and adjustment of members of sectarian religious groups.¹

      There have been many studies of sectarian groups, among which Pentecostals are usually considered.² These studies have, in general, taken one of two approaches reaching related conclusions. The first approach is based on qualitative analysis of the belief system and behavior...

    • Spiritualists and Shamans as Psychotherapists: An Account of Original Anthropological Sin
      (pp. 330-337)

      Past anthropological accounts of spiritualists and shamans have focused predominantly on the relation of culture and personality, specifically on whether these individuals are “sick.” Little serious consideration has been given to them as true psychotherapists playing the same role as psychiatrists play.

      This paper begins with this assumption and discusses some of the evidence for its validity. It will be shown that psychiatrists have much to learn from spiritualists and shamans about psychotherapy. If they are to learn, however, anthropologists will have to focus on spiritualists and shamans in ways other than they traditionally have. Specific suggestions are given regarding...

    • A Medium for Mental Health
      (pp. 338-354)

      For many years, psychics have aided persons from most if not all segments of American society: serving millionnaires and paupers, urbanites and farmers, WASPS and minority group members. Their teaching and counseling efforts with many types of followers have been described (Steiner 1945; Williams 1946; Ford and Bro 1958; Montgomery 1965; Stearn 1967; Gauld 1968; Pike 1968; Steiger 1968).

      However, scant attention has been given to their work with one interesting and important group of people—psychotherapists. Such persons might be expected to be competitors and enemies, rather than clients. Little is known about how mediums proselytize, teach, and advise...

    • Magical Therapy: An Anthropological Investigation of Contemporary Satanism
      (pp. 355-382)

      The crashing music stops and in the sudden silence the air seems to throb and pulse. Then a candle flickers into life, and then another, and another. In their flickering light dark and shadowy figures can be seen, their shadows dancing grotesquely on the wall of the ritual chamber. From above, the Goat God gazes down upon the motionless tableau. Then a black-robed figure steps forward to the stone altar beneath the Baphomet and, as the gong is struck, lifts the gleaming sword high above the naked and motionless body of the young girl stretched supine upon the altar before...

    • Belief, Ritual, and Healing: New England Spiritualism and Mexican-American Spiritism Compared
      (pp. 383-417)

      Health and illness have always been significant concerns of religious systems, the shaman emerging as the first professional in human history. This paper is an examination of healing in two metaphysical religious movements, Spiritualism (North American and English) and Spiritism (Continental and Latin American).

      Theologian Paul Tillich tells us that the word “salvation” originally meant healing,¹ including medical healing and psychotherapy, but adds that the final salvation must heal the “split between the temporal order in which we live and the eternal to which we belong” (Siirala 1964: vi).

      In this paper, I shall argue that ritual “dramas of salvation”...

    • Ideological Support for the Marginal Middle Class: Faith Healing and Glossolalia
      (pp. 418-456)

      This paper focuses on the ideological belief system of contemporary American fundamentalistic religion, as practiced by predominantly white middle-class Americans. Although adherents to fundamentalism are part of the mainstream of the American middle class, their religious belief systems are at considerable variance with dominant middle-class values. This paper will illustrate how the disparity between fundamentalistic values and dominant middle-class values produces major social and psychological dissonance in the lives of fundamentalists. Therefore, it is necessary, it will be argued, to buttress the dissonant fundamentalistic beliefs with certain religious rituals—glossolalia and faith healing—that provide ideological support, reaffirming the social...

      (pp. 459-462)

      Meher Baha and Hare Krishina are cults derived from India and introduced into the United States. To the casual passerby, the chanting youths in saffron robes and shaved heads seem to be unique in his experience of American religious traditions. It takes little thought, however, to connect them to the intense interest in the many yogis and masters of Eastern philosophies stemming from Japan to India that is now current in America.

      To regard American interest in Eastern religions in any sense as new or as some passing fancy is to ignore our long-term fascination with them. Americans have studied...

    • The Hare Krishna Movement
      (pp. 463-478)

      The Hare Krishna movement,¹ more formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a Hindu religious sect imported into the United States in its same form from India. Its unusual social composition here has been made strikingly evident by the appearance of its devotees on the streets of the major cities of the United States. Therefore, this paper will seek first to examine briefly the principal beliefs, devotional practices, and style of living which has often transformed totally the lives of its followers; and secondly, to attempt to delineate some of the dynamics of the religion in the...

    • The Meher Baba Movement: Its Affect on Post-Adolescent Social Alienation
      (pp. 479-512)

      The Meher Baba movement recruits many young people who have been involved in psychedelic drug use and have been participants in expressive “hippie” or “drop-out” milieux. In the following paper we will argue that the Baba movement performs basic expressive and communal functions which are increasingly marginal in bureaucratized “adult” instrumental milieux. Moreover, we will argue, these functions were formerly inadequately performed for our subjects by drugoriented “psychedelic” milieux. The following paragraphs summarize the basic argument and present an overview of the paper.¹

      Eisenstadt and other sociologists have suggested that the increasing differentiation and specialization of the family have produced...

      (pp. 515-518)

      One of the characteristics of the newer, modern religions is their rejection of centralized bureaucratic structures. Stillson Judah (1967) noticed the trend to autonomous, lay-organized groups that stress maximum contact with and responsiveness to individual believers. Robert Bellah has discussed a set of stages for religious evolution which places “modern” religion as the most recent type of religious phenomena seen in complex societies. “Modern” religion is thought of by both these scholars as a highly individualized approach to the relationship between man and the supernatural. And this approach is generally assumed to preclude highly organized ecclesiastical church structures and all-pervasive...

    • Latter-Day Sense and Substance
      (pp. 519-546)

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints presents the analyst with a set of anthropological paradoxes. The Church is literalistic yet encourages creedal independence; it is authoritarian yet values individualism; and it is organizationally stable yet adapts to the vicissitudes of social reality.

      Recent observers of contemporary Western religion have noted the modulation of conventional forms of worship and the decline of traditional sacred authority. Thomas Luckmann has depicted presentday religion as a “new social form of religion” (Luckmann 1967: 104), a “private” phenomenon, not mediated by primary social institutions. Luckmann’s “invisible religion” shares certain important characteristics with Robert...

    • Reasonably Fantastic: Some Perspectives on Scientology, Science Fiction, and Occultism
      (pp. 547-588)

      In the following essay, I have attempted to put into historical and cultural context a particular set of beliefs and practices that has arisen within contemporary society. These are the beliefs and practices of the Church of Scientology which came into being in the early 1950s.¹ While belonging, in a broad sense, to the growing collection of religious movements in this country that either stand totally outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition or constitute markedly unorthodox derivatives of the same, Scientology shares a kinship with certain of these “outsiders” that it does not share with others. Furthermore, many of its principles...

      (pp. 591-595)

      The authors in this section agree that traditional ways of classifying marginal religions are inadequate. They either hide more data than they reveal or answer problems that are no longer generally considered very important. John Wilson points out that historians of religion are only now becoming more aware of how social scientists treat religions of a non-mainline variety. Alan Eister agrees that the usual variables offered to explain marginal religions are often derivative rather than causal and suggests we look to disorganization in what he calls our orienting institutions for a possible explanation for the proliferation of religious groups. Marcello...

    • The Historical Study of Marginal American Religious Movements
      (pp. 596-611)

      Marginal religious movements are so prominent in our own time that it should be unnecessary to demonstrate to the present generation their significance in the American past. In fact, myriad religious sects, cults, and movements have populated American society throughout its history. To be sure, specific groups have developed and declined; probably the relative number of them, and the proportion of the population identified with them, however, have remained virtually constant for the better part of three centuries. In what follows it will simply be assumed that there is no need to establish the reality of these phenomena in the...

    • Culture Crises and New Religious Movements: A Paradigmatic Statement of a Theory of Cults
      (pp. 612-627)

      Until very recently at least, the popularity of new religious movements of various kinds seems to have outrun the development of social scientific theories adequate to account for them (Glock and Stark 1965: 58, n. 49). This is evident, for example, in sociology where structural characteristics of new movements identifiable as cults have been only incompletely worked out—or where explanations to account for their rise and success have tended to rely heavily on rather limited ranges of variables.¹ The purpose of this paper,² however, is not to attempt to develop the fullest possible statement of a theory of cults...

    • Towards a Sociology of the Occult: Notes on Modern Witchcraft
      (pp. 628-645)

      The occult, which includes all matters mysterious and inexplicable, has always been deeply intertwined with things magical.¹ However, occultism is broadly multidimensional and does not necessarily include magical elements nor need its concerns center about the supernatural. Basically, the sociology of the occult must be considered as a subdivision of the sociology of knowledge where it has important implications for its companion subfields, the sociologies of religion and science. Though most writers who have considered the sociology of the occult have concentrated upon its relations with the sociology of religion, many occultisms have no dealings with things defined as supernatural....

    • The Deprivation and Disorganization Theories of Social Movements
      (pp. 646-662)

      Most analyses of social, political, or religious movements are pre occupied with two questions: (1) why do social movements arise? and (2) why do people join them? The first question generally leads to the system-analysis approach. For the anthropologist who studies movements largely in situations involving culture contact and domination of a tribal society, movements are seen as results of rapid cultural change, social disorganization, dislocation of values, etc. For the sociologist who studies movements in complex societies, preconditions are seen in terms of deprivation arising from imperfections in the social matrix and tensions caused by inevitable inequalities within a...

      (pp. 665-668)

      Almost all analyses of religious innovation center on the change from the state of a society or an individual before the new religious phenomenon to the conditions brought about after the change. They are before and after sequences and they usually paint only a sketchy, half-remembered, and semi-mythologized picture of what the antecedents to change were. Not only are most such studies basically functional in outline but they fail, as a result, to capture the internal dynamic in a new religion. They fail to see that unlike many religious innovations in the past some new religious movements do not experience...

    • Pentecostalism: Revolution or Counter-Revolution?
      (pp. 669-699)

      A lot of people have told me they don’t find that their minister or priest is expressing their viewpoint in many sermons. . . . Maybe the (religious) leaders ought to realize that their total function is not only to enlighten their congregations but to live with their parishioners and serve them and be aware of the values that are inherent in the community they enter—instead of entering that community convinced of the need to instill a new set of values before they’ve even found out about the ones that exist.”

      Spiro Agnew said this in an interview with...

    • “Publish” or Perish: Negro Jehovah’s Witness Adaptation in the Ghetto
      (pp. 700-721)

      Every week in the United States over three hundred thousand followers of the New World Society of the Witnesses of Jehovah give three to six hours of their leisure time to systematic house-to-house visitation or “publishing” as it is known among Witnesses.¹ Supported in these persistent weekly contacts with non-Witnesses by their religious doctrine and particular life styles, Jehovah’s Witnesses boast one of the steadiest growth rates among Protestant sect movements in recent decades. This growth has been particularly notable among certain segments of Negro population in metropolitan ghettos, the urban areas where opposing Black nationalist movements have also developed....

    • The Economic Basis for the Evolution of Mormon Religion
      (pp. 722-766)

      This paper is a case study of specific evolution (Sahlins and Service i960: 12–44). It is an examination of the changes one culture has undergone over the course of a century. It is not overtly comparative and as such does not aim at an explicit contribution to general evolution. I am interested in the adaptive modification of Mormon culture in a part of the Great Basin. Such an examination has as its explicit aim the elucidation of the means one culture used to meet the threats induced by a changing environment, both natural and superorganic. Such a treatment does...

  13. CONCLUSION: Perspectives for Future Research
    (pp. 767-770)

    The explicit assumption in the structure of this volume is that studies of contemporary religious groups need to take a more comprehensive view of the material, a kind of holistic approach, and attempt to understand religious innovation from more than one point of view. Indeed, we are going to have to address both the theoretical issues confronting our respective disciplines and, probably to a greater extent than in the past, issues in national life. One of the problems we face in this field is that many of the generalizations currently available about the development and spread of religious groups are...

    (pp. 771-814)
    (pp. 815-822)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 823-837)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 838-838)