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The Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements and Globalization: A Theoretical Prolegomenon Author(s): Lorne L.

Dawson Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Dec., 1998), pp. 580-595 Published by: Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Stable URL: . Accessed: 02/10/2012 23:53
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The Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements and Globalization: A Theoretical Prolegomenon

Sociologists of religion interested in the possible cultural significanceof contemporarynew religious movements have tended to focus their analyses on whether these new forms of religious life are or are not agents of modernizationand/orsecularization.In recent years talk of globalizationhas been added to these complex concerns.This article outlines the existing debate over the cultural significance of new religious movements (NRMs),and summarizes and criticizes the contributionof globalizationtheory, as framed by Roland Robertson.Robertson'stheory, it is argued,helps to underminethe questionabletendency to identify new religions as either modernor antimodern,secularizing or desecularizing. But it tends to erroneously limit the attribution of cultural significance to movements of religious fundamentalism or renewed orthodoxy. Logically, however, the theory also suggests new ways of attributing cultural significance to more "privatized" modes of new religious life like Scientologyor the New Age Movement.

The cultural significance of new religious movements (NRMs hereafter) is commonly delineated in terms of two closely related yet analytically distinct concerns:the differentiation of premodernand modem forms of social life, and the debate over secularization. Some new religious developments and groups, that is, are interpreted as being essentially antimodem in character. They are said to manifest a measure of protest against changes in the basic patterns of social life identified with the rise of "modernity" (e.g., Krishna Consciousness, The Unification Church, and various extreme elements of the Christian fundamentalist and pentecostal movements). Other NRMs are deemed to be quintessentially modern in their form and functioning, and even in some aspects of their beliefs (e.g., Scientology, VajradhatulShambhala, Transcendental Meditation, and various New Age practices). In either case, some NRMs are also thought to be conforming to, and perhaps even implicitly advancing the spread of, secularization (e.g., Wilson 1976, 1988; Hammond 1987) or, on the contrary, marking the limit and perhaps even the reversal of secularization (e.g., Mol 1976; Stark and Bainbridge 1985). With even a passing knowledge of the beliefs and practices of various NRMs, most observers can postulate many different combinations of these categorizations. But no one has tried to systematically sort out the criteria by which some kind of consistent delineation of the different possibilities could be specified. The attempt to do so would require a good knowledge of a diverse array of NRMs and their circumstances, as well as the theoretical ambiguities that riddle discussions of the nature of modernity, secularization, and religion itself. To this heady mix, many are now seeking to add talk of 'globalization." Is this something scholars of NRMs should welcome and, if so, why? Does the new globalization research agenda appreciablyimprove the fragmentary and recursive analysis of the possible cultural significance of NRMs in North American and Europe? To begin to answer these questions I will do three things. First, I will briefly summarize the main lines of cleavage in the existing debate over the possible cultural
t LorneL. Dawson is a professorin the Department Sociologyat Universityof Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario,Canada of N2L3G1. E-rail: 1aJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1998, 37 (4): 580-595;




significance of NRMs. It is crucial that we have a good sense of the existing conceptual landscape before we explore how we might augment it or secure a better vantage point. Second, I will briefly summarize the views of Roland Robertson, one of the leading expositors of globalization theory, on the nature of globalization and the options facing religions in the emerging global order.1The term globalization refers, it should be noted, to three analytically distinct yet empirically related concerns: a condition of contemporary social life, a concomitant change in the way people understand their social life, and a way of theorizing about contemporary social life. Here I will assume the reality of the first two aspects of globalization, though each is the subject of dispute and debate (see, e.g., Beyer 1994; Featherstone et al. 1995). My focus is on globalization as a way of theorizing about the cultural significance of NRMs. This will entail sketching the change in social perspectives envisioned by Robertson, but I will not attempt to assess the empirical merits of his claims. Third, I will attempt to more specifically define the role of NRMs in the process of globalization, arguing that in the main the concept of globalization merely reconfigures our present understanding of the possible significance of NRMs as conceived under the conditions of 'modernity,"though in ways that have some important yet limited analytical and explanatory advantages not yet fully appreciated by scholars of NRMs. The potential exists, however, for globalization theory to make a more distinctive and worthwhile contribution if certain neglected logical implications of the theory can be theoretically and empirically developed.

Almost all studies of contemporary NRMs implicitly comment on their possible cultural significance. A perusal of this extensive literature reveals a handful of analyses that have sought to come to grips more directly with this issue (e.g., Stone 1978; Westley 1978; Campbell 1978; Wallis 1982; Groves 1986; Hammond 1987; Robbins and Bromley 1992; Beckford 1992). Most of these studies continue to be guided by ideas derived from the earliest and most influential attempts made to conceptualizesome of the reasons for the rise of contemporaryNRMs.2 In discussing the macrosocialenvironment that rendered a portion of the population of America and Europe structurally available to new religious activity a large number of sociologists have pointed to what Thomas Robbins (1988: 60) specifies as "someacute and distinctively modem dislocation which is said to be producingsome mode of alienation, anomie or deprivation to which Americans [and Europeans] are responding by searching for new structures of meaning and community." Opinions on the kind of dislocation afflicting people are quite diverse, scattered, and often fragmentary in form. These disparate discussions tend to converge, however, on a few repeated, if somewhat differently specified, themes: (1) changes in values, (2) changes in social structure; (3) changes in the role and character of religious institutions (i.e., secularization). In each instance NRMs are portrayed, to some degree, as arising in direct response to the dislocations specified to compensate individuals for their consequences. Frequently in the literature it is further and more importantly argued that these groups do not simply offer individuals a direct compensation or alternative to their troubles. Rather, NRMs effect, in somewhat different ways, ingenious compromises between the status quo and some alternative state of affairs (e.g., Tipton 1982). Discerning the nature of the compromises struck by the groups, consciously and otherwise, offers an important interpretive key for gaining insight into the possible significance and future of NRMs. Little direct work, however, has been done in this regard. Here my purpose is merely to delineate the theoretical reasons for making this claim in the first place. In addition, as will become apparent, there is a noteworthy convergence of views on this point between the exponents of the globalization perspective in the study of religion and the preglobalizationdiscussion of these matters.



Beginning in the mid-1970s, a number of observers of NRMs suggested that these groups were responding to a pervasive crisis in moral certainty among North Americans (e.g., Robbins and Anthony 1972; Robbins, Anthony, and Curtis 1975; Bird 1979; Tipton 1982a, 1982b;Anthony and Robbins 1982a; Robbins and Anthony 1982). Most influentially, for example, Robert Bellah (1976) proposed that NRMs are best conceived as 'successor movements"to the movements of political protest and cultural experimentation that flourished briefly but powerfully among the youth of the 1960s and early 1970s. For those engaged in the political protest and lifestyle experimentation of this time, a new set of "expressive ideals" came into being with which to challenge the traditional Christian and utilitarian culture of the West. The clamor for change, the experience of disruption, the rising educational levels, and the emergence of these new ideals, opened the door to a much greater interest in alternative readings of "the good life" provided by the NRMs. As Bellah, Tipton, and others insist, however, NRMs are not so much the direct products of the ferment of the counterculture. Rather, individuals turned from "slogan chanting to mantra chanting" (Kent 1988) because of both the peculiar success and the failure of the social movements of the counterculture. Amid the "ideologicalwreckage"(Tipton 1982) of the late counterculturemany people became disillusioned and disoriented. In different ways some of these people were able to find the rules to live by and the authority to respect needed to bring a necessary measure of practical order and peace to their lives, without betraying their counterculturalcommitments to the ideals of self-expression and "loveover money,"in different NRMs.3 Discussions of the role of moral ambiguity in the emergence of NRMs are often accompanied by a complementarybut analytically distinct explanation of "cultactivity,"one which focuses on changes in the social structure of the modem world (Robbinsand Anthony 1972; Marx and Ellison 1975; Anthony and Robbins 1981; Doress and Porter 1981; Hunter 1981; Robbins and Anthony 1982a; Kilbourne and Richardson 1982; A. Parsons 1989; Robbins 1988; Davidman 1990; Wright and D'Antonio1993; Palmer 1994). There are two varieties of this social structural type of explanation. In its most immediate and simple form this explanation links the rise of NRMs to a search by young adults for "surrogatefamilies"in the face of the demise of "mediating structures" in society. In its less immediate and perhaps more consequential form, this type of explanation links the rise of NRMs to a more diffuse spectre of cognitive and affective disorientation stemming from the "de-institutionalization" many of aspects of modem "private"life, hand in hand with a more alienating pattern of mass institutionalization of modern public life. In the private sphere everything is seemingly now a matter of choice. There are no set and secure behaviors with regard to courtship, marriage, child rearing, sexuality, gender relations, consumption, vocation, and spirituality. Consequently, many individuals are left yearning for more guidance. In the public sphere, all are compelled to conform.Guidance is manifest, but in ways which belie the meaningfulness of participation. Institutions are guided increasingly by a strictly formal rationality, geared to the satisfaction of the functional requirements of social systems, with little or no regard for the desires, needs, or even character of the individual members of these institutions. In the face of this social dissonance, the proliferatingNRMs provide a more holistic sense of self; a sense of self that transcends the constellation of limited instrumental roles recognized by modern mass society and anchored in a greater sense of moral community and purpose (see Westley 1978, 1983; Johnson 1981; Beckford 1984, 1992; Heelas 1996; Hanegraaff 1996). For theorists like James D. Hunter (1981: 7-9), the new religious consciousness that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s represents a 'demodernizing impulse": an attempt to socially reconstruct the world by 'reimposing institutionally reliable meanings upon existence." The third related theme of cultural change commonly reiterated in the literature discussing the emergence, and hence cultural significance of NRMs, is the issue of seculariza-



tion. The principle interpretive options available can be surveyed by briefly reviewing the influential and divergent views of Peter Berger and Bryan Wilson, on the one hand, and Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridgeon the other hand. Berger (1967) and Wilson (1982) ground their understanding of the increasingly secular nature of society on Max Weber'sconception of the progressive "rationalization"of the social system (Weber 1958, 1964). Historically, an essential manifestation of this rationalization is institutional differentiation (e.g., T. Parsons 1963, 1971). This process strips religious institutions not only of their manifest power in social affairs, it subverts their latent social functions as well. Wilson epitomizes the overall change effected as a shift from to "community" "societal system" (1982: 32-46, 125ff., 153ff.), and it is this comprehensive shift in the basic configuration of social life that undergirds the more specific changes in values and social structures associated with the rise of NRMs. Berger (1967: 133-38) addresses the same basic shift somewhat differently. With the emergence of the modem world, he argues, religions must adapt to two new environmental "realities":privatization and pluralism. In the modern world, as Berger ruefully remarks (1967: 134), "religion manifests itself as public rhetoric and private virtue. In other words, in so far as religion is common it lacks 'reality,' and in so far as it is 'real' it lacks commonality." Likewise, the religious monopolies of the past are gone and unlikely to ever return under the conditions of advanced capitalism. In Berger's view (1967: 138), this means that "the religious tradition, which previously could be authoritatively imposed, now has to be marketed. It must be 'sold' to a clientele that is no longer constrained to 'buy.'" Religious institutions have become marketing agencies and the religious traditions consumer commodities. To compete in the new religious market place religions must rationalize their efforts. resulting in their increased homogenization. Religious organizations become increasingly bureaucratic and hence evermore similar in form and function. The products of religion fall prey to the processes of standardization and marginal differentiation. With the consumer in the driver's seat each organization tries to fashion a product that similarly meets the same consumer preferences. Competitive edge is maintained through the development and preservation of marginal differences in style and approach, while minimizing any real differences in substance. The net result, Berger laments, is that in the pluralistic competition of many look-alike religions the plausibility of all is undermined as the content of each is relativized. In the end, Berger proposes, two options seem to confrontreligions in the conditions of the modem world.
They can either accommodate themselves to the situation, play the pluralistic game of religious free enterprise, and come to terms as best they can with the plausibility problem by modifying their product in accordance with consumer demands. Or they can refuse to accommodate themselves, enitrench themselves behind whatever socio-religious structures they can maintain or construct, and continue to pirofess the old objectivities as much as possible as if nothing had happened (.167: 153).

Stark and Bainbridge (1985, 1987) agree that secularization is happening. But they propose (1985: 429-30; 1987: ch. 9) that secularization is a constantly occurring element of all "religious economies," and not a unique attribute of the contemporary world. Properly understood, secularization refers to the periodic collapse of specific and dominant religious organizations as a consequence of their becomingmore worldly, more accommodatingto the nonreligious aspects of their cultural contexts. Contrary to Berger, Wilson, and most other sociologists, they insist that in this more limited sense secularization should not be confused with the loss of the need for "general supernatural compensators."The reverse is true. It is the failure to provide sufficiently vivid and consistently supernatural compensators that accounts for the decline of established religions. When religions ossify in this way, they too see only two possible socioreligious options: revival (i.e., sects) and innovation (i.e., cults).



Many of the resultant sects and cults, Stark and Bainbridge recognize, have been and will continue to be short lived and inconsequential. But as they are fond of repeating, if only one group succeeds, it can make a big difference. Much like Berger, Wilson thinks that the macrosocial changes associated with secularization have intrinsically limited the capacity of any NRM to ever significantly reverse the privatization of religion in Western culture. Why? Because in the last analysis he believes that most NRMs are largely the products of the modern societal system, rather than its opponents.
New religious movements . are not in the strict sense revivals of a tradition:they are more accurately regarded as adaptations of religion to new social circumstances. . . . In their style and in their specific appeal they represent an accommodation new conditions, and they incorporatemany of the assumptions to and facilities encouraged in the increasingly rationalised secular sphere. Thus it is that many new movements ale themselves testimonies to secularization: they often utilise highly secular methods of evangelism, financing, publicityand mobilisationof adherents. Very commonly,the traditional symbolism, liturgy and aesthetic concernof traditionalreligion are abandonedfor much more pragmaticattitudes and for systems of control,accountancy,propagandaand even doctrinalcontent which are closer to the styles of secularenterprisethanito traditionalreligious concerns(Wilsoni 1988:965).

Who is right, Berger and Wilson or Stark and Bainbridge? Do NRMs represent the remnant of religion as it once was, transformed and adapted to a reduced existence in a secular context, or are NRMs simply new religions, with the potential in some cases to be the precursors of a true revival of religion? The issue is probably too complex to resolve. Nonetheless, the question undergirds all discussions of the cultural significance of NRMs, and it emerges as a prominent concern, somewhat reconfigured, in discussions of globalization and religion as well. The appeal of NRMs, it must be remembered however, does not lie so much with their straightforward compensation for certain 'dislocations of modernity"as with the various ingenious compromisesstruck between the status quo and some alternative state of affairs. Along these lines, Arthur Parsons (1989) advances another intriguing reading of the very accommodations to secularity made by NRMs. Citing S. N. Eisenstadt (1956), Parsons (1989: 212) argues that "while innovative religious movements often appear to arise as responses to tensions within their secular host societies, they also tend to incorporate central cultural elements from those societies." Focused on the means employed by NRMs, Wilson sees evidence of the triumph of secularity in their attempt to harness the techniques of instrumental rationality to advance their nonrational ends. He is pessimistic about their chances for success because he believes that the incongruity of the rational means and the nonrational ends will generate irresolvable tensions in the NRMs. He also believes the congruity of rational means, within and without NRMs, will lead to the dilution and dissipation of the nonrational ends that are the raison d'etre of NRMs (Wilson 1982, 1988). Like Berger, he thinks they will become routinized, bureaucratic entities, indistinguishable from the culture they oppose. Alternatively, Arthur Parsons (1989: 213) observes that NRMs "above all strive to rationalize culture in the name of the expressive values and emotional practices that are highly legitimate in contemporarysociety." In other words, in the realm of ends as well as means there is a marked element of cultural continuity between these supposedly deviant religions and the dominant culture, and as Rodney Stark (1987) has persuasively argued, the presence of such continuity weighs heavily in favour of the chances for success of various NRMs. Unquestionably, we can choose to focus our attention on the seemingly nonrational or what Wilson calls the "arbitrary" character of many of the beliefs of the NRMs, and hence set up a dichotomybetween NRMs and modernity that sees all concessions to rationality as
an intrinsic loss of religiosity. In doing so, however, we are missing the true complexity of the situation. As Arthur Parsons concludes (1989: 223):

SIGNIFICANCE NRMSAND GLOBALIZATION OF CULTURAL [If] the scholarlyor public debate over specific propheticmovementsbecomesarticulated in terms of their deviance from or rejectionof conventionalsecular society, we fail to appreciatethat their appeal and power are derived from the cultural and social fabric of their host societies. Indeed, at the core of innovative movements, in their fundamental moral principles and in their most ritualized social practices, we find componentsof secular society that have not been rejected but elaborated and intensified. Conformityand deviation are inextricablylinked, not opposed,to each other:the more a groupconformsto its host society, the moreit simultaneouslydeviates fromit.


Mere conformityto its secular context in means or ends, then, is not enough to gauge either the social viability, religious authenticity, or cultural significance of any NRM. Recognizing the real complexity of the situation cuts both ways, moreover, for as Parsons further observes, this insight also undermines Stark and Bainbridge's view of secularization as a self-limiting process. To believe that "toomuch worldliness automatically releases an other-worldly,religious counterrevolution"is to give an "accountof the relation between secular and religious forces [that] is too dualistic and mechanical: [when] in fact, their relation is much more dialectic and organic"(A. Parsons 1989: 223-24).4 The theory of globalization and religion developed by Roland Robertson reflects this more dialectical grasp of the situation, and casts it in a more comprehensive and structural explanatory frameworkthan that achieved by others. I am not sure, however, that the turn to globalization ultimately bring us any closer to determining whether even the presence of NRMs in our societies is of any real current or future cultural significance. Consequently, at present it is difficult to determine, with or without globalization theory, which, if any groups, will have a consequential role to play in the future of our society, and why. But if certain neglected aspects of the globalization perspective can be developed, we can get a better grasp of the kinds of issues really at stake in investigating the cultural significance of contemporaryNRMs.

What is globalization? In Jan Aart Scholte's words (1996: 46), "Globalizationrefers to the emergence and spread of a supraterritorial dimension of social relations," which he deftly describes as follows:
In institutional terTns, the process has unfolded through the proliferation and growth of so-called 'transnational' corporations, popular associations and regulatory agencies ... Ecologically, globalization has taken place in the shape of planetary climate changes, atmospheric ozone depletion, worldwide epidemics and the decline of the Earth's biodiversity, among other things. Economically . . . globality has been realized inter alia in twenty-four hour, round-the-world financial markets, whole-world production lines and a host of global consumption articles. Normatively, globalization has occurred through the expansion of worldwide standards (e.g., common scales of measurement and so-called universal human rights) as well as through non-territorial networks of collective solidarity (e.g., among women, the disabled or indigenous peoples). Psychologically, globalization has developed through the growing consciousness of the world as a single place, an awareness reinforced by everyday experiences of diet, music and dress, as well as by photographs from outer space showing planet Earth as one location.

In these and other ways too numerous to mention (see e.g., Robertson 1992: 179-80), a comprehensive shift in the basic conditions of social relations is being effected, whereby the world is becoming a "single place"(Robertsonand Chirico 1985: 220; Robertson and Garrett 1991: ix and 283). In some of the most prominent theoretical discussions of this process, such as the world systems theory of Immanuel Wallerstein (1979, 1984), the stress falls on the nature and consequences of the economic and political changes effected by the emergence of a capitalist world economy. The focus, in other words, is on shifts in the so-called objective and material conditions of life. To this Robertson and others have added a more Weberian component, focused on the subjective consequences, so to speak, of the changes delineated



by Wallerstein's largely Marxist analysis. For Robertson the primary concern is the traditional conundrumof linking the individual and society. In other words, the problem of social order. Stemming from the troubles associated with the emergence of the modern differentiated institutional order in the first place, this central problematic of sociological analysis has been compounded by the growing cognizance that our identities, both as individuals and as societies, are now being shaped to an ever greater extent by a larger interactive order of societies stretching around the globe. At one point, Robertson and Chirico refer to this dawning realization as the "crystallization of consciousness about matters transcending national societies"(1985: 225). This fundamental change in sensibility has been happening with increasing rapidity and scope for at least a century (and probably much longer), but truly systematic conceptualizations of the process have been explicitly formulated only in the last 20 or so years. The distribution of the process of globalization, it must be recognized, is uneven. And in ways detailed below, the move toward greater economic, political, social, and cultural homogeneity commonly associated with globalization, is counterbalanced by a new heterogeneity of identity claims, rife with problems, that globalization fosters as well. The basic shift in sensibilities its'lf, however, is thought to be more or less inescapable, as the processes of globalization are powerful and totalistic. For Robertson, this process of globalization is in some respects intrinsically religious. To understand this surprising claim let me sketch the rather simple dynamic at the heart of globalization. The dynamic in question stems from the simultaneous emergence of two new dimensions of social reality - dimensions that condition the construction of personal and social identities, and the social relations of individuals with each other, with their particular societies, and between societies. On the one hand, with the rise of supraterritorial concerns, Robertson argues that "humanity"itself has been "thematized."By this he means that questions about the very nature and potential of humankind, what it means to be human, are now more than ever the subject of fairly consistent and systematic reflection. Most conspicuously, this development is apparent in the relatively new concern with the formulation and institutionalization of human rights. Less conspicuously, Robertson and Chirico speculate (1985: 227) that it can be found "in many modern medical situations, notably those involving confusion about the definition of death and the prolongation of life, [and] . .. in much of the recent resurgence of generalized, as opposed to specifically Jewish, concern with the Holocaust; as well as with the realistic possibility of the demise of the human species." One might point, more recently, to the heated public debates surrounding the implications of the human genome project or the cloning of humans. On the other hand, the differentiation of the individual from society, a primary consequence and indicator of the emergence of modern associational nation-states, has been intensified. This process of increased individuation is the dialectical complement to the emergence of humankind as a subject of serious social reflection and action. This is apparent, Robertson and Chirico suggest, in the triumph of a therapeutic ethic in our society (as lamented by Philip Rieff 1968) and the rise of a culture of narcissism (as denounced by Christopher Lasch 1979). In general it is reflected in the ethos of "expressive individualism" that now pervades contemporary western culture: the demand to fashion authentic selves in ever greater psychic separation from ascribed statuses and roles. Speaking at a high level of generality, Robertson postulates that these developments stem primarily from two interrelated processes of "relativization," one having to do with the the relativization of personal identities, the other the relativization of societies. As Robertsonand Chiricostate matters (1985: 234):
By relativization we mean a process involving the placing of sociocultural or psychic entities in larger categorical contexts, such that the relativized entities are constrained to be more self-reflexive re1atlve to

OF CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE NRMSAND GLOBALIZATION other entities in the larger context.... The relativization of selves involves ... the situating of selfhoodin the more inclusive and fundamental frame of what it means to be of mankind;while the relativization of societies ... involves the situating of concretesocieties in the context of a worldcomplexof societies - thus constrainingparticularsocieties to judge the extent to which they exemplifyprinciplesof "societalquality."


In other words, the opening up of a global level of comparisonat both the level of selves and societies has produced a heightened cultural and individual comprehension of the socially constructed character of particular identities. In such circumstances, "humanity"itself has become the new point of reference for the differentiation, evaluation, and modification of social reality. Where once, then, social analysts could largely focus their attention on the relations of individuals with their societies, and occasionally the interrelations of societies, attention now must be given to the relations of individuals with societies, and societies with each other as well, in terms of their conceptions of humanity. Recognition of this state of affairs has the curious effect, Robertson notes (1985: 37; Robertson and Chirico 1985: 224), of rendering globalization a process by which some aspects of life are further secularized, while others are simultaneously desecularized. This is true in at least two ways. First, Robertson thinks that "[t]hereare many circumstances in the modern world which push and pull individuals out of particular involvement in conventionally-used social categories, leaving them, so to say, face-to-face with potentially universalistic and/or 'ultimate,' concerns."The heightened individuation attendant on the relativization of the particular sociocultural context into which each individual is born forces people to more directly confrontand make choices about what Talcott Parsons called "telic concerns"- questions about the ends (telos) of humanity. These telic concerns are the traditional subject matter of religious discourse and expertise. Thus both the resurgence of the religious right and the rise of so many NRMs may be traced to a renewed need to address and resolve these questions, and to provide cosmic legitimation for the answers chosen. Second, the same relativizing process, in conjunction with an increased awareness of the new global competitive context of life, heightens the need felt by individuals and their governments to self-consciously fashion strong collective identities. Fostering such group identities is, of course, another of the conventional functions served by traditional religious belief systems and more recently by systems of civil religion (Mol 1976). In sum, as Robertson aptly states, globalization entails "the particularization of universalism (the rendering of the world as a single place) and the universalization of particularism (the globalized expectation that societies ... should have distinct identities)" (cited in Beyer 1994: 28; see also Robertson 1989: 18; Robertson 1992: 97-114). By calling attention to the cross-cutting dialectic of globalization, then, Robertson is able to circumvent the lines of cleavage currently dominating the discussion of the cultural significance of NRMs (and contemporaryreligion in general). He can accept the accuracy of the secularization thesis as formulated by Berger and by Wilson, yet point to the systemically necessary survival of religion in the modern world. In doing so, moreover, globalization theory provides a more specific set of sociologicalreasons for the ongoing social significance of religion than those provided by Stark and Bainbridge's very general metatheoretical supposition about a generalized human need for supernatural compensators. But what are the similarities and differences between Robertson'sdiscussion of the relativizing effects of the growing consciousness of globalization and the preglobalization discussion of such issues as the religious consequences of the loss of mediating institutions and the deinstitutionalization of the private sphere under modem societal conditions? Are these two ways of discussing the same thing, two different aspects of the same thing, or simply different but consequentially convergent processes? Is globalization a subcomponent, in reality an-d/or conceptually, of modernization? Or is modernization, in reality and/or conceptually, a subcomponent of globalization theory? Does it matter, and how would one arrive at a satisfactory anlswer to these questions? In this limited context I will not even



attempt to directly answer these complex and larger questions?5 Some insights will be obliquely acquired, however, by asking if and how the globalization perspective improves our grasp of the possible cultural significance of specific NRMs. To reiterate, one obvious and very important advantage is that Robertson's perspective, like that developedby Arthur Parsons, moves us away from too starkly framing the issues at hand in either/or terms. The persistence and even renewed importance of religion in the modern world is not simply, as naively we might be inclined to initially assume, an act of resistance to either modernity or globalization, at either the individual or collective level. Rather, religion in the modern world operates as a component part of the globalizing process - in fact, even when religious involvements are perceived by participants to be acts of resistance, within the dialectical framework of a global system the resistance serves, ironically, to call further attention to the processes of globalization, thereby advancing the crystallization of consciousness that is pivotal to the process of globalization.6This in turn, presumably, will prompt even further religious developments.7 Thus, unlike Berger and Wilson, we can neither say that religions which attempt, in various ways, to accommodate themselves to modern conditions, assure their ultimate irrelevance (i.e., through privatization), nor that religions which resist modern conditions will become increasingly marginal and hence irrelevant as well. On the contrary, we can now say that both forms of religious expression bear a larger cultural significance by virtue of their dialectical contribution to globalization itself. In fact, in line with Parsons, we might say that the appeal and power of many NRMs, including various forms of fundamentalism, may derive from their simultaneous conformity with and deviation from the process of globalization - as well as modernity or the larger secular culture. This rather abstract conclusion does not provide much succor for those convinced of the ongoing relevance of religion, and it leaves us ensnared in a rather perplexing infinite regress, whereby the possible significance of different kinds of NRMs is perpetually relativized. We need a finer level of analysis to sort out the important differences in possible cultural significance of NRMs ranging from the Unification Church to New Age trancechanneling groups under the conditions of globalization. Let us pursue this conceptual dilemma through further analysis of Robertson's comments on the specific relationships between different kinds of religious expression and globalization. In his writings on globalization and religion Robertson has almost exclusively concerned himself with explaining the widespread revival of religiopolitical tensions in the contemporary world. As a consequence, his discussion of religion and globalization is significantly skewed, giving little serious consideration to the nature, role, and function of NRMs, excluding forms of religious fundamentalism, in a globalized social environment. Robertson argues for the "ubiquity" civil-religious problems in societies as diverse as the of United States, Israel, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, and elsewhere, on the basis of the pressure exerted on societies to define themselves - what they ultimately stand for - in the relativizing and competitive context of globalization (see, e.g., Robertson and Chirico 1985: 238-39; Robertson 1985: 38-39; Robertson 1989; Robertson 1992). In a conservative vein, these pressures have given rise to various kinds of fundamentalism or renewed orthodoxy. In a liberal vein, these pressures have stimulated debates characteristic of an incipient world civil religion, as reflected, we are told, by the growing interest in world theology, various liberation theologies, and religioecologicalmovements and so on. Often under religious auspices, Robertson suggests, "Weare beginning to witness ... contests and conflicts over the definition of the global-humansituation in longhistorical, primordial perspective" (1991: 219). These developments are leading to the "politicizationof theology and religion, on the one hand, and the 'theologization'of politics, on the other"(Robertsonand Chirico 1985:239; Robertson 1985:39). Whatever the merits of



these arguments, they illustrate that Robertson's chief concern is the conflation of religion and politics in a global context. At one point Robertsongoes so far as to argue that just as globalization theory reveals that "we ought to do away with ... external/intemal dichotomies, so we have to relinquish facile religion/nonreligion distinctions" (1985: 37). In a relativizing global social order, the state has become ever more embroiled in the delineation and adjudication of "a range of 'deep-life'matters such as definitions and raisons d'etre of human life itself, death, old age, and other dimensions of individual and collective meaning, suffering, and reward" (Robertson 1985: 37; see also Robertson and Chirico 1985: 233). In doing so, the modern state usurps more and more of the traditional concerns of religion (1985: 38). In elaborating these points little or no attention is paid to where the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or the Church of Scientology, let alone the Solar Temple or Heaven's Gate, might fit into the discussion of religion and globalization. Of course, implicitly, Robertson'sfailure to directly address the role of NRMs within his scheme of globalization could simply mean that he does not attach much cultural significance to NRMs. But he never manages to explain why this should be the case, in terms of the criteria and insights of globalization theory. So we, in turn, cannot just conclude that from the perspective of globalization theory, NRMs are of little cultural significance.8On the contrary, several interesting questions intrude. By essentially ignoring NRMs is Robertson implicitly subscribing to a view like Berger's and Wilson's - most NRMs are only trivial commercializedremnants of traditional religiosity? If so, then how do we account for the significance attributed to fundamentalist movements under globalization, despite the fact that Robertson'sown theory suggests that their efforts to stem the tide of both the homogenizing and the "heterogenizing" aspects of globalization are ultimately bound to fail? If the ultimate fate of the religious response is not the pertinent criterion, then why aren't NRMs integrated into globalization theory by a line of dialectical reasoning similar to that applied to fundamentalist movements? If Robertson implicitly aligns most NRMs with the privatization of religion, and hence dismisses them as insignificant because they carry no overt potential for political action, then he is either illogically applying a criterion from a pregobalizationist perspective and subverting the logic of his own theory of globalization or simply failing to fully follow through on the implications of his theory for NRMs. In either case I would argue that the privatization of religion expressed by many NRMs is also, by the logic of Robertson'sown analysis, globally contextualized and hence, in principle at least, it can be used to explain their cultural significance. But in what specific regard? The answer lies in Robertson'sanalysis, but the details of this point of view have yet to be developed. In "Humanity, Globalization, and Worldwide Religious Resurgence,"for example, he and JoAnn Chirico say: "Some, but by no means all, new-religious frames of reference may be both vehicles for and symbols of the transcendence of purely societal-systemic forms of identity formation"(1985: 232). In this instance, he and Chirico may only have meant to link the resurgence of the religious right with these vehicles for and symbols of the transcendence of old-fashioned societal identities. Other comments, however, clearly point to the possibility of seeing an equally important link between other NRMs and these new processes of identity formation, and even of differentiating between different types of NRMs in this regard. Quite early in his theorizing about globalization, for example, Robertson says (1985: 39-40):
[We need to begin to regard] religious change in the modern global circumstance as an overall movement which partly expresses, partly constrains, and partly reflects the general process of globalization. There are four central elements of the latter: state-run societies; individual selves;hurnanity; and the systems of relations among societies. Particular religious movements may be categorized in termnsof their apparent relevance to -or "appropriateness" in respect of -one or more of these components of the globalization


JOURNALFORTHE SCIENTIFIC STUDYOF RELIGION process or, equally important,the relationships amongthem. For example, the New ReligiousRight in the American context has particular relevance to matters concerning the provision of a moral-religious definitionof American-societal identity in a globalcontext in which societal coherencebecomesincreasingly a matter of internal dispute and comparisonwith other societies; liberation-theologicalmovements have particular (but not sole) relevance to issues concerning the relations between societies (quasi-religious aspects of international justice); some conventionallylabeled new religious movements have relevance to problems about the relationships between individuals and societies; while others may be best understood as having primarilyto do with extra-societalaspects of the self.

There is much food for thought here, more in fact than we can expect to do justice to in this limited context. But to my knowledge, Robertsonhas yet to systematically investigate any of these other possibilities - nor to any significant extent have other scholars. In passing Robertson (1989: 18; 1992: 88-89) has identified Soka Gakkai, along with the Unification Church, as religious movements that are "addressingmore or less explicitly the problem of world order."In a brief, interesting, and still quite unique case study, Shupe (1991) explores this interpretation by contrasting this view of Soka Gakkai with an older interpretation of this new religion as a revitalization movement (Wallace 1956). Is Soka Gakkai a nativistic, or in other words, given the historical and cultural context of post World War IIJapan, an antimodern movement, or is it a globalistic movement?Not surprisingly, Shupe comes to the conclusion that "the truth lies somewhere in-between" (1991: 195). Soka Gakkai would appear to be a movement that genuinely began and continues to function as a revitalization movement, but it has also genuinely developed into a potential world religion, cognizant of the need to adapt its operations to a truly global contemporary context. By Robertson'scriteria, however, Shupe's evidence can be used to argue that in key respects Soka Gakkai has always been a product of and response to globalization. In describing the group as a revitalization movement, for example, Shupe says (1991: 189):
Soka Gakkai can be understoodas an attempt to rekindle nationalistic sentiments and erect a new moral orthodoxyto replace the Imperialstate-Shinto civil religion largely eroded by the Allied Occupationafter 1945 and pushed further out of national consciousnessby the erosive forces of western industrialization, consumerism,and mass urbanization.

He also sees the emergence of the Komeitopolitical party (Clean Government Party) out of Soka Gakkai, Japan's third largest party, as clear evidence that Soka Gakkai is a revitalization movement. But with his focus on religiopolitical matters, Robertsonwould interpret both of these facts as evidence that Soka Gakkai is a globalistic and not nativistic movement. In fact, as a relative late-comer to modernity, Robertson goes so far as to suggest that "Japan largely acquired the idea of the need for a national identity within the context of inter- and transnational discourse about what it meant to be a national society in an increasingly interdependent world"(Robertson 1991: 212-13; 1992: 168). Shupe's further evidence in favor of seeing the Soka Gakkai as a globalistic movement simply points to more overt considerations serving to confirm and reinforcethe logic of Robertson'sapproach.This latter evidence consists of the decidedly global discourse of the movement, complementedby its extensive investment in international missionary activity, and its involvement and leadership in the global antinuclear and peace movements (to attract international attention and credibility). Soka Gakkai, Shupe concludes (1991: 195), is 'truly global in terms of energy and resources spent as well as in rhetoric." Citing similar evidence in comments published later (1992: 88-89), Robertsonfully concurs. In like manner, Lynn Eldershaw and I (1995; Dawson and Eldershaw 1998) have argued that Vajradhatu, a Western NRM based on Tibetan Buddhism (now also known as Shambhala), operates as a kind of revitalization movement, fostering a simultaneous "revitalization"of elements of Eastern and Western cultures by purposefully effecting an intriguing religious s.yncretization of features of the religious traditions of the East and aspects of contemporaryWestern culture. As such, we came to the tentative conclusion that



the group might well be deemed an experiment in religious and cultural globalization. In this case we had in mind Robertson'sspeculations about the future of religion resting with "syncretistic"movements seeking to "harmonize" religious and secular ideas and practices that have traditionally been conceived as actual or potential rivals (1991: 217-18; 1992: 171). Like Soka Gakkai, Vajradhatu, moreover, is decidedly global in its rhetoric and institutional reach. Unlike Soka Gakkai, however, it is not a political movement in any obvious or intended way. Does this single missing element mean we were essentially incorrect in interpreting Vajradhatu as a significant or even true manifestation of globalization? At present we cannot say reliably, because neither Robertson, nor anyone else as far as I know, has sought to investigate the ways in which seemingly 'privatized' NRMs like Vajradhatu may also be participating in the globalizing process by virtue of their "relevance to problems about the relationships between individuals and societies ... [and/orthe] extrasocietal aspects of the self." THEMATIZED HUMANITY, GLOBAL SELVES, NRMs AND Robertson has repeatedly specified that there are "four major focal points of the dominant globalization process ... : nationally constituted societies; the international system of societies; individuals; and humankind"(1992: 175; stated somewhat differently above). These are the nodes of human activity and thought where the crystallization of globalization is occurring. We have seen, for example, that Robertson interprets even such a seemingly antimodern and antiglobal phenomenon as religious fundamentalism (American, Islamic or whatever) as contributing to globalization, largely at the level of nationally constituted societies and the interrelationship of societies (though each of the other levels are effected simultaneously as well), because it is paradoxically the cultural product of a growing reflexive awareness of the process of globalization itself. What he calls a new universal "searchfor fundamentals"(1992: 164-81) set off by the relativizing effects of globalization is manifest, in this instance, in the use of elements of religious and cultural nostalgia to foster a stronger and more particularistic identity for a people and place immersed in globality. Complementarily, however, Robertson might also have tried to envision the ways in which even such nonpolitical NRMs as Vajradhatu, Scientology, or New Age channeling groups, are likewise contributing to globalization at the level or focal point of the self and the newly thematized extrasocietal aspect of self, humanity. Speaking in the processual language of a Meadian social psychology(Mead 1934), are the cultural, philosophical, psychological,and behavioral experimentations and innovations of these kinds of NRMs part of the new reflexive thematization of "selfing"(i.e., the process of experiencing and expressing a sense of self) set off by the relativizing effects of globalization? As is often stressed in the literature on NRMs, these kinds of NRMs are fixated on the promotionof new means of self-transformation congruent with their vision of a newly emergent form of humanity (e.g., Wallis 1977; Heelas 1996; Brown 1997; Hanegraaff 1996; Dawson and Eldershaw 1998). They are geared to both the immediate improvement of the quality of life for the individual, by changing people'ssubjective sense of their interactions with their environment, and the eventual birth of a global "new age," by identifying and stressing the importance of certain spiritual and psychologicaluniformities of the "extrasocietalaspects of the self." Fundamentalists focus their energies on fashioning a new group identity, with which they then seek to change the nature of their society and people's self-conceptionsby making a new kind of direct link with humanity and the world. These other, seemingly more privatized NRMs, focus on reconfiguringthe self-understanding of the individual in order to change the nature of their society, and thus the conflicting groups within it, by making another kind of direct link with humanity and the world. The avenue of redress is different,



as is the specific content of the redress envisioned, and presumably its consequences for all kinds of action in the world. Yet, by the logic of Robertson's theory of globalization, both cultural projects are driven by the same dynamic of universalism and particularism that is so central to his conception of globalization, just in obverse ways. In the context of globalization, fundamentalist are seeking to make the particular universal, while New Agers, for example, are trying to make the universal (to humanity) particular (to the individual and the group).9 Thinking along these lines allows us ways of attributing some measure of cultural significance to even such an aberrant group as Heaven's Gate. As we now know (see Balch 1995; New York Post 1997), this group had systematically pursued a rather ruthless policy of social and physical disruption of the lives of its members for almost 20 years. The objective was to detach members from their habitual involvements in the human level of existence, in preparation for their advancement to "The Evolutionary Level Beyond Human,"as mediated by beings from another world altogether. The transformed members of Heaven's Gate were to be the vanguard of a new humanity and a new age. Are we encountering in these beliefs and practices an expression of the new thematization of the self and humanity precipitated by globalization, only with a vengeance? There is much about the nature and behavior of the group that lends some credence to this view, from their extreme social mobility, through their mastery of the WorldWide Web, to their ideological focus on the transformation of the whole human species and its global consequences. Of course the picture is muddied by the equal presence of fairly traditional apocalyptic and communitarian themes and values in their discourse and lifestyle, and their violent end requires other explanatory considerations altogether (see Dawson, 1998b:ch. 5). In the end, then, is globalization theory something scholars of NRMs should welcome? Does it improve the fragmentary analysis of the possible cultural significance of NRMs?The answer is, of course, yes and no. It is hard to imagine ignoring the systemic insights of globalization theory once one is familiar with the theory. All groups and forms of social interaction warrant being studied in the light of the dialectical logic of the new global social system. The logic of this system reinforces the wisdom of Steven Tipton's and Arthur Parsons's insights into the true complexity of the relationships holding between various NRMs and the larger secular society. Thus judgements of the cultural significance of any and all of these movements must resist slipping back into any simplistic dichotomies of groups aligned with or against, intentionally or otherwise, the processes of modernity, secularization, and globalization. Globalization theory, at least as specifically framed by Robertson so far, does not do much, however, to improve our ability to make worthwhile distinctions between different NRMs with respect to their possible cultural significance. Rather, Robertson'slimited approach seems to regressively replicate a bifurcation of NRMs into those groups which are significant because they are engaged in political action, and those which are not because they are privatized. This mode of classification carries us back into the discourse of the debate on secularization, as framed by Berger, Wilson, and others, that Robertson has said he is trying to transcend (1992: 221, endnote 2). It is contrary, moreover,to the larger logic of his own theory of globalization. Of course, all theorizing about NRMs from the perspective of the theory of globalization is plagued by a more fundamental theoretical problem, one that Robertson may be intuitively, though inconsistently, trying to escape through the emphasis he places on the political implications of new forms of religious life: by the totalizing logic of the dialectic of globalization, everything is potentially significant (almost by definition). With this root limitation in mind, we need more careful case studies of specific NRMs done with
an eye to the globalizing context. Then perhaps we will begin to discern the criteria with which to feasibly differentiate between a religion, new or old, grappling with the conditions



of globalization and not just those of modernity, or simply the dilemmas of institutionalization.

NOTES 1 If space permitted, this analysis should consider the somewhat alternative formulations of Peter Beyer (1994). I believe that the conclusions reached, however, would be much the same given the limited range of "conservative" "liberal" and options he envisions for religion in a globalizingworld. 2 The speculations of Stone (1978) Westley (1978) and Campbell (1978), Beckford (1992) and others are discussed elsewhere (Dawson 1998a). The interesting and pertinent observations of Robbinsand Bromley(1992) on experimentations with gender, sexual relations, economic activity, and organizational structures warrant some integration with discussions of globalizationas well. 3 See, for example, Foss and Larkin 1978; Bird 1979; Robbins, Anthony, and Curtis 1975; Anthony and Robbins 1982a,;Wilson1982: 138; Tipton 1982; Wallis 1984; Kent 1988; Palmer 1994; and Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994, for similar though somewhat differentpresentationsof this account. 4 Of course, similar arguments have been introduced to discussions of Christian fundamentalism in the American context. In Frank Lechner's words, despite its seemingly antimodern rhetoric, "Fundamentalismis a quintessentially modernphenomenon'(Lechner 1989). 5 In his book Globalization(1992) these questions repeatedly recur and it is apparentthat Robertsonthinks that globalization "theory"both transcends and is ultimately distinct from theories of modernization. It is much harder to say how true this of the processes under study in each case, though Robertsonmakes a limited case for this as well (e.g., Robertson1992: 87), arguing that "globalization the contemporarytype was set in motion long before of whatever we might mean by modernity" (1992: 170). 6 Robertsonoften makes observations like the following:"... just as ostensibly anti-modern gestures are inevitably in a sense modern, so are anti-global gestures encapsulated within the discourse of globality. In that particular sense there can be no foreseeable retreat from globalization and globality"(1992: 10; see e.g. 26, 80, and 166-70 as well). 7 This line of thought can carry us much furtherinto considerationof Robertson's somewhat more problematic claim that "fundamentalist" movements or movementsof "indigenization" only occurwithin a globalizedcontext. can In his words:"Locality to put it simply, globallyinstitutionalized" is, (1992: 172; see 173-74 and 177 as well). This idea is being developedby Robertsonand others in terms of the new oxymoronicnotion of "glocalization" (Robertson1995), a fascinating and complextopic that while relevant to the cultural significanceof NRMs goes well beyondthe scope of this critique. 8 One possible explanation for Robertson'sneglect of conventionallylabeled NRMs - beyond simple lack of interest - is providedby Peter Beyer in his astute critique of Robertson's theory of globalization(1994: 32-33). 9 As those familiar with Robertson'stheory may recognize, this same line of analysis could be developedby calling on Robertson's conception of the four "world images" generated by the condition of globalization: his Gemeinschaft1, Gemeinschaft2, Gesellschaft 1, Gesellschaft2 schemata (Robertson1992:75-83).

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