Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2012
NEW RELIGIONS AND RELIGIOUS INNOVATION
Religions resemble living organisms. They emerge as distinct entities in the religious landscape when, for example, innovations are introduced by a charismatic leader or a schismatic group leaves its parent organization. They gain momentum if they manage to attract adherents, often shifting shape in the process: the leadership of the charismatic individual is replaced by a more bureaucratic institution, or the initial emotional effervescence of the schismatic group subsides. Some religions disappear in the earliest, formative stages, while others manage to survive the turbulent first years. As time passes, they may enter into a phase of relative stability. Changes still take place, but often at a pace that is so slow that established doctrines and rituals seem to be seamlessly transmitted from generation to generation. Only when a new charismatic authority figure takes center stage, a schismatic group breaks out of the organization, or when external forces undermine the stability of the tradition, do changes once again become visible as equilibrium becomes threatened. Finally, even traditions that have subsisted for centuries or millennia can pass into insignificance or oblivion. Gods that were venerated in the distant past – Marduk of the Babylonians, the Egyptian goddess Isis, Zeus of classical antiquity, and countless others – are reduced to names in the annals of research, as rituals in their honor are no longer performed and stories about them cease to be told.