These are both denominational and non-denominational, meaning not officially aligned with any specific established religious denomination. About one-third are nondenominational, and one-fifth are Southern Baptist, with the remainder primarily of other Protestant denominations. Several dozen have at least 10, worshippers and the largest U. Some even conduct market surveys to determine these needs and how best to address them.
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As might be expected, their buildings are huge by any standard, and they often feature bookstores, food courts, and sports and recreation facilities. They also provide day care, psychological counseling, and youth outreach programs. Their services often feature electronic music and light shows.
Despite their popularity, they have been criticized for being so big that members are unable to develop close bonds with each other and with members of the clergy that are characteristic of smaller houses of worship. On the other hand, supporters say that mega churches bring many people into religious worship who would otherwise not be involved.
A sect is a small religious body that forms after a group breaks away from a larger religious group, like a church or denomination. Sects are relatively small religious organizations that are not closely integrated into the larger society. They often conflict with at least some of its norms and values. Their migration from Tyrol, Austria, due to persecution eventually lead to their immigration to the Dakotas in the 19th century and then to the Canadian prairies, as conscientious objectors following WWI.
Typically, a sect breaks away from a larger denomination in an effort to restore what members of the sect regard as the original views of the religion. Because sects are relatively small, they usually lack the bureaucracy of denominations and ecclesiae, and often also lack clergy who have received official training.
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Their worship services can be intensely emotional experiences, often more so than those typical of many denominations, where worship tends to be more formal and restrained. Members of many sects typically proselytize and try to recruit new members into the sect.
If a sect succeeds in attracting many new members, it gradually grows, becomes more bureaucratic, and, ironically, eventually evolves into a denomination. A cult or New Religious Movement is a small religious organization that is at great odds with the norms and values of the larger society. Cults are similar to sects but differ in at least three respects.
First, they generally have not broken away from a larger denomination and instead originate outside the mainstream religious tradition. Second, they are often secretive and do not proselytize as much. Cults, more than other religious organizations, have been subject to contemporary moral panics about brainwashing, sexual deviance, and strange esoteric beliefs. However, research challenges several popular beliefs about cults, including the ideas that they brainwash people into joining them and that their members are mentally ill.
In a study of the Unification Church Moonies , Eileen Barker found no more signs of mental illness among people who joined the Moonies than in those who did not. She also found no evidence that people who joined the Moonies had been brainwashed into doing so. Another source of moral panic about cults is that they are violent. In fact, most are not violent. Nevertheless, some cults have committed violence in the recent past. Two years earlier, the Branch Davidian cult engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents in Waco, Texas.
A few cults have also committed mass suicide. Similarly, in Canada, on the morning of October 4th, , a blaze engulfed a complex of luxury condominiums in the resort town of Morin-Heights, Quebec. Firefighters found the bodies of a Swiss couple, Gerry and Collette Genoud, in its ruins. At first it was thought that the fire was accidental, but then news arrived from Switzerland of another odd set of fires at homes owed by the same men who owned the Quebec condominiums.
All the fires had been set with improvised incendiary devices, which made the police realize they were dealing with a rare incidence of mass murder suicide involving members of an esoteric religious group known as the Solar Temple.
From the recorded and written messages left behind by the group, it is clear that the leaders felt it was time to effect what they called a transit to another reality associated with Sirius. It is important to note that cults or new religious movements are very diverse. They offer spiritual options for people seeking purpose in the modern context of state secularism and religious pluralism. Members of new religions run the risk of being stigmatized and even prosecuted Dawson, Modern societies highly value freedom and individual choice, but not when exercised in a manner that defies expectations of what is normal.
Even at a young age he claimed to be in touch with supernatural beings Gorman, At its height it had over followers around the world, many of whom sent over large sums of money. The Aquarian Foundation was based on the teachings on the Theosophical Society, which was an organization formed in New York City in Theosophy had much in common with the beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism, such as the belief in reincarnation. It was radically different than the dominant Christian belief of the time. Theosophy also promoted the idea that there was a spiritual world beyond death inhabited by evolved spiritual beings, whose wisdom could be accessed through the occult reading of esoteric signs and the intervention of spiritual mediums Scott, These isolated areas provided a place to get away from the social pressures of the outside world.
However, an insurrection took place when Brother XII announced to his followers that he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian God Osiris. Between and , a series of trials involving Brother XII occurred, which included allegations of misusing foundation funds and having extramarital affairs. News reports claimed that he used black magic to cause witnesses and several members of the audience to faint Rutten, Wilson himself became increasingly authoritarian and used social pressure to convince members into performing gruelling physical labour that was virtually on the same level as slavery.
He did this by telling them these activities were tests of fitness to advance their spirituality. In , the group was finally dissolved and Wilson disappeared from the Nanaimo area along with hundreds of thousands of dollars of Foundation money and Mabel Skottowe one of the women with whom he was accused of having an extramarital affair. They reportedly left by tugboat and eventually made their way to Switzerland. The majority of reports say that he died in Switzerland in , though some that say he was seen in San Francisco with his lawyer after his alleged death.
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According to Cowan , because most people have little direct knowledge of cults and mainly get their information through sensationalist media reports, cults are easily presented as targets of moral panic for being immoral, extreme or dangerous. The three main accusations that cults face are that they engage in brainwashing, acts of sexual deviance and social isolationism. Each of these accusations applied to the media reports on the Aquarian Foundation although their dominant theme centered on the claim that Brother XII was a fraud.
While some people think of religion as something individual because religious beliefs can be highly personal , for sociologists religion is also a social institution. Social scientists recognize that religion exists as an organized and integrated set of beliefs, behaviours, and norms centred on basic social needs and values.
Moreover, religion is a cultural universal found in all social groups. For instance, in every culture, funeral rites are practiced in some way, although these customs vary between cultures and within religious affiliations. These universals, and the differences in how societies and individuals experience religion, provide rich material for sociological study.
But why does religion exist in the first place?
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Despite the conflict that has accompanied religion over the centuries, it still continues to exist, and in some cases thrive. How do we explain the origins and continued existence of religion? We will examine sociological theories below, but first we turn to evolutionary and psychological explanations. Many psychologists explain the rise and persistence of religion in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
Psychologist Roger Cloninger defines this core religious experience as the disposition towards self-transcendence. It has three measurable components: self-forgetfulness absorption in tasks and the ability to lose oneself in concentration , transpersonal identification perception of spiritual union with the cosmos and the ability to reduce boundaries of self vs. The argument is that because this is a universal phenomenon, it must have a common physiological or genetic basis that is passed on between generations that enhances human survival.
According to Charles Darwin all species are involved in a constant battle for survival, using adaptions as their primary weapon against an ever-changing, and hostile environment. Adaptions are genetic, or behavioral traits that are shaped by environmental pressures, and genetic variation. By dissecting religion to a core set of purposes, it can be categorized as an adaption that increases the chances of human survival.
All adaptions successfully passed on to future generations aided at one point either in reproduction or survival because the genes that selected for them were passed on. This is the rule of natural selection Darwin, Much of evolutionary psychology aims at explaining the possible environments in which certain adaptions were selected.
Although religion has the potential to cause unwanted side effects, such as wars, it still provides much greater benefits, by responding to numerous survival problems through collective religious processes. A very specific benefit, for example, is disease prevention.
Chapter 15. Religion
Many historic religions placed an emphasis on cleanliness, comparing it to spiritual purity. Consequently there is also an evolutionary benefit to this religious virtue. During a time period where disease was a constant threat to survival, idealizing cleanliness helped minimize communicable diseases from food, animals, and even humans. Although disease prevention has been an important byproduct of religious practices around the world, evolutionary psychologists argue that the main benefit religion has provided to human survival is the mutual support provided by fellow members.
More specifically, religion creates a framework for social cohesion and solidarity, even during times of loss, and grief, which has been a crucial competitive strategy of the human species. Dean Hamer for example describes a specific gene that correlates with the capacity for self-transcendence. After his research team isolated an association between the VMAT2 gene sequence and populations who scored high on psychological scales for self-transcendence, Hamer noted these genes were connected to the production of neurotransmitters known as monoamines.
The effects of monoamines on the meso-limbic systems in the human body were similar to many stimulant drugs: feelings of euphoria and positive well-being. What is striking about this evidence is the implication that evolution has favoured genes that are often displayed in religious populations. Hamer extends the evolutionary argument to suggest that religion, grounded genetically in a neuro-chemical capacity for self-transcendence, provides competitive advantages for the human species in the forms of community well-being higher rates of reciprocity and social welfare and longevity reduction of maladaptive behaviours and increased cleanliness.
Many similar effects can be observed in the present environment. Strawbridge, Sherna, Cohen, and Kaplan, conducted a year longitudinal study on religious attendance and survival.
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Although they found that weekly religious attendance more often assisted in targeting and reducing maladaptive behaviors such as smoking, it also aided in maintaining social relations, and marriage Strawbridge et al. Evolutionary psychology argues that these modern tendencies to feel happiness during a church congregation to reduce maladaptive behaviours are innate, sculpted by centuries of exposure to religion.
Evolutionist Richard Dawkins hypothesized a similar reason why religion has created such a lasting impact on society. Comparable to genes, memes are bits of information that can be imitated and transferred across cultures and generations Dawkins, As a vocal proponent of atheism, Dawkins believes the idea of God is a meme, working in the human mind the same way as a placebo effect. The God meme contains tangible benefits to human society such as answers to questions about human transcendence and superficial comfort for daily difficulties, but the idea of God itself is a product of the human imagination Dawkins, Although a human creation, the God meme is incredibly appealing, and as a result, has continually been passed on through cultural transfusion.
The logic of evolutionary psychology suggests that it is possible for religion to be replaced by another mechanism that is more beneficial to human survival. Just as Dawkins hypothesized that religious memes colonized societies around the world, this process could also be applied to secular memes. The secularization thesis predicts that as societies become modern, religious authority will be replaced with public institutions. As Canada, and other countries develop, perhaps evolution will continue to favour secularization, demoting religion from its central place in social life, and religious conflicts to history textbooks and motel night tables.
Where psychological theories of religion focus on the aspects of religion that can be described as products of individual subjective experience — the disposition towards self-transcendence, for example — sociological theories focus on the underlying social mechanisms religion sustains or serves.
They tend to suspend questions about whether religious world views are true or not — e. Is enlightenment achievable through meditation?