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Unrecognized charisma? A study of four charismatic leaders

‘Unrecognized charisma? A study and comparison of four charismatic leaders: Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith, L Ron Hubbard, Swami Prabhupada.’

 by George D. Chryssides
Paper presented at the 2001 International Conference The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century, organised by INFORM and CESNUR (London, April 19-22, 2001)


Sociological analysis of the development of religions has generally endorsed Weber’s theory that religions typically move from a cult of a charismatic leader to the ‘routinization of charisma’ and ‘institutionalization’. The author argues that this is a simplistic account of the development of new religious communities, and fails to recognize importantly different types of charismatic leader.

Four case studies are considered, each of which illustrates a different type of charisma, which is reflected in a different form of development of the religious organization. Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses) was the human ‘dynamic leader’, who needs no special authentication. Joseph Smith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is accorded the status of ‘prophet’, accredited by an inaugural vision. L. Ron Hubbard (Church of Scientology) is the ‘magus’, whose status is reinforced by tales of a prodigious childhood. Swami Prabhupada (ISKCON) is the Hindu ‘guru’, who claimed to have disciplic succession and whose institutional authority precedes any charismatic leadership.

The paper concludes (i) that there are different types of charismatic leader; (ii) that different types of leadership necessitate different forms of authentication; (iii) that the resulting religious organizations differ significantly from Weber’s ‘institutionalization’ model; and (iv) in order to understand the development of religious traditions, it is necessary to employ categories suggested by Religious Studies, and not merely from sociological theory.

Unrecognized charisma? A study of four charismatic leaders.

Sociological analysis of the development of religions has generally endorsed Weber’s theory that religions typically move from a cult of a charismatic leader to the ‘routinization of charisma’ and ‘institutionalization’. According to Weber, the charismatic leader is accorded special, possibly divine qualities, which endow him (occasionally her) with authority over his or her following. When the leader dies, the charisma dies also, leaving a gap which is generally filled by institutional structures. In this article, I shall argue that this account of the development of religions is unduly simplistic: not only do institutional structures fail to follow charismatic leadership sequentially; Weber’s model fails adequately to acknowledge the different varieties of religious leadership, which cause different effects in the organization’s development.

Charismatic authority certainly emanates from the leader’s charis, or ‘gift of grace’, and contrasts with ‘bureaucratic authority’ (the authority one gains from an office to which one is appointed within an institution) or ‘traditional authority’ (the kind of authority that emanates from tradition, such as that of a parent). Just as there is no appointment to the office of charismatic leader, so there is no dismissal, career prospects, or promotion. Charismatic authority depends on its recognition by disciples or followers, who obviously must believe they benefit in some way from such recognition. Disciples tend to live communally, often handing over their possessions voluntarily. Since authority generates obligations on the part of those who respect that authority, charismatic authority must generate new obligations, since it differs from legal-rational or traditional authority, the obligations of which already exist. Weber believed that charismatic authority did not derive from rational considerations about the leader. Hence, the rise of charismatic leaders tended to occur as a kind of revolutionary force that challenged rational complacency in traditionalist periods of history.

The term "charisma" will be applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a "leader". (Weber, 1978, p.241.)

As the charismatically driven movement progresses, ‘routinization’ and ‘institutionalization’ take place. Weber believes this generally happens when the charismatic leader dies, at which point a variety of strategies can be employed to secured continued leadership. Weber identifies four such methods of continuing a hegemonic succession. (1) A search can be conducted for a leader with similar qualities. (2) The succession can be established through supernatural revelation. Weber cites the example of the lineage of Dalai Lamas, where dreams and omens are employed to find the next. (3) The original charismatic leader may specifically designate a successor. (4) The leader’s office may be hereditary.

Although Weber was writing between 1914 and 1920, this view of the charismatic leader lives on, particularly in the anti-cult movement’s perceptions of a so-called ‘cult’. Thus, a FAIR warning leaflet reads:

A cult is usually characterised by a leader who claims divinity or a special mission delegated personally to him/her by a supreme power. (FAIR, n.d., p. 2).

Bob Larson, in his Larson’s New Book of Cults writes in similar vein:

These are the things that most cults share in common: (1) a centralized authority that tightly structures both philosophy and life-style...

Cult leaders know that once an initiate has been reconditioned to accept their particular worldview, and as soon as he feels a sense of meaningful belonging, his mind will be ready to accept any teaching, including a belief that the leader represents God. (Larson, 1989, pp. 14-15.)

Both sources portray ‘cults’ as if they are invariably headed by living leaders, a portrayal that is typical of the anti-cult movement (ACM). The ACM thus portrays the ‘cult’ in a presumed pre-institutionalized state, and serves to suggest that NRM leaders are much the same as each other.

This prevalent anti-cult belief that charismatic leaders have a certain sameness about them receives added momentum by the looseness with which terms like ‘guru’ are used. In his book Feet of Clay, subtitled ‘A study of gurus’, Antony Storr applies the term ‘guru’ to figures as diverse as Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Gurdjieff, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Rajneesh, Steiner, Jung and Freud. While acknowledging that gurus display some differences from each other, Storr contends that in general they claim special spiritual insight, based on personal revelation, offering new ways of spiritual development and paths to salvation. They are, he states, self-selected, not attending any schools of training or gaining any recognized qualifications to make them suitable for their roles, but merely having hubris (pride). Any credentials purportedly come from some experience of God, angels, mysterious beings who inhabit the Himalayas, or even creatures from other planets. Each charismatic leader ‘professes a bizarre cosmology’, often inventing some mystical background, for example Tibet. They require total agreement, claiming complete authority, and are anti-democratic and resentful of criticism.

Weber’s model of charismatic leadership giving way to institutionalization is endorsed by several academic sociologists. For example, Eileen Barker writes:

New religions are rarely initiated by a committee. Although sects may be formed by a group of dissatisfied persons breaking away from a larger body, several of the movements have, or have had, a founder or leader who is believed to have some special powers or knowledge, and whom his (or, occasionally, her) followers are expected to believe and obey without question. (Barker, 1989, p. 13.)

To be fair to Barker, she acknowledges that ‘[n]ot all new religious movements have charismatic leaders’, and that there are differences in the hegemonic styles among those movements that do. Weber himself acknowledged differences amongst charismatic leaders. He identifies the ‘berserk’, most commonly found in mediaeval Byzantium, who is ‘endowed with the charisma of fighting frenzy’, who falls into trances and makes ecstatic utterances - for example, the shaman. There is the ‘sophisticated swindler’ – a category for which Weber nominates Joseph Smith. Then there is the ‘littérateur, such as Kurt Eisner, who is overwhelmed by his own demagogic success’ (Weber, 1978, p. 242.) (Eisner was not a religious leader: he led the socialist revolution in Bavaria in 1918.)

Although descriptions like ‘berserk’ and ‘swindler’ would now be rejected by most writers, with the possible exception of the ACM, Weber believed that he could nonetheless bring to bear the academic sociologist’s neutrality in his treatment of them. He writes:

Value-free sociological analysis will treat all these on the same level as it does the charisma of men who are the ‘greatest’ heroes, prophets, and saviors according to conventional judgements. (Weber, 1978, p. 242.)

Despite his recognition that there exist different types of religious hegemony, Weber’s classifications are at best rudimentary; he does not sufficiently recognize their salient features, nor does he properly consider the qualities that are needed for the different categories of religious leader to be endowed with their respective status. I therefore want now to introduce four case studies, which I believe will illustrate the variety of leadership types within NRMs, and a variety of relationships with their emergent institutions.

(1) Charles Taze Russell

My first example is Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) founder-leader of the International Bible Students Association, which later became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell was brought up in a Presbyterian family, but had difficulties in accepting Protestant Christian doctrine, particularly predestination and eternal punishment. Having sought refuge in an Adventist group, he eventually formed his own group of Bible students, who met together to study scripture. As interest grew, Russell’s audience widened, and he gained a reputation of being an arresting speaker, who expounded the meaning of scripture. To disseminate his exegesis, he founded Zion’s Watchtower in 1874, soon to become the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the name that it continues to use today.

A number of points are worth noting about Russell’s leadership. Russell is the ‘dynamic leader’: to his followers he is nothing more than a charismatic figure who expounded scripture. He claimed no special revelation or vision to authenticate any of his teachings. He is not viewed as divine; he is certainly not a prophet or a saviour figure, and he claimed no special authority on his own behalf. Indeed, the fact that the later Jehovah’s Witness movement never formulated a creed, affirming that the Bible itself was the sole source of true teaching, indicates the lack of special status accorded to Russell, and subsequently to Rutherford. Russell offered no unique message of his own, and his status was merely that of a Bible student, like his followers: Russell’s teachings were no more than those that any conscientious student of the Bible would have arrived at by faithful study of scripture. Neither leader is even regarded as infallible, and, although present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to use and respect their writings, they are even willing to concede that on certain matters he was mistaken.

It is also worth noting that institutionalization did not occur as a means of filling the gap created by the lost charisma on Russell’s death. Joseph Franklin (‘Judge’) Rutherford was put into office by election, at the Society’s Annual Meeting on 6 January 1917. Although there had been some electioneering - which tended to be disapproved of by the majority of Watchtower members - members engaged in much prayer regarding the new leadership. Rutherford received a nomination and was seconded, after which no further names were put forward.

Rutherford’s own leadership did not have unanimous support once he was in office. One early controversy related to the publication of Russell’s post-humous The Finished Mystery, in the course of which Rutherford dismissed four directors of the Bethel and replaced them with others of his own choice. As a consequence of the leadership controversy, a number of splinter groups formed from the International Bible Students Association – a not uncommon consequence of problems of succession.

(2) Joseph Smith.

I turn now to Joseph Smith (1805-1844) the founder-leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In contrast to Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith was more than a mere ‘dynamic leader’. Unlike Russell, he does have special status in the eyes of his followers: although perceived as human, he is nonetheless accorded special qualities that are not shared by the rest of humanity. He is a prophet, and the term ‘latter-day saint’ signifies the restoration of both prophecy and priesthood, which died out in the Hebraic tradition. Malachi was reckoned to be the last of the prophets, with the suspension of the prophetic institution (Zechariah 13:2-3), and the priesthood came to an end with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.

As a prophet, it was necessary for Smith to possess the credentials of prophecy, the chief qualifying characteristic of which is an inaugural vision: an experience shared with the ancient Hebrew prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1:4-19; Ezekiel 1 & 2). This event is well known, being the vision at the grove at Palmyra, New York. Undecided as to which of the mainstream churches he should join, Smith, a youth of fourteen years at the time, was instructed to join none of them, but to return home to await further instructions. Three and a half years later, Smith is visited by the angel Moroni, who directs him to Cumorah Hill, where he discovered the gold plates which he translated into the Book of Mormon.

The presumed authenticity of Smith’s vision is underlined by the tradition that he was considered ‘unlettered’ – a characteristic not untypically ascribed to a prophet to underline the belief that his teachings did not have a mere human origin. A similar tradition exists regarding Muhammad, traditionally regarded as illiterate, yet able to transmit the entirety of Qur’an. Jesus, too, is portrayed as the lowly Nazarene carpenter, although it is equally possible that he received formal training as a Jewish rabbi.

Two points are worth particular comment regarding Smith’s role as the prophetic leader. First, it may be noted that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirms the Weberian hypothesis that institutionalization follows on from the death of the charismatic leader. This is only the case, however, because Smith met an untimely death at the age of 40, having been shot by an angry crowd who broke into the prison in the town of Carthage, in which he and his brother Hyrum were incarcerated.

It was under Brigham Young’s subsequent leadership that Smith’s supporters were brought from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City, where they established their own community, with its distinctive dietary laws. However, even before Smith’s death, institutionalization had commenced: Smith had already claimed to have received a blueprint of the original church that God gave to Adam. The Book of Mormon was his community’s new scripture, and he had (supposedly) reinstated the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and the form of baptism which he believed were characteristic of the original Adamic church. Temple building had already begun: the LDS teaches that in 1832 Smith received a divine command to build the first Temple, which was completed in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio. (This temple now belongs to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.)

Second, it is worth noting that Smith’s prophetic office itself became institutionalized. Initially, an office that Smith held by virtue of his charisma, the role of ‘prophet’ in the Mormon Church is an office which is synonymous with President, and to which each successive incumbent is elected. The ‘Prophet’ or President now holds office by virtue of institutional rather than charismatic authority.

(3) L. Ron Hubbard

My third case study is L. Ron Hubbard (LRH) (1911-1986), founder-leader of the Church of Scientology. Scientology is one of the few examples of a truly innovative new religious movement, which has no obvious precursors, and it is therefore unclear as to how one should classify LRH as a religious leader. (J. Gordon Melton rightly notes connections between Hubbard and Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), but it is unclear how any of OTO’s ideas have helped to shape Scientology.) Scientology’s novelty causes Frank K. Flinn to question whether sociological classifications based on Troeltsch’s church/denomination/sect/cult distinction are really applicable, and whether Weber’s theory of progression from charisma, through routinization to institutionalization really works in Scientology’s case. He writes:

Max Weber tended to see religious evolution as a transition from an original charismatic phase followed by a routinization of the charisma in rules, organizations and specializations. This model of interpretation needs to be modified to account for a phenomenon like Scientology. From one aspect, Hubbard functions as a "charismatic leader" and as the original "researcher." From another aspect, however, the "charismatic message" is the technology itself. It is as if technique and routinization were given charismatic authority. (In Fichter, 1983, p. 104.)

It is possible to typecast LRH in a number of ways. Flinn describes Scientology as ‘technological Buddhism’, and at times Scientology has made comparisons between their founder-leader and a buddha. For example, their introductory film Orientations states that, just as the Buddha was only a man, so was Hubbard. (One could question, of course, whether this statement accurately represents Buddhist teaching, and whether it serves to downgrade the Buddha or upgrade Hubbard.) In his poem Hymn of Asia Hubbard explicitly poses the question, ‘Am I Metteyya?’ - Metteyya (or Maitreya) being the buddha of the next aeon - as having features that are remarkably similar to his own (or what he perceived as his own), such as having golden hair, being born in the west, and a bringer of wisdom. Certainly Hubbard purported to perceive the nature of reality in a way in which the typical pre-clear cannot, and his extended OT teachings are made available only as and when subsequent Scientologists and conditions in general proved ready for them. However, unlike other recent teachers who have claimed enlightenment, such as Rajneesh/Osho or Werner Erhard, LRH never claimed any specific enlightenment experience.

Robert S. Ellwood and Harry B. Partin typecast LRH in two ways: a shaman (Ellwood and Partin, 1988, p. 135), and a ‘magus’. The former seems somewhat implausible: LRH nowhere makes spirit journeys or rides power animals into the underworlds like the present-day shaman, although, as the authors point out, Hubbard was on two occasions pronounced dead, but duly revived. We are no doubt invited to compare these events with the shamanic phenomenon of ‘possession sickness’ - illness caused by spiritual forces to signal the chosenness of an individual for shamanic practice. Although I think Hubbard displayed few, if any, of the shaman’s characteristics, Ellwood and Partin’s observations serve to show the necessity for the would-be shaman not merely to impress his or her clients on the basis of personal charisma, but to show the necessarily prerequisites of shamanic initiation.

Hubbard as magus is somewhat more plausible. The magus is one who possesses skills in oriental magic and sometimes astrology, and who displays extraordinary wisdom. (The ‘Magi’ who visit Jesus are wise men from the east.) As a means of establishing his credentials, Hubbard claimed an extraordinary childhood and adolescence. Scientologists implicitly accept his claims that he could ride horses at the three, break in bucking broncos while still an infant, that he became a blood brother of the Blackfeet Indians at age six, and that he read Shakespeare and Greek philosophers in his childhood. Scientologists affirm that in 1927, at the age of 16 he first visited Asia, where he met a Beijing magician from the Kublai Khan’s court, visited Buddhist lamasaries, encountered bandits from Mongolia, conversed with Khyan shamans in Borneo, and hunted with Pygmies in the Philippines. On return to the United States in 1929, LRH apparently completed his school education, after which he enrolled at George Washington University to study mathematics and engineering, and subsequently studied the mind from one of Sigmund Freud’s own students. LRH apparently left university disillusioned with academia’s lack of understanding of the mind, and pursued his own research and writing. All in all, Scientologists will insist that their founder-leader achieved excellence in a total of 29 different areas of expertise, and that Ron was a philosopher, humanitarian, anthropologist, educator, administrator, writer and poet, photographer, artist, film director, horticulturalist, engineer, physicist, aircraft pilot, explorer, not to mention ‘daredevil barnstormer’, musician, sociologist, and expert on the human mind.

It is not my task to evaluate Hubbard’s achievement, but rather to note two points. First, although Hubbard was a particular type of leader, and therefore, as the magus, had to persuade his followers that he possessed the credentials appropriate to that particular type of charismatic leadership. Second, and equally important, Scientology’s institutionalization was not something that followed after Hubbard’s death: however one evaluates his achievements, he was certainly an administrator and laid down very clear procedures, both for the application of his ‘religious technology’ and also for the structure and operation of the Scientology organization. In Hubbard’s case the charismatic leader became the institutionalizer, and following his death his members have sought to preserve these institutions, rather than make their own innovations.

As far as the succession was concerned, Hubbard resigned from all his directorships in the Scientology organization in 1966, in order to continue with his research. His immediate objective was the Hubbard Mediterranean Geological Survey Expedition, to research into ancient Mediterranean civilizations. (He therefore continued to head the ‘Sea Org’.) He nominated David Miscavige as his successor, who continues in office to the present time, and is little known outside the Church of Scientology and parts of the anti-cult movement. Since Hubbard had himself effectively completed the institutionalization process by the time of his death, Scientologists, while of course regretting his passing, did not feel that there was any particular charismatic void that required filling by some other charismatic figure.

(4) Prabhupada

Finally, I turn to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). To cast Prabhupada as the charismatic leader who inaugurates a new movement by virtue of his own personal magnetism is to oversimplify matters grossly. Unlike the three previous examples I have considered, Prabhupada was a guru in the technical Hindu sense, and the notion of parampara (disciplic succession) is crucially important to the ISKCON movement, since it enables Prabhupada to be placed in a Hindu lineage, which devotees claim can be traced back through the scholar-saint Chaitanya, to Krishna himself.

Prabhupada’s parampara has several implications for his role as a founder-leader. It puts Prabhupada already within an institution, even before he travelled to the west and attracted disciples through any personal charisma. Prabhupada’s initiation places him within the Chaitanya movement, and specifically within the Gaudiya Math organization, which his initiating guru Bhaktisiddantha (1873-1936) founded in Vrindaban. Even before Prabhupada introduced his Back to Godhead magazine and authored his many books for western audiences, book distribution was already a programme within Gaudiya Math, and Bhaktisiddantha expressly commissioned Prabhupada to distribute literature. Faced with the prospect of persuading a western publisher to undertake the production of some 60 volumes of the Srimad Bhagavatam in English translation, for a public who had then expressed little demand for Hindu literature, Prabhupada’s main persuasive device which secured the commissioning of its initial volumes was the fact that he was an accredited Hindu guru.

There has been some controversy regarding Prabhupada’s initiation. Bhaktisiddantha allegedly did not receive initiation directly from Bhaktivinoda Thakur, who is reportedly his initiating guru. Bhaktisiddhantha, it is reported, was ‘initiated’ during a dream, or he may have initiated himself in front of an image of Bhaktivinoda. Prabhupada himself did not receive his sannyasin initiation until 1938 – two years after Bhaktisiddhanta’s death, although he undisputedly received diksha (first initiation) from him in 1932. However, according to some, a ‘mystical’ initiation can be regarded as superior to one carried out in the more conventional way.

It is not my task to settle the question of the authenticity of Prabhupada’s initiation. Suffice it to say that, pace Weber, the existence of an institution in this case precedes the charismatic leader. Prabhupada’s achievement was to enable westerners who were not accustomed to Indian religious institutions to recognize a form of institutional (in Weber’s terms, ‘bureucratic’) authority, with which they were unfamiliar. Since Prabhupada’s initial followers did not recognize the authority of an initiated guru, Prabhupada had no alternative but to rely on his own personal charisma in order to attract and maintain a western following amongst the U.S. counter-culture of the early 1970s.

Even so, institutionalization was not something that occurred after he died. The ISKCON organization was founded in 1965, the year in which Prabhupada arrived in New York; and between 1970 and 1973 a total of 21 ISKCON temples were opened. The temple in Vrindaban, the home of the Gaudiya Math movement – the Krishna Balaram Mandir – was completed in 1975, two years before Prabhupada’s death. Thus there existed during Prabhupada’s lifetime a large worldwide institution.

All this is not to say, however, that there were no problems of institutionalization after the death of the founder-leader, or that current institutions correspond to those laid down by Prabhupada – on the contrary. ISKCON’s institutional problems stem from its having become a worldwide movement, with international migration amongst members and leaders, and in which western members are accustomed to western management styles, like those found in multi-national companies. This contrasts markedly to the traditional concept of the Indian guru, who is usually fairly localized, who is the sole source of authority and veneration, who initiates his own disciples, and whose followers enjoy a one-to-one relationship with their guru for the remainder of their lives.

To some extent, Prabhupada anticipated some of the changes that were needed to the ISKCON organization after his death. From 1970 onwards he perceived the need for a Governing Body Council (GBC), and in 1975 he formally constituted it with 20 members, and took them through its first annual meeting, following formal procedural rules, and formally minuting its decisions. In the last year of his life (28 May 1977) he initiated candidates for the role of ritvik – the officiating temple priest – to be responsible for the carrying out of the requisite rituals. In July 1977, Prabhupada selected 11 of the GBC members to become officiating gurus, a measure which he clearly set out in his will. Each guru had authority over a particular region, and this system became known as that of the ‘zonal acharya’.

This system encountered a variety of problems. One source of difficulty was the unacceptable behaviour of some of them, particularly Hamsadutta and Jayatirtha in the early 1980s, and a four more who were removed from office in 1987. The zonal acharya had absolute authority in his own area of the world: some temple presidents felt that this role was too powerful, while other devotees argued that the normal parampara involved the succession of a single guru as leader, and hoped that one of the officiating gurus would emerge as a single ‘self-effulgent’ guru to become the exclusive successor to Prabhupada. ISKCON’s decision went in favour of those who argued the former of these two positions, and there are now 50 initiating gurus world-wide, and new members are permitted to choose their own initiating guru. Previously in an ISKCON temple’s shrine area, there were three ‘thrones’ or vyasasanas – one for Prabhupada (who is installed in the form of a life-style three-dimensional wax image), one for the zonal archarya, and one for any visiting archarya – there now remains only one vyasasana other than Prabhupada’s, which may be occupied by any of the 50 initiating gurus.

ISKCON’s problems of institutionalization are not about transposing any founder-leader’s charismatic authority into an institutional structure, but about transposing an eastern localized institutional structure into a world-wide structure that is amenable to westerners but still retains the essential features of a Hindu bhakti organization.


These four examples of charismatic leaders are no more than case studies, and I have not attempted to provide anything approaching a complete typology of hegemony in NRMs. There are other types of figure, such as Sun Myung Moon, who is designated as messiah by his followers, and Satya Sai Baba, who is regarded as an avatar. Both leaders establish their credentials in other ways from those discussed above. The types of leadership may also be overlapping, with some apparently claiming features of two or more: for example, Moon experiences a prophetic inaugural vision, although he claims messianic credentials.

What I have shown is that Weber’s model is insufficiently complex to account for charismatic leadership in new religious movements, failing as it does to recognize importantly different types of charismatic leader. This is so, partly because the study of world religions was still in its infancy when Weber was writing, and, to Weber’s credit, he shows a remarkably broad knowledge of the variety of the world’s religious traditions. It is also because some of the movements I have considered here (notably Scientology and ISKCON) were simply not in existence; in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-day Saints, many of their key historical events were still to take place. (The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, were not so called until 1931 - Weber died in 1920.)

However, if Weber can be forgiven for lacking the subtlety that is necessary for the treatment of new religious movements, more recent writers are without similar excuses. In order to understand the development of religious traditions, it is necessary to consider leadership in terms of concepts suggested by Religious Studies, and not merely recent sociological theory.


Barker, E. (1989). New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. London: HMSO.

Chryssides, G D. (1999). 'Britain's Anti-Cult Movement'; in Wilson, B. and Cresswell, J., pp 255-273.

Chryssides, George D. (1999). Exploring New Religions. London: Cassell.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996). Our Heritage: A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ellwood, Robert S. and Harry B. Partin (1973/1988). Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America. Englewood-Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

FAIR (n.d., c. 1990). ‘Cults: Are you vulnerable?’ (Information leaflet.) London: FAIR.

Fichter, Joseph H. (ed.) (1983). Alternatives to American Mainline Churches. Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary.

Flinn, Frank K. (1983). ‘Scientology as Technological Buddhism’; in Fichter (1983), pp. 89-110.

Morison, Ken. (1995/1997). Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought. London: Sage.

Satsvarupa dasa Goswami (1983). Prabhupada. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Storr, Anthony (1996). Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus. London: HarperCollins.

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Jehovah's Witnesses – Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1993.

Weber, Max (1968/1978). Economy and Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.


George D. Chryssides

Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies

The University of Wolverhampton


The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century

April 19-22, 2001

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