New Typology of Religious Organization
by Mark A. Foster1995
A couple of years ago, I developed a new typology of religious organization and presented a paper on it at a regional sociological meeting. My objective was to reduce what I regarded as the christocentric bias of the traditional church-sect-denomination-cult typology and to eliminate the offensiveness of the cult label (which, although used by social scientists to mean a variety of things - almost all of them quite specific and neutral - has, unfortunately, become, in popular usage, a pejorative).
Please bear in mind that each of these descriptions corresponds to what sociologists call, following Weber, "ideal types". IOW, they are absolute examples. Relative to them, actual religious organizations would be seen as approximations. Moreover, the types themselves are society-specific. For instance, while the Roman Catholic Church is a monopolist organization in Vatican City, it is a traditional pluralist organization in the United States. I use three basic types (normativist, arcanist, and distinctionist). All of them are subdivided. I will present just a brief outline of the major types and their subdivisions with at least one example of each:
Monopolistic Normativist: A religious organization which approaches total convergence with the logocenter (narrative framework/linguistic or social structure) of a society. Most members of society belong to, or conform to, the norms of the monopolistic normativist group. Persecution of minority opinions may be common in _some_ instances, e.g. the Roman Catholic Church in medieval Europe, Maoism during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Twelver Shi'ihism in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Official Pluralistic Normativist: A religious organization which is only unique insofar as it is (one of) the official religion(s) of a society. Official normativist, which may exist side by side with denominations and with other forms of religious organization, also converge with the logocenter but only with its general normative (rules of conduct and values, such as those which allign it with that society's civil religion) and traditional aspects (belonging to one of the established religious traditions in that society) - not with norms dictating actual affiliation or membership, e.g., Anglo-Catholicism in The United Kingdom and the various "official" religions in Zaire (some of which are recent imports).
Pluralistic Normativist: A religious organization which, like an official pluralistic normativist organization, converges with only the general normative aspects and traditional aspects of the logocenter (not with norms of actual affiliation or membership). This type, because of its incorporation of civil religion (the sacralization of patriotism), tend to be tolerant of other traditional normativists. They are culturally convergent, i.e., they belong to one of the established religious traditions in that society. For example, in the United States, Roman Catholicism, Methodism, Lutheranism, Conservative Judaism, and the neo-Lutheran twelve-step recovery groups would be traditional normativist organizations.
Pluralistic Normativist: A religious organization which is, in most respects, identical with a traditional normativist group. However, nontraditional normativists are not traditionally convergent. IOW, they are not part of one of the established religious traditions in that society. So, in the United States, any normativist organization which does not _define itself_ (my criterion) as a branch of either Christianity or of Judaism would be a nontraditional normativist organization, e.g., the World Community of al-Islam (Wallace D. Muhammad) and Ethical Culture in the United States.
Native Arcanist: Similar to Ernst Troeltsch's "mystics," arcanites rebel against secularism, bureaucracy, generalized angst, alienation, the routinization of charisma, and the "conformania" of mass society. Typically, they arise during periods of rapid social change and tend to attract some of the more affluent members of their societies. In the West, the current manifestation of this phenomenon is popularly known as the New Age Movement, a modern synthesis of Theosophy and New Thought with a variety of other occultic beliefs. They tend to tolerate a variety of perspectives and embody the "all paths lead to the same place" credo. The various types of occultic, or arcane, groups represent one variant which has been, along with some others to be discussed below, placed under the label "cult." Charismatic native arcanists originated in the focal society and function under the leadership of a living charismatic leader, such as Free John's Laughing Man organization and John-Roger Hinkins' Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness (a split-off from Eckankar).
Charismatic Imported Arcanist: Identical to the above except for originating outside the focal society, e.g., Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation.
Routinized Native Arcanist: In this case, there is no longer a single charismatic leader. Charismatic authority has been transferred to the group itself. The Arcane School, founded by the late Alice Bailey (who broke away from HPB's Theosophical Society) and the Association for Research and Enlightenment (Edgar Cayce) are both American examples.
Routinized Imported Arcanist: The same as the above, except for their point of origin, e.g., Mokichi Okada's Johrei Fellowship (World Messianity) in the United States.
Native Arcanist: Simply, an arcane group (either charismatic or routinized) which separated itself from another group (either charismatic or routinized), e.g. the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness, the Arcane School, and the two branches of Ernest Holmes' Religious Science (the science of mind).
Factional Imported Arcanist: As the above, except that the group comes from outside the focal society, e.g., the Society of Johrei, the Johrei Fellowship, and the two Mahikari organizations (all factions of the Japanese Johrei movement which have been imported to the United States).
Native Distinctivist: All distinctivist groups are characterized by a belief in the extraordinary legitimacy of their own religion. Native distinctivists, for example, are NRMs (new religious movements), or, as I prefer, alternative religious movements, which originated in the focal society but have no connection with any of its dominant religious traditions (and, BTW, are another sort of organization which is often termed "cultic"); and charismatic native distinctivists are under the leadership of a single charismatic leader where there has been little routinization of charisma. So, Scientology, during the lifetime of L. Ron Hubbard, was a charismatic native distinctivist group as was the Bahá'í Faith in the Near East during the lifetimes of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and, to an extent, Shoghi Effendi.
Native Distinctivist: Here, the charisma has been largely routinized. Although there _may_ be a formal leader, s/he is, from an objective POV, really not the center of power. There may, for example, be some sort of ecclesiatical structure under which the authority of the "leader" is subsumed. Present-day Scientology and the Bahá'í Faith in the contemporary Near East would be routinized native distinctionary groups.
Native Distinctivist: These would include any native distinctivist group which has split off from another religious organization (of any type). Scientology, for example, has had many of these, e.g., Silva Mind Control and, to some extent (since it also traces its descent from Kirpal Singh's Ruhani Satsang), Eckankar (especially during Paul Twitchell's lifetime).
Imported Distinctivist: What I term imported distinctivists have, like arcanists and native distinctivists been classed as cults. These are alternative religious movements which did not, either theologically or organizationally, originate in the focal society. IOW, they are imported religions. Charismatic imported distinctivists are under the leadership of a charismatic figure. Examples include the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church in the United States, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), especially during the lifetime of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in the United States, and the Bahá'í Faith in the West during the lifetimes of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and, to an extent, Shoghi Effendi.
Imported Distinctivist: An routinized native distinctivist group is one in which the charisma has become routinized (established/ institutionalized). Examples would include most of the native Indian branches of the Radhasoami movement (surat shabd yoga) as they have been transplanted to the West, Rudolph Steiner's Anthroposophy in the United States, and the present-day Bahá'í Faith in the West.
Imported Distinctivist: This type consists of either a charismatic or a routinized imported distinctivist group which is a branch of another religious organization, i.e., Kirpal light Satsang and Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission (both Indian branches of the Radhasoami movement).
Retrospective Distinctivist: This type is roughly the equivalent of a "sect." These are religious organizations which believe that they have returned to the original ("proto") doctrine of an established religious tradition in the focal society, such as Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. A charismatic retrospective distinctivist group is one which is under the leadership of a charismatic figure. The Bible Students (the parent religion of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Millenial Dawnists, and other groups), under Charles Taze Russell, were charismatic retrospective distinctivists. Phelps' ultra-fundamentalist Christian organization (in Topeka, Kansas) is also in this category.
Retrospective Distinctivist: This type would include those which have become institutionalized/established in the focal society. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Worldwide Church of God would both be examples. Factional
Retrospective Distinctivist: This type would include those which have split off from another, usually retrospective distinctivist, organization. These would include the Jehovah's Witnesses and the various factions of the Worldwide Church of God (such as the Philadelphia Church of God and the Church of God International).