Organisations, Movements and Members


Religious Organisations - Niebuhr


  • Highly individualistic, small, loose-knit groupings without a sharply defined belief system.
  • Least organised.
  • Many are world-affirming (spiritual).
  • Offer this-worldly benefits to individuals suffering psychic or health deprivation  (Stark & Bainbridge).
  • Members are often more like customers.
  • Subdivided into three types: Audience cults (least organised, no formal membership, little interaction between members), Client cults (consultant/client relationship with 'therapies' promising personal fulfillment), Cultic movements (most organised, exclusivist, requires high level of committment & claim to meey all their members' religious needs).
  • E.g. Scientology.


  • Membership is less exclusive & impose minor restrictions.
  • They accepts society's values but are not linked to the state.
  • E.g. Baptist.
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Religious Organisations - Troeltsch


  • Splits from existing organisations that offer other-worldly benefits to those suffering economic or ethical deprivation (Stark & Bainbridge).
  • Small, exclusive groups, demanding high committment from members.
  • Hostile to wider society, recruit from the poor & oppressed.
  • Charismatic leadership, monopoly of religious truth.
  • E.g. Quakers and People's Temple.


  • Large groups that place little demands on its members.
  • Universalistic & aim to include all of society.
  • Tend to attract middle-class due to their conservative beliefs.
  • Bureaucratic hierarchy & claim monopoly of truth.
  • E.g. Catholic Church
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Religious Organisations - Wallis

New Religious Movements:

  • World-rejecting NRMs - clear notion of God, highly critical of society, expect radical change, members must break from former life, live communally & have restricted contact with outside world, the movement controls all aspects of their life. E.g. People's Temple.
  • World-accommodating NRMs - breakaways from existing churches, neither accept or reject the world, focus on religious rather than worldly matters, members lead conventional lives. E.g. neo-Pentecostalists.
  • World-affirming NRMs - lack some conventional features of religion, offer access to spiritual or supernatural powers, accept the world as it is, promise followers succes in their goals, members are often seen as customers. E.g Scientology.
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Explaining the Growth of Religious Movements


  • Weber - sects appeal to disprivileged groups who are marginal to society.
  • Offer a solution to lack of status by providing a theodicy of disprivilege.

Relative Deprivation:

  • Someone who is privileged may feel deprived compared to others, e.g. middle class may feel spiritually deprived so turn to sects for a sense of community.
  • Stark & Bainbridge - relatively deprived break away from churches & form sects.

Social Change and NRMs:

  • Wilson - periods of rapid change undermine established norms, producing anomie; those most affected turn to sects & NRMs.
  • World-rejecting NRMs - social changes from 1960s gave young people freedom, so an idealistic counter-culture developed, whilst growth of radical political movements offered alternative ideas about future.
  • World-affirming NRMs - grown in response to modernity as it brings about rationalisation of work; they provide a sense of identity & techniques promising worldly success.
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Explaining the Growth of Religious Movements

The Dynamics of Sects and NRMs:

  • Niebuhr - sects are world-rejecting organisations that come onto existence by splitting from a church; within a generation they either die out or compromise to become a denomination.
  • Stark & Bainbridge - move through a sectarian cycle: schism, initial fervours & charismatic leadership, denominationalism & cooling of fervour, establishment, further schism.
  • Wilson - conversionist sects (aim to convert large numbers of people, are likely to grow rapidly into larger denominations); adventist sects (keep themselves separate from world, prevents them from compromising & becoming a denomination); established sects (survive for many generations e.g. Amish).

The Growth of the New Age:

  • Heelas - audience or client cults in the UK cover about 2000 ctivities & 146000 practitioners; very diverse but have two common themes:
  • Self-spirituality - have turned away from traditional 'external' churches & instead look inside themselves to find spirituality.
  • De-traditionalism - rejects the spiritual authority of external traditional sources (e.g. priests) to instead value personal experience.
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Explaining the Growth of Religious Movements

Postmodernity and the New Age:

  • Drane - the New Age appeal is part of a shift towards postmodern society; people have lost faith in experts & are disillusioned with the churches' failure to meet their spiritual needs.
  • Bruce - the growth of the New Age is a feature of the lastest phase of modern society.
  • Modern society values individualism (also important among those in 'expressive professions').
  • New Age eclecticism is typical of late modern society reflecting consumerism.
  • Heelas sees New Age & modernity linked in four ways:
  • A source of identity - individual has a fragmented identity in modern society, New Age beliefs offer a souce of 'authentic' identity.
  • Consumer culture - creastes dissatisfaction, New Age offers an alternative way to achieve perfection.
  • Rapid social change creates anomie in modern society, New Age provides a sense of certainity & truth.
  • Decline of organised religion leaves the way open to the New Age as an alternative. 
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Religiosity and Social Groups - Gender

  • More women than men believe in God - 1.8 mill female churchgoers (2005) & 1.36 mill men.
  • Bruce estimates twice as many women are involved in sects; Heelas & Woodhead found 80% of the holistic milieu were female.
  • Miller & Hoffman - women socialised to be passive, obedient & caring.
  • Davie - women's closer proximity to birth & death brings them closer to 'ultimate' questions.
  • Bruce - lesser involvement in paid work (secularised sphere).
  • Child-rearing = women less aggressive & more cooperative, fits expressive emphasis of New Age.
  • Brown - New Age appeals to women's wish for autonomy & emphasis on being authentic.
  • Glock & Stark - deprivation more common in women: organismic (suffer ill health & seek healing); ethical (morally conservative so attracted to conservatism of some sects); social (more likely to be poor so join sects).

The Pentecostal Gender Paradox:

  • Has grown rapidly among poor in Latin America & popular with women despite patriarchal.
  • Brusco - followers adopt ascetic lifestyle & traditional gender division so women can combat machismo culture - responsibe & support family.
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Religiosity and Social Groups - Ethnicity and Age


  • Country of origin - most minorities orginate from countries with higher levels of religious practise so maintain this pattern in UK.
  • Cultural defence - offers a cultural identity in a hostile environment, a means of preserving own culture & coping with oppression in a racist society.
  • Cultural transition - means of easing transition into a new culture by providing support and community in new environment (once the transition is made, religion may lose its role).


  • The older a person is, the more likely they are to attend religious services.
  • The ageing effect - become more concerned about afterlife as we approach death so attend church.
  • The period effect - people born in an earlier period are more likely to be religious due to events they have lived through e.g. war or rapid social change.
  • Secularisation - as religion declines in importance, each generation ceomes less religious; Voas & Crockett found this to be the reason why younger people are less religious than older people.
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