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Who Lives in Utopia?

A Brief Report on the Rajneeshpuram Research Project
Author(s): Carl A. Latkin, Richard A. Hagan, Richard A. Littman, Norman D. Sundberg
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Sociological Analysis, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 73-81
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Hagan. Generalproceduresare outlinedfor the continued trackingof groupmembers.Sociological Analysis 1987. 73 . Soon thereafter. and general life satisfaction. well educated. the followers of an Indianreligious leader purchaseda large tract of land in central Oregon and proceeded to the establishment of a community. Demographic results indicate residents were young. 1:73-81 NOTE RESEARCH Who the A Brief Utopia? Research Rajneeshpuram Lives In Report on Project Carl A. The populationcontin1. led Rajneeshto move to the United States in 1981. includingalleged public harassmentand poor health. some 90 miles southwestof Bombay. high social support. Norman D. We would like to thank Benton Johnson and Beverly Fagot for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. predominantly white.A varietyof factors.They were followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.Some conjecturesare providedconcerningthe issues and resources related to joining the Rajneeshee movement. Littman.who had previously led a large ashramin Poona. now named Rajneeshpuram. India. Although initiallya small community. Once "the ranch"became Rajneesheepropertythe occupantsrapidlydeveloped manyof the amenitiesof a modem city. Sundberg Universityof Oregon Initial results are reportedfrom a longitudinalstudy of Rajneeshpuram. Psychologicaldata indicate thepresence of healthyself-perceptions:low levels of depression. Latkin.the Oregon communityfounded by followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. 48. Richard the springof 1982 over 500 people called Rajneeshpuramhome. These data are similar to empiricalreportsofpeople involvedin othernew religiousmovements. These data provide a base for pursuing longitudinalworkon the readjustmentand coping strategiesoffollowers now that the communehas disbanded. RichardA.and upper-middle-classbackgrounds. In the summerof 1981. but the differencesare also substantial.he acceptedan invitationto live at the new site. and from middle.

in the fall of 1984 the influx of the homeless under the commune's share-a-homeproject. along with the Rajneeshee presence in general. Each group included people who were working on the same type of project (i.for this reason. but here it was. The Rajneesheeswere big news. At the coordinator meeting prior to our arrival. work. We began a study of them. our findings will be useful to anyone interestedin the demographicquestion of who becomes a follower and the personalityquestion of what these people are like. community. as they referredto them). historical. To our knowledge.74 SOCIOLOGICALANALYSIS ued to skyrocket: approximately4000 people had relocatedthere by winter. Here was a social system in the making that was guided by a set of explicit beliefs and principles aboutpeople. PROCEDURES Two surveys were administeredat Rajneeshpuram.coverage focused almost entirely on legal suits brought by or against the commune.Unfortunately. The result has been a steady stream of legal battles ever since.but it is almost all either anecdotaland frequentlypolemical.and religion. and. a city official announced the intent and plans of our study.. . Rajneeshpuramhas not been wanting for publicity.e. We have includeddetails of the collection procedure(s)and data from the beginnings of our project. all the people in constructionin one group). Rajneeshpuramwas a regularfeatureon both nationaland local television. It was a humanpotentialmovementin the seclusion of the high Oregon desert. By the winter of 1982. the data reportedbelow are the only source of informationcollected throughempiricalmethods. and rarelya day went by that a majorarticledid not appearin the state's largernewspapers. sparked serious objections from environmental leaders in the state and from inhabitantsof the neighboringcommunities. and this is a report of our initial findings. the latter especially by those interested in the religious and philosophical nature of Bhagwan'sthoughts(Clarke. This project was partially supportedby a Biomedical research grant awardedto the University of Oregon. 1985. In fact.and a meeting of all coordinatorswas held weekly. personality. which held regularmeetingsto discuss work-relatedissues. 1983). they were a media event. we had learned enough about the community to realize that an extraordinaryevent was takingplace. 1983. Each group had a coordinator. FY 1984-85. The extensivebuildingprogramneededto accommodatethese people. There are otherwrittensources of informationon the Rajneeshees. the conflict between the commune and the "old-timers" of easternOregon. the effort was centered around learning more about the background characteristicsof the in August and the other in October.2 Although our research is to the best of our knowledge the only longitudinal study of the commune. The first survey was administered through Rajneeshee work groups(or temples. The coordinatorswere instructedto pick up the necessary number of forms 2. Social scientists may have fantasizedabout such a social experiment. or analyticaland textual.

To insure anonymity. The questionnaireswere prenumberedfrom001 to 999 and a 3 x 5 identification card had been stapled to each copy.Two membersof the researchteam were on hand. and we were concerned that these people might differ from the larger group which completedthe first survey. Of the 150 who filled out the second form. To test this we looked to see if there were any differencesin how the second-timersand the larger sample responded to the items on the first questionnaire. Family: Seventy-fourpercent of the respondentsreportedthey were married. It should be notedthatnot all totalscome out to 100%. which includedboth the participant'snamesand subjectnumbers. sex.RESEARCH NarE 75 from a central location.7 years. a very high percentage of the estimated 800 people who were living there at the time. Of these. The coordinatorsthen handed out the questionnairesto members of their the centraldrop location.Data from the second questionnaireare indicatedwith an asterisk. Age and Sex: Fifty-fourpercentof the respondentswere female with an average age of 33. the datareportedhere are based on a randomselection of 100 questionnaires. A total of 732 people completed the first survey. The first survey focused solely on demographicswhile the second stressedboth forms of information. All materialsexcept for the identificationcardswere takenback to Eugenethatsame day.were removedand storedat Rajneeshpuram. Subjectnumberswere randomlyselected and a list of these numberswas then phonedto Rajneeshpuram. but subject number. In the second survey. Once a meeting ended. which is somewhat surprisinggiven that a few differences might have been expected by chance alone. and these individuals were contacted concerning the possibility of completinga second form. and age were included on the answer sheets. 635 fully completed questionnaireswere analyzed. Only 75% (150) of those asked to fill out the second form actually did. and administrationtook approximately45 minutes. the coordinatorreturnedall forms. 200 people were chosen from the 635 who had successfully completedthe first form. Those who agreedto continuewere askedto reportto the communecafeteriaafter workon Friday. Forty-six percent were male with an averageage of 34.9 years.The numberswere then matched up to names. The second surveystartedby asking more demographicquestions. where three members of the researchteam had delivered packets of questionnairesand instructions. completedand uncompleted. . due to occasionalunclearmarkingsby the respondentsor to the roundingof numberson our part.The answersheets and formsdid not include the subject's names. No significant differences were found.Data reportedbelow on the first surveyare based on the 635 respondentswho completedthe form without major error. RESULTS Demographics The surveysemphasizedtwo sets of information:demographicsandpsychological well-being.the identificationcards.

76 SOCIOLOGICALANALYSIS 14% single. 30% 4%.diploand64%froma university. Inthe secondsurveywe askedthequestion. secondaryschooland ma(s). did and a 60% ing sannyasin 40% In responseto the question.Abouthalfof therespondents abouttwo-thirds(63%) were living at a Rajneesheecenterprior to movingto themselvesas religiouspriorto becomFortypercentcharacterized Rajneeshpuram. yourspouselive at Rajneeshpuram?" rewhich 67% of the participants answeredyes.30%booksor tapedmaterialsof Bhagwan.Thisquestionis similarto the spouse?"Sixty-fivepercentresponded to in "Does questionused the first survey. indicatingsome consistencyin TABLE 1 CHARACTERISTICS MEIMBER at a Rajneeshec Length of time spent prior to moving to the ranch White Black or Negro Hisparnic/Spanish/Latino Other 1A9 Religious Background 917.Weaskedparticipants from highschool. not.and 10%through visitinga Rajneeshcenter.andcertificate(s)youhavereceived ."Howdid you first hear of Rajneeshism?" mentionedfriends.No otherspecificsourcewasmentionedin morethan3% of the cases.and 2% widowedor separated. sponses.A minorityof the Rajneesheeshave children:25% reportedhavingchildrenand 11% statedtheir childrenwereliving at Rajneeshpuram. ReligiousOrientation:TableOne presentsreligiousand ethnicbackground weresannyasinsfor5 yearsor moreand information. 1% 2% 67. 10% divorced. at a Sannyasin 1 1% 1% 97 13% 267 6% 8% 13% 10% 8% 8% 87% 37% 1-3 monthis 3-6 months 6-12 months 1-2 years 2-3 years 3-5 years 5 or more years never Ethnic Center Background No religious background Roman Catholic Jewish Htindu or Buddist Protestant Other 1l% 27% 20% 47. Education: Ninety-five percent of the respondentsgraduatedfrom high school to "Pleaselist degree(s)."Areyoupresentlylivingwithyour thattheywere.

Place of residence: Table Three presents size of community from which the participantscame. MFA. TABLE 2 ACADEMICBACKGROUND Hlighest None or unlclear Hligh school/secondary Commntlity or junior college Bachelor's (BA.000 100. About half (48 %) were from cities of 100.000-500.000 most of time prior 57 10% 16% 22% 13% 35% to age 18 .RESEARCHNOTE 77 beyond.000 25.) JD. MS.000 or greater.000-100.000-20.) 2'4% 12% 36% Academic Arts and Hlumanities Social Sciences Natural Sciences (inc." TableTwo (*) lists this informationfor a randomsampleof 100 along with academic area of degree.000 or more is about 100 miles away. (MA.This is in sharp contrastto their present situation: the nearest town of 10.000 More than 500. etc. BS) degree Obtained Degree 8% 17% 6% 33% (AA) 75% Master's Doctorate degree (PhD. etc. MD. Professions Area of Degree 27% 33% 10% 10% Math) TABLE 3 COMMUNITY SIZE BACKGROUND Size of community in whlich participant spent Farm Town Less than 5.000 5.

78 SOCIOLOGICALANALYSIS TABLE 4 POLITICALAND ECONOMIC BACKGROUND Political Categorized Background as Percent Radical Very liberal Somewhat liberal Somewhat conservative Very conservative Neither liberal nor conservative 11 31 20 2 0 36 Economic Background Highest Income per Year Less than $10. Psychological well-being and mental health Along with some demographicinquiry. Before becoming a "sannyasin.ease with which they were completed.000 $75. includingreportedvalidity and reliability. 93% reportedbeing in the top two categories of life satisfaction.001-$30. and depression were included.001-$40. The scales were selected using severalcriteria. self-esteem.000 Percent 16 26 24 15 10 4 2 3 Income and political orientation:Table Four gives data on political orientation and income. were extremely satisfied. At the time of the survey. Information on past and present life satisfaction is presented in Table Five." life satisfaction varied widely. Inventories on perceived stress. . and the considerationof what we believed to be key dimensions of psychological well-being.000 Over $100. Severalquestions on life satisfaction were asked.the second survey includeda numberof psychological inventories and questions directed at assessing mental well-being.000 $30. few. social support.001-$75.000 $10. We thoughtthe question of highest income would be a good indication of previous income because many sannyasins were living at Rajneeshee centers before coming to Rajneeshpuramand making little or no money.000-$20.001-$50.000 $50.001-$100.000 $40.000 $20. however.

D. fourpoints each. 7. S. N= 4996.5 (S. A study by Radloff (1977) reports means for three all white samples rangingfrom 7. best evec 17. Items were designed to tap dimensionsof unpredictability.uncontrollability. This scale is comprised of a list of 40 statements to which the respondent answers true or false based upon perceived availabilityof social resources (e. a figure lower than that of the Rajneeshees.and overloadexperiencedin participants'lives. Cohen et al. I had crying spells). 2% 10% 3 4 5 Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 0% 13% R 6 7 Extrenely satisfied. 0% 37 11% 82X 23% 11% 227 3% 5X Perceivedstress: The PerceivedStress Scale. "There are severaldifferentpeople with whom I enjoy spendingtime.g. . 5.D.RESEARCHNOTE 79 TABLE 5 LIFE SATISFACTION Scale Now Previously 0 1 2 Extremely dissatisfied. 4.64.82 (N = 1179.) Depression: The measureof depressionwe selected was the Centerfor Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D scale). low score indicateslow levels of depression). Cohen and Hobermanreporta normativemean of 36. 1983). and McCarthy (1972) report means of 29. S. high score indicates a high perceived social support)."). For comparison. 1. S.D.and Mermelstein(in press) is a 14 item global measureof stress level experiencedduring the last month. Self-esteem: Self-esteem was measuredwith the RosenbergSelf-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg. S. The CES-D is a 20 item. The subjectis asked to respondto such statementsas "I am as good as most people.D.. S. 7. Consistingof 10 items.58. the scale was developed as a measureof global feelings towardsself.91 (N = 78.22 (N = 79. 5.71 (N= 87. reporta normativemean of 23. 7. The maximum score is 40. high score indicates high self-esteem).D.53 to 8. Kamart.g.62). It was developedfor epidemiological assessment in the general population.55.25 and standarddeviations from 7. The Rajneesheemean was 5.23.. The Rajneesheemean on the Perceived Stress Scale was 15.51.4).94 to 9.53). Yancey. never worse 2% 10% 07 07. low score indicates low perceived stress). (One problem with this scale is a ceiling effect.34 (N = 543. S. 4 point scale which asks aboutdepressivesymptomologyduringthe past week (e.86 (N = 86. The Rajneesheesample had a mean score of 37. 1965). developedby Cohen.D." The Rajneesheemean was 35.D. Social support: Social support was measured with the InterpersonalSupport EvaluationList (ISEL) (Cohen and Hoberman. Rigsby.

Lowscorersdo notdropout.e. .Twofollow-upstudiesweresubsequently one of the children.well-educated. Melton& Moore.manyfollowerstraveledto India.believingthatif theyso desiredtheycouldalwaysleaveand obtaina decentjob elsewhere. As Kilbourneand Richardson(1984) pointout. Theresultsfrommeasuresof self-reported psychologicalwell-beingdifferfrom datacompiledon othernewreligions.fromourobservations individualsat the ranchappearedin generalto be happyandwell adjusted. these inventories are only one formof thatthese were individuals whohadalreadyreapedsociety'smaterialrewards. these types of individuals have the economic means to try out new religions.The most resemblethose of othernew religions. Indeed.AlthoughtheRajneesheedemographics differences.becamebored.and aroundthirtyyears old (Bird& Reimer. havebeenanespeciallyimportant sawBhagwan.Thisis notthecase with Rajneeshees. disClosingnote: In the winterof 1985 the communityof Rajneeshpuram one of the adultsand undertaken: banded. Address correspondenceto Carl Latkin. The scales couldbe tappingphilosophyinsteadof mentalstatus.Third.Rabkin.Thisis particularly whereseveralmethodological/practical ambiguitiesexist. finances may factorinjoining.Additionalreportsof the project currently preparation. Eugene.Theyscorewell aboveaverage.Botharedesignedto examinethe adjustment processandhow lives of former the touch to continues at the experienceof living Rajneeshpuram in are residents.It cannotassumeitemswill havethe samemeaningin differentcultures.themeanscoreof convertswasstillbelowthenorm. themwiththoseof othergroups.Second.we do notknowif ourresultsrepresentRajneeshees maybe the case thathighlyeducatedRajneesheesweremoreinclinedto quittheir jobs andgo to theranch. OR 97403. the Rajneesheeresponsesby comparing Oneshouldbe cautiousin interpreting truewiththementalhealthdata.1985. Departmentof Psychology.It is possiblethe communesystematicallyselected sannyasinswith advancededucation. University of Oregon.andsubsequently soughtspiritualfulfillment.and one thatseveralsannyasinsespouse.thereare substantial notableis education.Galanter'sdataindicatethata higher sense of well-beingis not simply the result of the methodologicalproblemof mortality. self-report.Galanter.Galanterfoundthattheyweremore likely to remain. As The graduateeducationalattainment in general. With Rajneeshees.One otherexplanationfor the high level of education.Rabkin.3 3.i. First.andthenbecamesannyasins.the resultsareconfoundedwith the Rajneesheephilosophyof emphasizingthe positiveelementsof life.1983.80 SOCIOLOGICALANALYSIS DISCUSSION There are definite similarities between individualswho resided at Rajneeshpuramand membersof other new religions:affluent.. 1982). of the Rajneesheesis extremelyhigh. Volinn.& Deutsch(1979) foundthatalthoughjoiningthe "Moonies"didincreaselevelsof psychologicalwellbeing.however.

Rosenberg. R. F and Reimer. D.." AmericanJournal of Sociology 789:338-359.S. The Cult Experience. "The 'Moonies': A Psychological Study of Conversion and Membership in a ContemporaryReligious Sect. 1972. 1977.J. Of Gods and Men.J. L.RESEARCHNOTE 81 REFERENCES Bird. Cohen. "A Global Measure of Perceived Stress. B." American Psychologist 39:237-251. S.. 1983. (in press). 1982. Melton.B.. "EasternMeditationGroups: Why Join?" Sociological Analysis 46:147-156. 1983.M. and Mermelstein. Corvallis. Reportto the Oregon Committeefor the Humanities. M.R. NJ: PrincetonUniversity Press.ed... A. .W. and Deutsch. New Religious Movementsin the West." Applied Psychological Measurement1:385-401. T. 1965. Harter. Galanter.H. Rabkin.Macon. and Moore. GA: Mercer University Press. 1979." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 13:99-125. T. 1984. Clarke.Denver. Rigsby. L. Kamart. M. ThePerceived Competenceand Social AcceptanceScale for Children. Kilbourne. Rajneeshismand Its Principles. "Psychotherapyand New Religions in a PluralisticSociety. CO: The University of Denver. "Self-Esteemand Social Class. Rabkin. OR: Oregon State University. and McCarthy. S." Pp." AmericanJournal of Psychiatry 136:165-170.L." Journal of Health and Social Behavior.. 1983. "The CES-D Scale: A Self-Report Depression Scale of Research in the General Population.. Princeton. Cohen. 215-238 in E. 1983. 1985.. Barker. S. R. G.J. Radloff. and Hoberman. E. "Positive Events and Social Supportsas Buffersof Life Change Stress. Social and Adolescent Self-Image. J. and Richardson. Yancey.. R. Volinn. L. "ParticipationRatesin New Religions and ParareligiousMovements. New York:Pilgrim Press.