Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Sociology of Religious Movements

I just finished reading William Bainbridge's The Sociology of Religious Movements (1997). The book contains several fascinating case studies of "new religious movements" (I prefer the shorter sociological term "cult", but I understand that the word carries negative connotations to laypersons) such as the Family/Children of God and the Process Church of the Final Judgment, as well as on older fringe religious movements like the Millerites (which kept setting a date for the Second Coming and then revising that date as the old ones came and went). The book alternates case studies with theory chapters, but the case studies aren't integrated especially well with the theory. Indeed, the theory chapters seem more like literature reviews than independent original contributions to the sociology of religious movements. I also would have liked to see more discussion in the "Future of Religion" chapter about how "low-tension" mainstream denominations, "high-tension" cults, and non-religious groups interact. In other words, how does the familiar Church-Sect-Cult process incorporate non-religious individuals? Has the percentage of the population that is non-religious reached its zenith, or will it remain stable or even continute to grow? Still, this was an interesting and worthwhile book.

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