CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

Religious Communities as Interest Groups

by Maria Marczewska-Rytko, Faculty of Political Science UMCS Lublin Poland
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


The aim of this article is to present a religious community as an interest group. The following deliberations are purely conceptual and by no means cover the entire matter in question. Instead, I attempt to emphasize the problems, mainly methodological in nature, faced while undertaking a research into the issue of treating religious communities as interest groups. The topic is discussed from the point of view of a political and religious sciences researcher. Initially I will concentrate on defining a religious community as such, and subsequently characterize those of its features, that enable its treatment as an interest group and distinguish it from other definable interest groups.

I advance a number of research theses. Firstly, in reference to the term religion its is customary to speak of religion as such or the general notion of religion. In truth, however, there is no such thing. Instead, we have to deal with specific religions that have appeared throughout history. [1] Due to the ambiguity of the term religion, no classification has yet been worked out to satisfy all the researchers and users of the definition. [2] Secondly, there have been numerous difficulties with defining communities of the adherents of a given religion. The used terminology is rarely neutral, and often carries negative connotations. Therefore the name given to a certain community influences its perception in a society. I use the term religious community as it is – in my opinion – the most neutral, although I am aware of the problems that the above assumptions may cause. Thirdly, the term interest group can be used in reference to a religious community. Notably, a community of this sort combines two spheres: sacrum and profanum. The shape and characteristics of a religious community treated as a specific interest group will be influenced by both external and internal factors. Those factors ultimately differentiate the religious communities treated as interest groups, the main body of values and offered benefits, however, seems to remain constant


Definition and Classification of Religious Communities


Both study of religions and sociology of religions recognize a number of different classifications of religious communities. According to Tadeusz Margul a six-stage classification should be applied (Margul 1993). The stages are: 1) the family of religions (genealogical), 2) religion as such (the spiritual basis of a centuries old, vast civilization), 3) religious faction (result of a schism),  3) denomination (second stage of a faction), 5) sects, religious groups in the United States (separate denominational groups), 6) religious movements (religious schools and minor factions). The author proposed a genetic taxonomy, starting from the smallest typological unit, going through the middle stages, and eventually reaching the largest, in terms of its reach and cultural role - great religious tradition. In the opinion of T. Margul, such taxonomical division can be effectively used in reference to numerous religions. The author provides two examples: Christianity and Buddhism. In the first of those cases one can speak of a family of Judaist religions (Semitic). Christianity divided into three major factions: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant also known as evangelical. The further divisions were most significant in the Protestant faction, which separated into numerous denominations: Lutheran (Augsburg-evangelical), Calvinist (evangelical-reformed), Anglican. Within Calvinism there are denominations of the second reformation (Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Adventists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Satanists, and Unitarians). Buddhism, belonging to the family of Hindu religions, divided into three factions: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Within Mahayana there are many definable denominations (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese), which in turn divide into various sects. [3]

Therefore, an extensive use of the terms denominational affiliation, church, or sect can be observed. The notion of a “denominational affiliation” refers to an organizational system of religious groups. For now, specialist literature  lacks an exact definition of this notion, as well as a specified genealogical hierarchy of its factions, variations, sects, movements, and minor religious denominations. Similar difficulties are encountered while attempting to define terms such as “church” or “sect” (Richardson 1993; Dillon, Richardson 1994). In principle, within the scope of catholic religions the organizational systems are referred to as Churches, similarly to the Buddhist Church in the USA. For other religious societies other terms are applied, for instance: “denominational affiliation”,  “religious society”, “religious company”,  “denominational association”, or “denominational group”.

Several lawyers define a denominational affiliation as an association of citizens who profess the same faith within the confines of the law regarding denominational affiliations, as well as the state legal order (Świątkowski 1960). Others on the other hand, put emphasis to its being an organized community based upon a strictly defined set of religious beliefs, that constitute a separate denominational category, which motivates its members to pursue common goals with the use of common means (Langer 1967). A denominational affiliation is, therefore, a specific kind of an organized community, which has an established inner hierarchy and is capable of appointing its leaders, who perform internal tasks as well as represent the affiliation externally, and are entitled to defining the rights and obligations of the affiliation’s followers (Pietrzak 1999). The main legal criteria distinguishing denominational affiliations from other social organisations is the sole purpose of their activity – satisfying religious needs. Denominational affiliations enjoy certain constitutional privileges. This fact creates a potential danger of exploitation by organisations abusing the status of a denominational affiliation for purposes other than religious. According to W. Wysoczański, the term denominational affiliation refers both to Churches, and to other religious associations, regardless of their name or the legal basis for their operation (Wysoczański, Pietrzak 1997). The term “church” is, in his opinion, comprised within the notion of “denominational affiliation”. Thus we can discuss the traditional Christian affiliations as well as their non-Christian equivalents. Individual denominational affiliations differ considerably. The variation concerns both their religious doctrine, the cult tradition, and the code of practice. Several researchers tend to use the term religious organisation instead of denominational affiliation. Among others its Rodney Stark and William S. Bainbridge, who define a religious organisation as a sort of a social initiative aimed at creating, sustaining, and exchanging incentives of divine providence (Stark, Bainbridge 2000).

Subsequently, a Church is based upon a multigenerational denominational tradition, which supports the traditional social order and is bound by different means to the privileged social groups and classes, intending to preserve the existing social status quo (Troeltsch 1931). Such protestant definition seems to overemphasize the conservatism of Churches. The fact of the Church’s acceptance of the existing social order is accentuated by numerous researches, who neglect the often revolutionary religious movements. The Church as an institution offers its members redemption through grace, stresses the importance of sacraments and the religious tradition. In fact membership in a Church is somewhat automatic. A person is, so to speak, born into a Church and remains its member for the rest of their life. Nowadays, however, it often becomes a matter of a conscious choice (not fate, but free will). The leadership of a Church is synchronized and hierarchical in nature.

The greatest amount of controversy and ambiguity follows the term “religious sect” (from lat. sequor, secutussum – to follow). The broadest sense of the word sect refers to a minor cultural or convictional opposition towards the community, within which the sect operates. Here, however, we are concerned with the narrowed meaning of the term. A religious sect comes to being as a result of minor-rate divisions within religious communities. The larger-scale divisions are referred to as factions (Catholicism – Protestantism – Orthodox Church; Vishnavism – Shaivism - Shaktism; Theravada – Mahayana - Vayrajana; Sunna – Shi’ia).

According to G. Menshing a sect is usually characterised by an individual and charismatic type of leadership, voluntary participation, the members’ radicalism towards the world and generally recognised values, as well as a tendency for unilateral interpretation of the religious doctrine and for narrowing the cult (Mensching 1966, 1967, 1968). A number of sociologists define a sect as a religious community based upon a common agreement, as opposed to an institutionalised church organisation (Troeltsch 1931, Weber 1946, 1994, 1995). Others understand sects as a social effort aimed at reintegration. Bishop Z. Pawłowicz describes a sect as a religious group or movement originating from a religion, or a denominational affiliation, which has separated from one of the Churches creating its own doctrinal, cult, and organisational canons (Pawłowicz 1992, 1996). Reverend W. Nowak underlines the features that characterise a Christian sect such as: missionary zeal, charismatic leadership, exclusive truth, superiority of the group, suppression of individuality, strict discipline, doctrinal divergences towards authority, God, Jesus Christ, and salvation (Nowak 1995). In the context of their genesis, one could distinguish three types of sects, that originated from:

1)                  teachings of a charismatic leader, capable of gathering people who blindly follow his teachings (guruism);

2)                  a split within a given religious group (schism);

3)                  an aspiration of a part of followers for a revival within a given religious community (reformation).

Specialist literature typically treats a Church and a sect as two contrasting social structures. Thus the opposition sect – Church is often discussed. This opposition refers mainly to Roman Catholicism and Islam, while sects are a norm in Hinduism which is in fact a federation of sects. The dichotomy does not cover the whole range of diversity in denominational organisations. It is more a theoretical model. There are religious organisations that can be situated in-between a sect and a Church. [4] They are referred to as “religious groups”. In European literature the term “religious group” means a denominational affiliation, which either protests within a Church existing in a given society, or separates from it. In this sense the term “religious group” is synonymous to the term “sect”. In American literature religious group refers to a denominational affiliation with a longer tradition, which is organised, registered, and acting as a pro-civil “Church”. A denominational affiliation, when understood in this way, strives to fit into the outside world, has a stable organizational structure, and is usually tolerant towards other religious organisations. Both terms Church and sect originated from Christianity, thus their effectiveness in non-Christian rituals and beliefs is rather vague. 

In my deliberations I have assumed a concept of a religious community. In the Introduction to his book, Paweł Załęcki defines a religious community as a social phenomenon, characterised by a strong interpersonal bond between its members (Załęcki 1997). This type of community is – according to the author – in some respects a self-sufficient group, which can satisfy a wide range of its members’ needs (the feeling of belonging to a certain group). The social relationships within the community are supported, according to Załęcki, by friendship, kinship, closeness of residence, or certain common morality (community of norms and moral values). The author uses the notion of a religious community in connection to the so called new social movements. In my opinion the term may be effectively used in reference to a wider spectrum of communities occupied with the sphere of sacrum. Especially since in many Church documents a phrase “The Church and other religious communities” is used repeatedly.


Religious Community as an Interest Group.


To continue our deliberations, it would be useful to mention the ideas of Max Weber, who claims, that in fact every political body showed a considerable amount of distrust towards any individual attempt to achieve salvation and unconstrained formation of communities (Weber 1946). They were – according to the thinker – perceived as a potential basis of liberation from the yoke of the institutionalised state. Weber talks of the contempt that the politicians loathe the attempts to find the values, seen by them as unpractical, as they do not fit into the sphere of utilitarian, earthly aspirations. In respect to the members of the religious communities, however, those aspirations no longer seem so unpractical. One of the major reasons for participating in this type of communities is a search for a panacea against the pains and problems of everyday life. Religious communities provide both incentives, understood as promises of future benefits, as well as benefits themselves. Considering the system of incentives and benefits, R. Stark and W. S. Bainbridge claim, that a Church puts more emphasis to the immediate benefits, while a sect to the incentives (Stark, Bainbridge 2000). The reason for that is the fact, that participation in a Church is more restrained and incorporated into the appropriate correlation with the surrounding social environment, while membership in a sect stresses a greater dedication to faith and neglecting of the external circumstances. It is important to highlight, that such a way of thinking is acceptable on a higher level of abstraction and is purely conceptual. In real life, we have to deal with a varied situation both in Churches and in sects. In this respect it seems justified to assume that within Churches some tendencies characteristic of sects may appear. Here, however, the main point of interest is the specification of a religious community as an interest group that offers actual benefits to its members. [5]

Researchers occupied with interest groups have identified a number of benefits that those groups can offer. These are material benefits (usually financial profits), solidarity (a derivative from participating in the group’s activity), and aspiration (connected to the values and aims of the group) (Sabatier 1992). [6] It seems that religious communities should be associated with the second and the third of those benefit groups. Significantly, the last group, referring to aspiration, should be treated as the most important. Thus we should point to the chief incentives and benefits offered by religious communities (table 1):


Table 1




Providing a religious doctrine alleviating the pains and adversities of everyday life; the promise of the afterlife where there is no



Membership in a religious community as opposed to being deprived of roots, and as a source of future rewards

Access to new religious experiences that often bring out suppressed emotions; experience of visions, new situations


Participating in common religious rituals, a strengthening feeling of belonging to a unified community

Access to prayer and to personal ways of religious devotion


Opportunity to participate in religious initiatives

Feeling of moral superiority, of having access to esoteric knowledge; feeling of being among the chosen ones


Process of socialisation of children; forwarding a certain system of values


Source: Stark, Bainbridge 2000; Hood, Morris 1983 and my own research.


            It is also important not to forget the religious evolution that takes place during the process of institutionalisation of religion. Robert N. Bellah, among others, points to the fact that the role of a member of a Church has become one of many social roles we are assigned to perform nowadays  (Bellah 1998, 225-226).

            Considering the worldview of the communities called sects, one can assume that the problem is complex in its nature. Each community manifests a different attitude towards the surrounding world and - as a consequence – suggests a unique set of incentives and benefits for its members. Table 2 represents four main kinds of communities that differ in their attitude towards the outside world, pursued goals, ways of activity and  - markedly - main set of incentives and benefits provided for those who join the chosen group. Notably, the feeling of joining an elite, chosen group is seen as the defining feature of this sort of communities. Undoubtedly this division does not exhaust the problem. It is rather a way of signalling its existence and complexity. In addition, the presented division proves the superficiality of the notion claiming that members of this type of communities are immature, rejected, or poor in the sense of their social status. For instance, the members of the manipulative communities (Gnostic) often originate from the more “educated” stratums, seeking to gain control and achieve success in a non-competitive way. It must be noted at this point, that modern civilisation guarantees success only through struggle and competition (so called rat race). 


Table 2








Convertist Enthusiastically – reformative

Perception of the degradation of the world an its people

Changing people, and through them changing the world

Stimulation of the religious awakening; support from the entire group; stressing the relation between a man and the saviour; moralisation; missionary activity

Future salvation; deep emotional experience of having a relationship with the saviour; membership in a chosen group


Adventist, Awaiting the end of the world

Condemnation of the existing social order

Introducing a new social order; securing political control for the sect members; various international events and conflicts, as well as round dates, are treated as signs of the closing apocalypse

Awaiting for a change of the social order; analysing prophecies; treatment of the members as God’s tools

Active role in the future God’s order, participation in reorganising of the social order



Neglecting the world and earthly matters

Experience of security through personally achieved holiness; Striving to achieve holiness; separation from the outside world and concentrating on personal development

Deepening of spiritual life; isolation from worldly matters

Support from community in the desire for holiness; feeling of moral superiority; feeling of being one of the enlightened



Also known as cult

Acceptance of the world

Improvement of life by means of the occult knowledge carried by the community; supporting the cultural values of the society; rejection of the idea of community’s isolation, creating the notion of super-religion.

The use of gnosis; underlining the success of those members who used the occult in their activity; providing appropriate techniques and ways of conduct.

Promise of health, success, prestige, more “scientific” vision of gaining prestige and power.


Source: Wilson 1963; Marty 1960; Yinger 1957; Troeltsh 1931; and my own research. [7]




Religious Community in the World of Pluralism, Secularisation, and Privatisation of Religion.


            In my deliberations so far I have presented the internal factors influencing the functioning of a religious community as an interest group. It must be stated, that external factors are also highly influential. One of those factors is certainly pluralism, or its lack. In the United States – as discussed by Bryan R. Wilson among others – religious pluralism has been present since the birth of the nation and is one of its fundamental norms (Wilson 1998). Thus, it represents an essential part of the American constitution. As a result, the increase in the religious diversity made a concept of a traditional Church unsustainable. The pluralist American society developed religious groups with their own liturgical, architectonic, and even ecclesial style, that had been customarily reserved solely for traditional Churches. It is a direct consequence of what Milton Yinger refers to as the multilevel and to some extent syncretic pattern of American religion (namely the division to Churches, religious groups, and sects). The diversity of religious organisations has – in his opinion – strongly influenced their separation from the state, tolerance, religious rebirth and evangelism, as well as ecumenism (Yinger 1957). On the other hand, national Churches have survived in the majority of European countries. In the case of the Western countries, we frequently speak of pluralism, despite the fact that when examined more carefully, freedom of religious communities is most often restricted to a certain extent (the examples of Germany and France have been already widely discussed). Furthermore, in the Muslim world, as well as in the former socialist countries we can speak of non-existence of pluralism whatsoever.

            However, even in the countries characterised by a high level of pluralism, not all religious communities are subject to the same treatment (this refers both to legal decrees and to social perception). [8] For that reason it is possible to classify religious communities on the basis of the privileges they do or do not enjoy, due to their role and position in a given society.


Table 3





Officially recognised Churches

They have full freedom of operating; enjoy the full spectrum of privileges; can insert religious education into schools, have chaplains in the military; take advantage of special taxation regulations; often have access to state funds; can have an official agreement with the state (concordat).

Preserving the status quo; attempts to increase the level of freedom and privileges; condemnation of religious communities (especially sects and cults) seen as a threat to maintaining the privileged position.

Other accepted Churches

They have freedom of operating; enjoy limited privileges; the attitude towards this type of religious communities depends on the society’s cultural heritage and tradition.

Acceptance of the status quo; attempts to strengthen the tradition that establishes the community’s position; attempts to broaden the range of privileges

Other religious communities

They have a limited freedom of operating and in fact enjoy very limited privileges, often solely the allowance to organise meetings, distribute religious publications, etc.

Change of the status quo; attempts to gain a higher status, becoming a part of the nation’s culture and tradition; recruitment of followers or impartial people; publicising court rulings favourable for this sort of communities

Illegal religious communities

They have no freedom of operating, often function in hiding, their activity meets with social condemnation; the sources of persecution may be both official bodies not approving of the given community as well as the society itself

Change of the status quo; activity behind the facade of a socially acknowledged organisation in expectation of a future change in the “climate”.


Source: Marczewska-Rytko 1997; Richardson 1994, 1997; documents accumulated by INFORM – the chief documentation centre of the new religious movements in Europe (London School of Economics and Political Science); documents accumulated by The Foundation for Religious Tolerance.


            Thus, we can conclude, that the perception of a given religious community in a society has an immediate impact on its freedom of operating and the extent of enjoyed privileges. For instance, the events of 11 September 2001 have had a negative effect on the image of Muslim religious communities in the western countries. Therefore, a great majority of religious communities attempt to shape their own image in order to make it more acceptable in a given society. For that reason they refer to tradition, history, and culture as well as emphasize the importance of the advocated values. The newest means of communication are also becoming ever more popular. [9] This notion does not exclude the religious communities of the Muslim world, which – seemingly – have given up the progress and advantages of the processes of globalization. [10] The use of the Internet for fulfilling their mission has become a standard, while religious communities struggle to find their own place in the global village. [11]

            Gustavo Guizzardi formulates an opinion of  the uselessness of complaining about the imperfections of a religious organization, or any other for that matter – he adds. Instead, we should make an effort to modernize it and prepare it to embody the religious reality of our time. For that reason – in his opinion – nowadays we witness god’s people already free from superstitions due to the higher level of education (Guizzardi 1998).

            G. Guizzardi’s reflections are closely linked to the processes of secularisation, that strongly influence the functioning of religious communities. It is an outcome of a long process which increased the importance of secular powers and reduced the demand for Church services. Bryan R. Wilson noted, that the response to the process of secularisation is the preservation of the enjoyed status mainly by means of ecumenism (Wilson 1998). On that basis, he claims that ecumenism is the remedy which will protect Churches from transforming into sects, since the process of conversion ‘from Church to sect’ seems an inevitable direction of the religious organisations’ evolution in a secular society. In his opinion, enthusiasm found no response among clergy, and the secular passion was often seen as disturbing and blameworthy. He continues, that the clergy consciously turned to ecumenism, the liturgical movement, or an attempt to identify with the needs of the secular society as well as to point out the areas where religious organisations still have their use, in a society where there is close to no demand for religious ideas and values (Wilson 1998). This reflection has been supported by other researchers as well. [12] It ought to be added, that the tendency to diminish the position of religion in favour of other institutions is often criticised, mainly by conservative groups. [13]

            Another process characteristic of the modern world is privatisation of religion. On the one hand it undoubtedly inflicts strong influence on the functioning of religious communities, on the other seems to undermine the thesis of ongoing secularisation. I shall refer to this dilemma in the conclusion to this article. At this point, it will be useful, however, to briefly summarise the discussed process. The main theoretician engaged in the research on privatisation of religion is Thomas Luckmann, who emphasizes two phenomena: indeed we are facing the departure from the traditional functions of a Church and Church religiousness in society; it has nothing to do, however, with diminishing the notions of sacredness or religion as such (Luckmann 1996). [14] This leads to the conclusion, that the initialised religiousness is now being replaced with a more personal one. Furthermore, according to Luckmann, this privatised religion is dominant in the modern world. In this context, he speaks of a non-denominational or out-of-Church religiousness. A growing number of people, particularly young, are looking for their own spiritual place outside the recognised, traditional Churches. It is a peculiar declaration of faith: “yes” for religion, “no” for Churches.

            Notably, the great majority of citizens in developed societies make a choice from among a number of available religious and para-religious ideas. And the act of choice is in itself a confirmation of the privatisation of religion. Thus, the discussed process forces traditional religious institutions, along with their mission, to face an entirely new situation.  In this context a thesis of a so called spiritual supermarket is being advanced. It assumes that we are dealing with a mosaic of beliefs and rituals created by the adherents themselves, who behave like customers in a spiritual supermarket. Religious communities cannot ignore the mentioned processes. In his famous book Lexus and the Olive Tree Thomas L. Friedman says that “even if we get the right politics, geopolitics, geo-economics and geo-management for sustainable globalization,there is another, less tangible, set of policies that needs to be kept in mind – the olive-tree needs in us all: the need for community, for spiritual meaning and for values with which to raise our children. Those have to be protected and nurtured as well for globalization to be sustainable” and further he writes “God trusted man to make choices, when He entrusted Adam to make the right decision about which fruit to eat in the Garden of Eden. We are responsible for making God’s presence manifest by what we do. And the reason that this issue is most acute in cyberspace is because no one else is in charge there. There is no place in today’s world where you encounter the freedom to choose that God gave man more than in cyberspace.” (Friedman 2000, 468, 469). [15] Another problem follows the escalation of denominational extremism. The rebirth of religion (not only in the light of privatisation of religion) is accompanied by an increase in fundamentalism, not only in the Muslim countries. In fact out of all functioning religious communities only the Catholic Church can say to have a spiritual leader of considerable authority. For a large part of the Buddhist community Dalaj Lama is an unquestionable leader. Islam and Hinduism, on the other hand, are internally divided.

At this point we reach the next significant process referred to as “deprivatisation” of religion. The main theoretician of this notion is Jose Casanova, who – in order to support his claims – points to the modern cases of religion becoming public (Casanova 1998). He describes three varieties of deprivatisation of religion. Firstly, we are facing an increase in religious eagerness to protect the traditional, everyday world. Namely the opposition towards subordinating this sphere of life to the economic market or the state. Secondly, by means of religious communities, religion enters the public sphere of modern societies to question the tendency of markets and states to function accordingly to their own norms, with disrespect of traditional morality. Thirdly, one can observe propagation of the principle of common welfare instead of the individualism of liberal theories, which – in simple words – reduce the common good to the sum of individual choices. Considering the three instances of deprivatisation of religion, it can be concluded that the today’s world offers two choices to religion: privatisation or deprivatisation. Therefore, we can distinguish two types of religious communities (which also insures their place among interest groups): referring to the private religion of individual salvation and attempting – at least from time to time – to enter the public sphere of life. The mentioned alternative is a considerable challenge, notably for the sizeable religious communities of universal character. It is enough to point to the Catholic Church, which is facing worldview challenges, alongside those posed by other religions and the secular sphere. Referring to this situation, Casanova writes, that the Catholic Church will be forced to learn coexistence with the social and cultural pluralism, both outside and inside the Church itself (Casanova 1998, 419).

              In the context of the problems discussed above, the attitude of religious communities towards the integration processes in Europe is yet another crucial issue. Most notably, especially the largest religious communities try to present their own vision of the matter and ways of implementing the changes. Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek states: “When we say ‘United Europe’, we mean mainly the nations and the economic and political mechanisms, but we should not forget the one thing that binds all that, that makes a man someone close, makes him human. I mean the area of culture, where one can find things, which cannot be implemented into a business plan nor counted in ecu, but can be achieved through a great inner effort: a spiritual experience, also religious, a relation between the measurable material gain and the ultimate purpose of a human being. In this matter religious communities, Churches, hold competence” (Pieronek 1997, 22). Archbishop of Milan Carlo Maria Martini declares, that there are cultural and spiritual bases necessary for unity, and one of them is reference to the Holly Bible, which – in his words – is the historical binding of Europe’s spiritual unity (Martini 2000). [16] In Martini’s opinion, the future of Europe, directed by tradition, promises Christian unity and a dialogue between religions. Therefore – as he puts it – one should not be concerned with the confrontation of diverse cultures and religions, but rather with lack of identity and dialogue. For this reason, Martini uses the term globalization of solidarity, which he treats as the greatest challenge facing Europe. It seems that the Archbishop, with his opinions, is a voice of the minority. In a document published by the bishop of Saint Denis, Olivier de Berranger, we read: “As for the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the bishops of COMECE (Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, author’s note) deemed it necessary to point out, that their comment would not be complete, if it did not take into consideration the collective dimension, by which they understand the ability of Churches, associations, and religious communities to issue decisions that are physical representations of those freedoms, and which ought to have legal force. If the force is truly guaranteed by every member of the Union, it will mean that the Charter (the Charter of Basic Democratic Rights, author’s note) fulfils this requirement when it speaks of the freedom of expressing one’s religion or religious beliefs individually and collectively, publicly and privately through cults, education, practices, or rituals. This point is clearly emphasized when it comes to the parents’ right to educate their children through institutions and methods which correspond to their religious and philosophical beliefs” (Berranger 2001, electronic version). The problem of religious communities seeking their place in the uniting Europe has merely been mentioned here and requires a further, in-depth study. At this point it should be pointed out, that the stronger communities try to actively shape their environment accordingly to their vision and propagated system of values. The weaker communities are more preoccupied with survival.




            On the basis of the above deliberations we can attempt to draw several conclusions. Firstly, organisational forms of religion (alike religion itself) are a source of considerable difficulties for researchers. Specialist literature exploits various terms, whose scope of meaning is often controversial. To mention just a few: Church, sect, denominational affiliation, cult, religious group, religious company, denominational association. Particularly controversial is the understanding of sects and religious cults. To some extent, the situation is systematized by the division proposed by Tadeusz Margul. One should notice, however, that the terminology used by scientist often does not correspond to its perception in society. In this article I have employed a concept of a religious community, which covers any possible Church or denominational affiliation.

            Secondly, a religious community can be treated as a specific interest group, defending its place in society and offering particular incentives and benefits to its members. Among the incentives we find such elements as providing a religious doctrine which helps overcome chores of everyday life, allowing access to new religious experiences, prayer, and forms of individual religiousness, giving the members a feeling of moral superiority. Among the benefits we find membership in a religious community, participation in the rituals, possibility of taking part in religious initiatives, as well as socialisation of children. The peculiarity of a religious community understood as an interest group lies in its combining two spheres: sacrum and profanum.   

            Thirdly, the functioning of a religious community is defined by numerous factors. The chief internal factors are: religious doctrine, which includes the communities attitude towards the outside world; the proclaimed aims; the means of realising those goals as well as the offered benefits and incentives. As for the external features, a lot depends on legislation in a given system and the attitude of the society towards religious communities. In general, the rights of religious communities are guaranteed to the greatest extent in societies characterised by pluralism, although – as has already been pointed out – the freedom of operation depends on a communities position in a given society.

            Fourthly, the functioning of religious communities is strongly effected by the processes of secularisation and privatisation of religion. After analysing the available publications and conducting my own research, I concluded, that we are dealing with numerous –often contradictory – processes, which correlate with the complexity of the today’s world. For that reason – in my opinion – the process of secularisation does not exclude privatisation. Furthermore, the endangerment of institutionalised Churches in one part of the world does not exclude their development and growth in another region. This explains the diversity of often contradictory theses and analyses advanced by scientists.

            Finally, great religious communities in particular have an active share in the discussion of bonds and functions of the uniting Europe. Considering the role played by religion and religious communities in our part of the world, the research of this type of interest groups – markedly in the reality of the uniting Europe – proves to be of great value.







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[1] I have already approached this subject in a number of publications and presentations (Marczewska-Rytko 2001a, 2001b). Compare: Bronk 1996; Luckmann 1977; Derrida 1998; Lanczkowski 1986.

[2] It is enough to point to the classic works of Karel Dobbelaere, compiled among others in an anthology edited and provided with an introduction by Władysław Piwowarski (Dobbelaere 1998).

[3] Literature provides various classifications of religious denominations in Poland. For instance the taxonomy used by the Central Statistical Office includes the following denominations: Catholic and Old Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and of Protestant descent, Muslim, Judaist, Eastern, and many others. Some authors recognize denominations such as Orthodox, Judaism, Islam, Caraitism,  Lutheranism, Calvinism, Old Ritual, Baptism, Adventism, Irvingianism, Neoirvingianism, Darbism, Maravitism, The Explorers of the Holy Scripture, Plymuccy Paszkowcy Brothers, Plymuccy Brothers, Pentecostals, Catholic-Nationals, Methodists, Scientists, the Churches of Christ, Mormons, Arians, The Rose Crusaders, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as other religious movements (Urban 1994). The non-Christian denominations comprise groups referring to the Judaist, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions (Marczewska-Rytko 1997).

[4] For instance, Zbigniew Danielewicz points out, that there is a whole range of denominational phenomena between a Church and a sect. Therefore it is close to impossible – in his opinion – to draw a clear-cut line marking the point where it is still a Church, or where a sect begins (Danielewicz 1999). Compare: Ferdek 1998; Barker 1997; Libiszowska-Żółtkowska 1973, 2001.

[5] See: Hofrenning 1995; Duke, Johnson 1992.

[6] Compare: Mawhinney 2001; Baumgartner, Leech 1998.

[7] Among the sources of interesting research material, were the discussions and presentations during two international conferences I have taken part in: The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism and Globalizm in the 21st Century: The Expanding European Union and Beyond, INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) and CENSUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) with the cooperation of research centers from the United States, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and ISORECEA (International Association for the Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe), London School of Economics and Political Science, Great Britain, 18-22.04.2001; Filling the Moral Vacuum, The foundation for Religious Tolerance, Great Britain, 23-26.05.2002.

[8] The relevant legal acts and decrees can be found e.g. in: Marczewska-Rytko 1997; Wysoczański,  Pietrzak 1997; Jasudowicz 2001. Compare: Hunt 2001; Warburg 2001.

[9] In the “Biuro i Komputer” supplement to “Gazeta Stołeczna” we can read that: “The Churches in the States cannot afford to be absent from the Internet, because their adherents – as one of American observers noted – perceive it as a sign of loosing contact with reality, in which the members of the community live their lives. As for the other parts of the world it has not gone so far yet, nevertheless Churches, religious organizations, and sects are connecting to the Internet on a mass scale. On the same basis, and for the same reasons as any secular organization. The web hosts Protestant Churches, e.g. Mormons with their world famous global genealogic archive. It sounds like a paradox, but even the Amish, known for their hostile attitude towards modern technologies, have their own web page.” (Bóg on line 1996, 10) It should be added, that since the publishing of the quoted text much of the information has already changed. Compare Ramo 1996.

[10] During the Supernatural Supermarket: Religious Pluralism and Globalization in the 21st Century: The Expanding European Union and Beyond conference, London 2001 a research was presented visualizing the use of Internet by the considerable majority of Muslim religious communities. In my opinion one should note the professionalism of the pages’ preparation and their attractive layout encouraging the visitor to return in the future. Compare also Dawson 2001.

[11] Compare: Marczewska-Rytko 2002a, 2002b.

[12] It’s worth to note the deliberations of Franz X. Kaufmann, who referred to religion in the context of a research on modernity.

[13] Compare: Marczewska-Rytko 2002c.

[14] Compare: Berger, Luckmann 1983; Borowik 1997; Borowik, Tomka 2001.

[15] See: Mothlabi 2001.

[16] See also: Martini 1997.

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