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SEVERAL !'T" ~W\ Fo;Of THE MEANINGS OF "CULT" 19 I !, ~~: twx1~ s fJrp, ~~ I~ ~~~ >. 0Vfl1/JS Avu-?'&t'{p.., I as in speaking of "the cult of iliiris" or "the cult of the Sacred.. Heart." Second, the same use can be extended to seculaI.-Ol>jects,as in "tlIe cult of Nae2!eon." Third, the same ~eanin9, can ~~ extende~ furth~r ~~ imply an excessive or unbala,!!ed dev~n or q~e for any.thmg, as 10 the c!:!lLaf disco dancing" or "the cult: of.1;ucc~s." t ~n relative to religio~ouPs, the word can mean (1) any set of people bound together by devotis.m to a particular sacred..person, o.b$ct, or id~gy, and (2) any religion considered false, unorthodox, or spurious. Not seldom one of these two religious group meanings is linked up with one of the word's broader meanings, to suggest that a religion regarded as spurious .is als? both faddish and fanat~cal; or, if ~ ~ore P?sitive. connotation IS desired, that what some consider a cult IS simply lI}dulgmg a preference for a certain cultus or worship no less legitimate than any other. Turning to more extensive wri~wg by stud~ts and socWlggists of reli~n on the sort of groups commonly designated cults, we find the same bi(un;ation. Some have proposed a neutral meaning for the term focused around certain sociological and psychological characteristics. Others attach to the t~rm features they obviously expect the reader to regard negatively. We are unaware of any attempt to give the word "cult" positive significance in connection with modern religious movements, unless it be the first edition of the present book, Religious and spiritual Groups in Modern America, which described the groups under consideration as cults in a sociological sense, yet displayed, we believe, a degree of empathy with their spiritual quest that went beyond mere academic open-mindedness. I (We would today look more critically at a few of the grou ps in this book, and. as will be seen, now find it difficult to use the word "cult" in any scholarly sense.) On the neutral sociological side, J. Milton Yinger, in Religion, Society, and the Individual, describes the cult as a withdrawal group wlIose traits include small size, a search for "mystical experience," lack of strong organizational structure, charismatic leadership, a sharp break in religious (not social) terms with society, and concern almost wholly with the problems of individuals rather than the social order. It is, he says, a "religious mutant."2 In this book, written before the spiritual explosion of the 1960s and the style of "cults" which devolved from it, it is clear that the author has largely in mind groups of the spiritualist, theosophical, or "New Thought" type. He unquestionably gives an accurate picture of some such entities, for there has been no lack of fairly ephemeral Spiritualist churches centered around a particular medium, or "metaphysical" societies dependent upon a single illuminator. They drew people, often of middle or upper class, who did not care to break with society as a whole, but whose inward sickness of soul led them to unconventional doctrines and a thirst for mystical experience. In Yinger's categorization the cult contrasts with the other form of withdrawal group, the sect, which represents an intense, separatist version of the dominant religiOilin the society. In America, predQIIUnantly ~ristian, examples would be the A~ or Jehovah's Witnesses. It is typically strict, legalistic in morals, close-knit, antagonIstic to society, and &eeking indivi~ection. In the same vein, Werner Stark, in The Sociology of Religion, goes so far as to see in the cult "the answer to some individual woe" ~ f3:l1wT""t f Jl~~ -P~il1 _po fR.UI1.h U kAPJ 1'18~ TOE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" A PROBLEMATIC TERM :: A The common use of the word "cult" for new religious movements within our own society has entailed certain problems of under~nding. This is, first, because the term is capable of several different definitions, and, second, because (like comparable racist labels) it automatically evokes prepackaged stereotypes and emotional reactions, both usually negative. (No one calls his or her own religious group a cult; this is inevitably a name given a group by an outsider.) Our purpose in this discussion will be to attempt to sort out these meanings and, in the process, endeavor to advance authentic comprehension of the movements behind the word. First let us look at the dictionary. All standard lexicons agree that the word has several different meanings which, though centering around the original significance of cultus, worship, its Latin source, have varying emotional and value-laden overtones that could lead to trouble if misapplied. First, it simply means worship in a more or less neutral sense, generally with reference to the worship of a particular object within a larger system, Chapter I, "The Several Meanings of 'Cult,''' originally appeared as an article of that title by Robert S. Ellwoodin Thought,Vol. LXI, No. 241 (June 1986),pp. 212-24. It is here reproduced, with minor editorial changes, by kind permission of Thought,a publication of Fordham University Press. Copyright @ 1986 by Fordham University. v ~ ....THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" 20 THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" 21 which does not share such characteristics of the sect as "recruitment from the lower classes and revolutionary animus," but offers a more individualized spiritual tonic appropriate to those better placed so far as the privileges of this world are concerned.3 G. K. Nelson, in Spiritualismand Society, as criticized Yinger's use of h cult, pointing out that some Spiritualist institutions, for example, have survived for many decades, and that even if individual Spiritualist churches come and go, the movement as a whole has found ways of replenishing itself.4 Indeed, one could point out that groups like the Theosophical Society or the Vedanta Societies, though often thought of in connection with the role Yinger and Stark assign the cult, have possessed fairly substantial institutional structures since the latter part of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, most sociological definitions give inadequate attention to the intellectual and experimental continuities in cults over generations. Most partake of a monistic and mentalist worldview which, though lately infused with Eastern correlates, can be traced back through Transcendentalism to Neoplatonism, and which has long served as an alternative to orthodox Judaism and Christianity in Europe and the Americas. This common basic worldview has more than theoretical significance; it helps to explain what many field observers have noted, a "floating" cult population which tends to go from one such group to another,5 and it also helps explain the persistent appearance of such groups over centuries even as specific entities come and go. However, while it is easy to criticize definitions like those of Yinger and Stark, particularly in light of the 1960s groups and their development, the positive aid they give must be noted. It is true that a high proportion of J.he young people who entered groups like the Hare Krishnas and the Unificat.iQ..nC.hurch, like the sixties "counter-culture""generally, were of middle- and upper-class background-a fact which had not a little to do ~ith the immense controversy they engendered. It is true that they centered around charismatic leaders, offered above all a subjective "high," were relatively small in size, and though some advertised vague idealistic prescriptions for society as a whole were no doubt entered essentially because of personal problems or needs. What those definitions missed was that, at least for the sixties-and-after crowd, the personal problem frequently embraced a need for a tight social structure. Far from possessing a lack of strong organizational structure, these groups, as tightly-knit as any communalistic withdrawal sect, flaunted it to excess in the eyes of critics. Yinger saw trouble with succession of leadership as a further trait of the cult; while some of the newer highly organized cults have had a rocky road in this respect, a group like the Ha.r:~shnas has managed now to establish a second generation of leadership. Ymger has a category which he calls the "established sect," which includes groups like the Quakers which, while possessing sectarian characteristics, persevere generationaTter generation. As we have seen, this has really been the case with some "cults" since the last century; now, with some other examples like the Hare Krishnas and probably the Unification Church before us, perhaps (given his typologies) an "established cult" type should also be recognized. Other definitions of cult-old and new-have placed heavier stress on such portions of the dictionary definitions as zealotry or focus on a par- . ticular person or idea. The social psychologist Hadley Cantril called it "a deviant organized action, generally rather restricted and temporary, in which the individual zealously devotes himself to some leader or ideal."6 E. L. Quarantelli and Dennis Wenger made it "a diffuse group exhibiting inward innovative behavior that both differentiates and makes for conformity among group members and is supported by religious belief, or an ideology.'" ~prpw J Pavlos moved toward what may be called ~ dvnamic definitiQp, emphasizing social dynamics within the group and between it and outside society, in pointing to three characteristics of the cult: (1) a leader who formulates group dOGmas and isolates members from others who would support their Iormer ellets; (2) members who become~ependent on the group for meeting their needs;...and (3) the group identified by the community as deviant.8 These definitions clearly put the finger on some features of modern cults to which critics and others have alluded: isolation from the larger community and particularly from data which might be disconfirmative; conformity within the group; dependence on a powerful leader; and tension between the cult and the community which is, in fact, a significant shaper of both its experience and any outside perception of it. At the same time, these definitions are idealizing insofar as any of these criteria are only imperfectly met in reality. The fact that nearly all joiners of cults later leave them voluntarily, some 75 percent within a year, indicates that any attempt on their part to establish conformity an.d exclude outside information meets with very limited success.9 Other commentators have given special heed to the heterodoxy part of the standard definitions. J. Gordon Melton and R bert L. Moore in T.he Cult Experience, speak of a cu t as "a reli~us group that presents a dis- ~} tinctly alternativ.uattern for doing religk>n and ad~ring to a faith perspective other than that dominant in the culture. 10This statement has the IIte1 advantage of making clear that the key variable in determining what is labelled-inevitably by outsiders-a cult is deviance from what ,is conventional in that society in "doing religion," a phrase which unqaestionably refers not only to doctrine, but also to the practices and sociology of the group. Thus, standard Christian churches could be, and have been, looked upon in much the way "dangerous cults" are in our society in a firmly Muslim or Buddhist land. This definition in itself, however, is incomplete insofar as it does not present the internal characteristics which have usually been associated with the word by sociologists and others. Many of these seem virtually imperative for a group in the position of adhering to a distinctly alternative religious pattern than that of its environing society, especially when the group does not have the external institutional support of, say, a mission church in India or a Vedanta Society connected to the Ramakrishna Mission in America. An emphasis on internal conformity, high level of commitment, strong authoritative and charismatic leadership, ability to indu~e powerful subjective experience and to solve personal problems, and legitimating linkage with an alternative occult or exotic tradition, are all likely to ~t ~ ".,.,... j.:..4.0 THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" :..f- THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" 23 be necessary for such a group to counter the natural pull of the dominant tradition. For the alternative group to sustain itself, its authority and felt rewards must be potent enough to resist the pressure of family, community, and cultural ties, together with the instinctive desire most people feel for social approval. Usually this requirement entails that its leader be rpossessed of both appropriate credentials and highly sensed charisma, that I it is effective in producing inner experiences the adherent believes are spiritually authentic and beneficial, and that it creates a closely-bonded surrogate family, community, and even culture. Both the heterodoxy and the internal characteristics criteria are generally stated by writers on cults whose stance toward them is frankly negative. Ronald Enroth, in The Lure of the Cults, speaks of a cult as "a deviation from orthodoxy" and, in the eyes of this conservative Christian sociologist, that is the beginning of the other disturbing features he finds in them. II Another conservative Christian writer, William J. Petersen, in Those Curious New Cults in the 80s, says, "We think of a cult as a deviation from orthodox religion" (whether that religion is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or whatever) on questions central to the religion.I2 Like Melton and Moore, he therefore makes relation to the dominant religion an essential criterion. (But equating the dominant with the orthodox or authentic version of the religion is something which, at least in theory, evangelical theologians would not necessarily do.) He then proceeds to cite certain characteristics Iof cults which, though clearly tendentious and related to his critical position, in their own way take account of some internal features we have noted. The cult, he says, (I) has a recent founder or prophet; (2) has an authority beside the Bible; (3) is authoritarian, encouraging dependency on the part of members; (4) is separatist and secretive; (5) frequently employs a degree of deception; and (6) seems loving yet employs fear. While critics of "anticult" rhetoric have pointed out that such tactics are not unknown, in effect if not in principle, among churches and preachers of more orthodox persuasion, one does get a picture of a group marked by the sort of drives toward internal conformity and exaltation of the leader's charisma we have suggested was necessary for a deviant body. Carroll Stoner and Jo Anne Parke, in All God's Children, a book which though not informed by a conservative Christian animus ends up with about the same negative image of cults as those in that genre, list as among the characteristics of the cult a living leader who is the sole judge of members and has absolute authority over their lives, an exclusive social system which separates members from the outside world, and unwholesome psychological practices which induce ego-destruction and thought-controI.I3 I . ( or less heuristic value of definitions. That is, we must reflect on what definition (a) is most useful in pointing to a significant set of phenomena, and (b) best stimulates interest in it and indicates important areas of future study in the characteristics it isolates as salient and crucial to the definition. What way of talking about cult makes visible and clearly delimited a distinct order of religious groups, separating them from the charch, the denomination, the monastery, and the rest? If, in fact, we are approaching the task phenomenologically, we seek only to give a name to what has already appeared and, so to speak, defined itself by exhibiting special featUres or constellations of features. The great temptation of definition, of course, is to define into existence something which is in reality much less unique as a form, in this case, of religious life than the label would suggest. This temptation has not always been resisted in the case of cults, and indeed is so intimately intertwined with the popular connotations the word has acquired as, in our view, to make that word ultimately undesirable. Cult has too often served to overisolate groups on a Priori theological or social grounds, and then endow them with a wide range of characteristics associated in the user's mind with cults. Nonetheless, we shall proceed to use the term cult in connection with our attempt at a phenomenological definition, and then examine the question of alternative terms. For what we need is a definition of cult which is legitimate in that it makes contact with scholarly and ordinary usage of the word, is useful in that it helps distinguish and define an important and coherent range of phenomena, and is value-neutral, usable by both empathizers with and critics of the subject, and so helps assure that they are talking about the same thing. Not every group which falls broadly within the net of our .definition will necessarily have all the characteristics of a cult we will cite; some may be missing one or another, or have other important features not cited in the general definition. Ninian Smart has spoken bf "family resemblances" in the elements of religions.14 There need not be one single feature which binds together all religious traditions within a larger set, such as the various strands of Hinduism or Protestantism. Within them one element may be linked to an element in the next group, and that to another, and common themes, like blue eyes in a family, may be reflected all up and down the line, though a family member here and there may have brown eyes but share the family nose instead. So it is with cults, or any other broad sociological category in religious life. Our definition, then, is not limited to a single variable, but embraces groups which display several, though not necessarily all, of the following characteristics. (1) The group presents a distinct alternative to dominant patterns within the society in fundamental areas of religious life. (A) By definition, therefore, it is relatively small, since sometbing else is postulated as predominant over against it. (B) It will be distinctly different from the dominant religious r.radition in one or more of the major forms of religious expression. These forms of expression have been defined by the sociologist of religion Joachim A DEFINITIONOF "CULT" " We must now proceed to the task of evolving our own definition of cult, working from current usage but attempting to resolve remaining ambiguities. We must observe at the outset that there is no "right" or "wrong" definition per se for a word of this sort; what we must consider is the greater .~ I I I 24 THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" 25 I , "...; I ~ ~ ) Wach as the theoretical, the practical, and the sociological.15 For the present purposes we will work with this set. (a) The theoretical form of expression embraces fundamentally what is said: doctrine, normative "myths" or narratives which explicate the faith's worldview, and other verbal articulations of what it is about. It includes statements about the nature of Ultimate Reality I or God, the origin of the cosmos and humankind, why we seem separated from Transcendence and how to get back in union with it, and religiously significant history. If the distinct difference from the predominant religion were in the area of theoretical expression, in a generally Christian society like the American we might expect to find an im ersonal and monistic Realit Ultimate rather than a hi!rhlv persona t elstlc 0 ~separatlon rom it due to ignorance or karma rather than Adamic sin, and other spiritual figures sharing the mediatorial role with Jesus Christ. Such an intellectual outlook is, in fact, typical of groups commonly considered cults. (We must, however, remember the family resemblance matter here: Krishna Consciousness, for example, takes karma seriously and in effect makes Krishna in his earthly avatar role the saviour, God.) supreme but insists at the same time he is a highly personal (b) The practical form of religious expression embraces practices, what is done: worship, rites, private prayer and meditation, pilgrimage. Here one mayor may not observe distinct variation from the spiritual environment. Some older groups, like Vedanta, Theosophy, the Self-Realization Fellowship, and "New Thought" churches, emulate liberal Protestantism in their main public services insofar as they are focused on a sermon/lecture, perhaps augmented by music and scripture reading. While they may also inculcate "different" personal spiritual techniques of yoga or meditation, so far as Sunday morning or afternoon is concerned, it is as though it were realized that a novel doctrine is more likel to be received in a familiar acka ez..lhat it is important to mamtam s m 0 s 0 contmUlt to com lement the fascination 0 t e exotIc. onet eless, some newer groups, such as t e Hare Krishnas~e Neo-Pagans, and various yoga and meditation movements, have dispensed with what to a younger generation perhaps seemed a rather stiff and dry format in favor of more colorful and participatory rituals. When they involve the presentation of offerings to strange gods, chanting, sacred dance, yoga postures, or group meditation they undeniably establish distinct differences from the ordinary American hour of wor~hip When the practIcal form of expression is distinct in this way, it commonly has two characteristics: (I) It is centered on a single sure but simple practice, such as a chant (in Nichiren Shoshu), a meditation method (in Transcendental Meditation), a centered devotionalism (as to Krishna), or a ritual. (2) This practice above all produces for many definite and immediate results, in the form of alteration of consciousness, sense of power, or daily-life benefits, which effectively confirm its value. This is, of course, an important aspect of what we have already perceived as an essential quality of any sustainable new religious movement: that it must yield tan ible results stron enou h to counter the family, ethnIc, or communIty pu of more conventlOna re lI!lon. ! I y.e t (c) The sociological form of expression includes a wide gamut of features pertaining to the way people relate to one another :structurally and informally both within the movement and betw~en it and the "outside." It includes nature of leadership, organization structure, "density" of relationships, and interaction with the environing community. Some characteristics under this head, like a certain degree of tension with the environment, are virtually "built in" to the fate of any alternative group. Others may not perhaps be theoretically necessary, but seem to be practicall1ecessities for any group wishing to sustain itself as a spiritual alternative, especially in the early stages. These include strong authoritative and charismatic leadership, some internal con~rmity, ana some separatism together with close interpersonal relations and a high level of particip.mi2P on die part ot members. These will be discussed among the other characteristics of cults in this list. There have been and are new religious movements without them, such as very loose and informal discussion grOU?S centered on some book or idea, though generally these have been ephemeral and of low visibility even by cult standards. Others, such as some of tlJose previously mentioned-Vedanta, Tlteosophy, Self-Realization, or the several "New Thought" churchesbegan with quite charismatic leadership and a fairly tightly-knit disciplic structure around the leader. But they have since passed tlJrough the classic "routinization of charisma" process in tlte second generation described by the sociologist Max Weber, now possessing an institutionalized, more or less professionalized type of leadership more characteristic of established churches or schools. By our particular definition, they would be small denominations or schools of spirituality so far as sociological criteria is concerned, although-bearing in mind the family resemblance matter--one might still argue for cult status on doctrinal and other grounds. The case would have to be decided on an individual movement basis. (2) The cult, as we have already noted above, will have strong authoritative and charismatic leadership. This means the group is generally focused on one person, who is (a) the founder; (b) recipient of a special revelatIon or InItIation,as well as special learning, upon which it is based; (c) uniquely qualified to teach or impart the special technique for spiritual experience upon which the practice of the group is centered, although he or she may delegate that authority to trained disciples; (d) uniquely entitled to call and empower disciples, being typically surrounded by a small cluster of especially privileged disciples distinct from the larger body of lay adherents and hearers; and (e) the object of a special cultus, in which symbol and practice suggest that the leader by his or her very presence, even apart from anything formally said or done, generates spiritual experience, and does so uniquely througJ. sacramental words and deeds. In sum, the relations hi of followers is more basicall to the erson of the charismatIc ure t an to a artIcu ar e or ractIce; t e atter ecome Important ecause they are associated with the person an are ways of tapping the revelation and power he or she possesses innately. (3) The cult personal needs. We i~ducinfrready notedsubjective experiences and meeting is oriented toward ave a powerful that such an em?hasis is necessary to help counter the "natural" a eal of reli ion rounded i . and community. Strong expenences roug t about by meditation, chanting, -., ... ,\. &t magical rites, initiations, and the presence of a charismatic figure give one a le sense of inner identity and si nificance of a different character, but no less I real so long as their reality IS sustaine , than t e "placing" identity of the I social order and its religious legitimations. If that placing makes one relatively inconsequential, or "status inconsistent"_in a place which does not match one's subjective sense of one's ability and potential-it may in fact be mOre real. Minorities, young people, women kept in conventional subordinate roles, and underemployed intellectuals not seldom find themselves in some tI~:degree of status inconsistency and consequently subject to the appeal of ) religious movements which put the significance of inner experience and iniv tiation ahead of outward social role. The meeting of personal needs-assuag_ ing psychological problems, even answering prayer for material benefitsneed not be viewed as pandering to negative egocentricity; by helpin~w a wholesome sense dependence is alwa s resent. dan er of fosterm of self-worth it can, at best, facilitate growth, though Uie (4) T e cult is separati~m t at It strives to maintain distinct boundary demarc.<!;. 92ns between it and the "out~de." Closely related is its tendency to require_ at least of an inner core-a high degree of conformity and commitment. Boundary demarcation may be manifested in such signs as distinctive dress and diet. Even more likely are tokens closely related to the high levels of comi1ilti1ient and conformity-ways in which members budget time, establish friendship networks, and establish life priorities and goals. While cult adherents may range from commune members to casual droppers-in, typical of surviving groups will be at least some members who devote a high proportion of their disposable time to it, find most of their voluntary interpersonal relationships through it, and take its ideals very seriously in deciding what to do with their life. The sociologist Erving Coffman has spoken of "total institutions"-groups ranging from armies, prisons, and hospitals to many schools and religious orders (such as monasteries) which, unlike other associational connections, determine all or nearly all the segments of a member's life: dress, diet, where one lives, when one gets up and one's daily schedule, with whom one associates most of the time, and what work one does.16 COij)lflU1Ii nalist cults, such as the Ha~ishnas for many members, come close to this patt~ Even those in principle more open, with members living in separate dwellings and working "outside," may subjectively affect one's ideals in such matters as dress and recreation because they so deeply influence one's inner self-ima e or sense of identit . In all Cultures certain types of dr~s:<rIet, recreation, or emp oyment, the kind of furniture one has in the living room and pictures on the wall, are tacitly understood togo with certain kinds of inner self-identity or inner experience. They are all things that go into that vague but evocative word, lifestyle. 50 it is that Zen ~ple are likely to carry _ ndo into their home, together with a whiff ofi~zest for the a~ofthe inne~ty into their values, while Kris na and yoga people are likely to be surrounded by t~nghtly-colored pri~nd fabrics of India and enjoying its vegetari;m !::uisine.All such details, of Course, serve to reify and demarcate the subcultu~e cult. Lastly, we must reiterate an important characteristic of such groups which has not always been taken with sufficient seriousness by sociological observers, the tendency of the cult to see itself as legitimated by a long tradition of wisdom or practice of which it is only a current manifestation. Thus the guru, as is characteristic of the East, stresses his disciplic lineage going back to the Buddha or a primordial sage. In the West, the group represents a recurrence of Hermetic or Kabbalistic teachings known to the wise of all ages. 5pir~ts like to talk of thei'rs as "the oldest faith in the world," pointing with some justification to its parallels with the pr~ctic~ of .the paleo~ithic s~ma~. We have discussed elsewhere some of the hlstoncal Issues behmd thes~ claIms. I? From the present phenomenological perspective, the existence of these claims giving cou?terweight to the iI?mediate c~a of the leader and the practice is the Important obsf:IVatlOn. ! ( k ( t) (5) -- Our definition of cult-a group offering an alternative to the dominant spiritual tradition, which is small, has strong authoritative and charis- da~ matic leadershiI?' offers. powerful .subjective. experienc~s. wh~ch meet personal needs, IS separatIst, an.d ~lalms a r~latlon to a legltlmatmg tradition-is clearly somewhat restnctIve and will not embrace all ~roups to which that label has been assl ned. In partICular, it is likely to capture a ternatlve spiritual movements best 10 their first generation, and subsequentl~ see ~her:nslip away as they, .through ro.utini~ation of ch.aris~a and institUtionahzatlOn, become someth1Og else socIOlogICally,even If stIll small and alternative. To my mind, however, that is good because the distinction between a first-generation movement and the kind of established, institutionalized bodies which, say, Theosophy or "New.Ih.aught" churches have become today, is an important one, despite our earlier mention of the possibility of an "established cult." This definition, however elaborate and restrictive, in our view serves the crucial function which any useful and heuristic phenomenological category must serve. It isolates and significantly contours a distinct type of religious group, which can be easily perceived in the first generation of Theosophy, MormQ!lism, or Krishna C9Esciousness, and at the time of writing in movements ranging from Transcendent~Meditation (especially the inner circle) to the Unification Church. At the same time, it distinguishes the cult from other entities with which it might be confused. The cult, as we see it, is not a broad religious movement, like revivalism or even Spiritualism, with many perhaps transitory sociological reifications; one would have to consider each of the latter separately. It is not simply a teaching, however "heterodox" in the eyes of the normative tradition, unless it takes the form of a group such as we have depicted. Gnosticism, whether ancient or modern, is not a cult per se, although some form of it could constitute the theoretical expression of one. A group which has acquired marked routinization of charisma and institutionalization is not a cult, though (as we have seen) it may be non-normative in doctrine and practice and have had cultic beginnings. It seems to us that to put something like what institutionalized Theosophy or Divine Science have become today, a century more or less since their founding, under the same label as Krishna Consciousness or the Muktananda ashrams under their living gurus would be to mix up two quite different kinds of groups. Finally, our definition allows the customary sociological distinction between cult and sect, unless the sect is quite heterodox, for though many characteristics would obtain in both instances-separatism, relation to a legitimating tradition-the sect, as a particularly intense version of the dominant religion with withdrawal features, is usually said to possess more legalistic than charismatic authority, and to represent a spiritual alternative only in a much narrower sense than the cult. ~ ':!.~ ~-"'-- IIBO.ODIDIDlDDDDSDIDBann.D naa......_________ rr .. THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" 28 THE SEVERAL MEANINGS OF "CULT" NOTES IRobert S. Ellwood, Jr., Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America (Englewood 29 , I I ~ I . ~ /' It remains to reflect on whether, given this definition, a better word than cult can be found for its object. We have already considered the problems of stereotyping and judgmentalism that el!!angle the term. Some scholars have used "new religious movements" or even "new religions" (after the Japanese examples) for much these same sorts of groups, and these expressions appear to be more neutral. Both of these terms, however, may be too broad to be of optimal use. "Movement" does not necessarily suggest the sort of tight-knit, clearly-defined entity we have suggested, being indeed capable of confusion with a broad, diffuse "social movement" like a "conservative movement" or a "peace movement." "New," though not highly precise, does suggest a group in its first generation or so. But "religious" or "religion" also raises difficulties, especially over whether we are speaking of a religion which, though small, is as discrete as one of the "great religions" like Islam or Hinduism, or whether the group under question is not actually a denomination or other subdivision of one of them; many "new religions" actually are, though perhaps of Hinduism or Buddhism rather than of the dominant faith in our society. Elsewhere we have spoken of the cult or sect type of religion, which contrasts with the conventional or "established" religion of a society, as "emergent religion."18 It is subdivided into "expansive emergent" religion and "intensive emergent" religion, corresponding to the sociological cult and sect respectively. We feel that these terms may be as useful and heuristically helpful as any. The usual definitions of the word emergent suggest several characteristics of the kind of religion under consideration. As an adjective, the word defines something arising out of a fluid which heretofore had covered or concealed it, or something suddenly appearing for no apparent reason, or as a natural or logical outcome of a situation such as rapid change, or as the result of a process of development. As a noun, "emergent" indicates something that stands out, as a single tree above the forest. These definitions really apply well to the counterpart of dominant or established religion. New religions appear out of the fluid sea of popular religion, seemingly unexpectedly, yet actually because something previously hidden-the legitimating alternative tradition-has in them become uncovered, or as a product of evolutionary or rapid change, like a mutant. Expansive emergent religion, in contrast to the sectarian intensive form, withdraws in order to found what is, in its adherents' eyes, a more broadly based experience than that of the monochrome religion of the society. It may seek to combine elements of the dominant religion with new ideas from science, from faraway places, and from inner vision, as well as from an "underground" but legitimating past tradition. It is generally centered more on mystical experience-"expansion of consciousness"-than social or legalistic norms. This term with its implications seems to comport well with the characteristics of cult we have outlined. But whether it be called expansive emergent religion, or by the more conventional label "cult," the important matter is to have a clear, definite, but nonstereotypical concept of what manner of group is being described. Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,Inc., ~973). . . . . 2]. MilLOnYinger, ReligIOn, SocIety, and the IndIvidual (New York: Macmillan, Inc., 1957), pp. 142-55. sWerner Stark, The Sociologyof Religion (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967). vo\. 11, p. 313. 4Geoffrey K. Nelson, Spiritualism and Society(New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 220. In a more recent book, The Scientific Study of Religion (New York: Macmillan, Inc., 1970), pp. 279-80, J. Millon Yinger discusses Nelson's criticism of his earlier treatment of cult, accepting the latter's. sug&estion that some cu.lts can ~e long-lasting and the seedbed of new religions, espeCIally In the context of sOCIalanomie. 5See, for example, W.E. Mann, Sect, Cult, and Churchin Alberta(TorontO: University of TorontO Press, 1955), pp. 5-8,37-40. 6HadleyCantril, "The Kingdom of Father Divine," in B. McLaughlin, ed., Studiesin Social Movements (New York: The Free Press, 1969), p. 223. 7E.L. Quarantelli and Dennis Wenger, "A Voice from the 13th Century," Urban Life and Culture, 1 (1973), p. 384. 8Andrew]. Pavlos, The Cult Experience (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), p. 6. 9See, for example, David B. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr., Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981). 10]. Gordon Melton and Robert L. Moore, The Cult Experience (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1982), p. 17. II Ronald Enroth, The Lure of the Cults (Chappaqua, NY: Christian Herald Books, 1979), p. 20. 12WilliamJ. Petersen, Those Curious New Cults in the 80s (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1973, 1982), p. 14. ISCarroll StOner and Jo Anne Parke, All God's Children (Radnor, PA: ChiltOn, 1977). 14Ninian Smart, PhilosoPhersand Religious Truth, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 1969), p. 115. 15Joachim Wach, Sociologyof Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944). pp. 17-34. 16Erving Goffman, Asylums (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1961). 17Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., Alternative Altars: Unconventional and Eastern Spirituality in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), especially Ch. 1. See also Ellwood, "The American Theosophical Synthesis," in Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow, The Occult in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), pp. 111-34. 18Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., Introducing Religion: From Inside and Outside. 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1983), pp. 144-49. t ~ I e ~ ! ... View Full Document

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