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5 - The invention of a counter-tradition: the case of the North American anti-cult movement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

David G. Bromley
Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology School of World Studies Virginia Commonwealth University
Douglas E. Cowan
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Social Development Studies Renison College University of Waterloo
James R. Lewis
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
University of Southern Denmark
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Although the implications of their positions differ dramatically, scholars ranging from Marx and Freud to Durkheim and Berger have held that humans create the gods they worship rather than the reverse. In both religious studies and the sociology of religion, of course, this assertion is better regarded as a foundational assumption than as a discovery, since the empirical basis of these disciplines admits to no other solution. From a social-constructionist standpoint, transcendent power must be envisioned, empowered, and mystified through the invention of myth and ritual. Despite a general agreement among social-science and religious-studies scholars that religious traditions are invented, however, it is significant that little systematic attention has been paid to the invention process and its implications. The result is that the construction of religious reality has been privileged in ways granted to no other social form. From our perspective, religious myths and rituals through which socially constructed transcendent power is sacralized constitute one type of ideology – as Ann Swidler puts it, “a highly articulated, self-conscious belief and ritual system, aspiring to offer a unified answer to problems of social action.” On one hand, mythic systems provide the largest cultural canvas on which human history and the human condition are depicted as linked to a transcendent source of power. On the other, ritual systems create the means by which transcendent power is realized, accessed, and negotiated.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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