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The Role of Charisma in the Development of Social Movements / Le Rôle du charisme dans le développement des mouvements sociaux - article ; n°1 ; vol.49, pg 83-100


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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1980 - Volume 49 - Numéro 1 - Pages 83-100
18 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1980
Nombre de lectures 23
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Robin Theobald
The Role of Charisma in the Development of Social Movements
/ Le Rôle du charisme dans le développement des mouvements
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 49/1, 1980. pp. 83-100.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Theobald Robin. The Role of Charisma in the Development of Social Movements / Le Rôle du charisme dans le développement
des mouvements sociaux. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 49/1, 1980. pp. 83-100.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1980.1283
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0335-5985_1980_num_49_1_1283Sc soc des Rel. 1980 49/1 janvier-mars) 83-100
Ellen White and the Emergence of Seventh-Day Adventism
Les sociologues ont souvent eu recours au concept de cha
risme pour expliquer le développement de certains mouvements
sociaux et même parfois la cohésion de sociétés globales Malgré
une abondante littérature des doutes sérieux subsistent chez cer
tains auteurs quant la valeur explicative de la notion de charisme
Dans cet article suggère que la confusion qui entoure ce
concept pourrait être due en grande partie au fait que on négligé
étudier attentivement la nature du rapport entre la poussée sou
daine du phénomène charismatique une part et la routinisation
du charisme autre part Après avoir examiné les traits caractéris
tiques du processus de routinisation prend en considération un
mouvement précis celui des Adv enlistes du Septième Jour et ana
lyse influence exercée sur son développement par le personnage
charismatique Ellen White Il conclut en formulant quelques
remarques générales sur la portée analytique du concept de cha
risme et son emploi en sociologie
Thé notion of charisma of charismatic leadership has on numerous occa
sions been utilized to explain the upsurge and development of social movements
of various kinds and even to explain cohesion in societies at large But despite
this widespread usage there exists in the minds of some strong doubts as to
whether the term has any real explanatory value Perhaps the best known of the
should like to thank Michael Hill Professor of Sociology at the Victoria University
Wellington New Zealand for encouraging my interest in this subject and for valuable guidance
during my earlier researches However the responsibility for the views expressed here is
entirely my own should also like to express my gratitude to the Social Science Research
Council for the personal research grant without which much of the data on the Seventh-day
Adventist movement could not have been collected
doubters is Peter Worsley who in an appendix to his extraordinary study of Cargo
movements comes to the conclusion that charisma is no more than sponge
word and is virtually useless in an analitycal sense Certainly
argument has force in that amongst the plethora of articles and books that have
used the term one is hard put to find half-dozen in which anything is actually
explained Not infrequently charisma has been employed in manner which is
little more than ideological if not tautological Cohesion exists or is assumed to
exist within given movement or society the source of this cohesion is simple
imputed to this or that political or religious leader As Claude Ake has pointed
out the very existence of charismatic leader assumes the integration he is being
used to explain Those who have put forward the kind of explanation
that Ake is criticising have obviously ignored stricture that recognition on
the part of those subject to charismatic domination is decisive for the validity of
charisma In other words if charismatic leadership is to be of interest to
sociologists it must be treated as social relationship This means that we
must at some point in our analysis refer to the perceptions and behaviour of
group of followers in relation to their allegedly charismatic leader If this dimen
sion is ignored as has usually been the case then the absence or presence of
charismatic leadership can be no more than matter of vague speculation
charisma does indeed become sponge word
second crucial factor to be borne in mind is that charismatic authority
was originally formulated as an ideal type which means that empirical examples
will be approximations only to our abstract type Weber in fact observed that
charismatic authority in its pure form exists only in the process of originating
This may seem rather Obvious point to make but it nonetheless needs to be made
as very few of those who have utilized charisma have examined carefully the
relationship between charismatic upsurge and the routinization of charisma
The fact that the two processes have on the whole been inadequately distinguished
from each other has been another major source of confusion
Bearing these points in mind want eventually to argue that the notion of
charismatic authority can have explanatory value in relation to the origins and
development of social movements In order to do this will be looking in some
detail at the development of the Seventh-day Adventist movement But before
do this would like to re-examine briefly what Weber and other writers have
seen to be the essential features of charismatic authority and on the basis of
this to make some further preliminary observations
Peter WORSLEY The Trumpet Shall Sound London Paladin 1970 See Appendices
Claude AKE Charismatic legitimation and political integration Comparative
Studies in Society and History 1966)
Max WEBER The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation trans by A.M
Henderson and Talcott Parsons) New York The Free Press 1964 359
See WORSLEY op cit. 288 and Bryan WILSON The Noble Savages The pri
mitive Origins of Charisma and its Contemporary Survival Berkeley University of California
Press 1975 pp 4-7
WEBER op cit. 1964 364
For Weber charismatic authority involves relationship between group of
followers or disciples and leader to whom they attribute extraordinary qual
ities The leader has mission or message which in some way harmonizes
with the basic needs hopes desires ambitions or fears of his followers However
during the early stages of charismatic upsurge leader and message are inseparable
as the prime orientation of the followers is to the person of the of the leader
himself Obedience is duty Followers do not simply believe in the charismatic
leader but devote or surrender themselves to him It is as Robert Tucker has
suggested almost but not quite case of the medium is the message 8)
The social dimension of charismatic domination dimension which is
usually ignored is the charismatic community or Gemeinde The Gemeinde is
characterised by an absence of hierarchy of clearly delineated spheres of authority
and especially by the of any form of training or career structure Disciples
are simply called The personnel of the Gemeinde subsist upon voluntary
donations booty in fact any means that are in sharp contrast with the routine of
everday economic life The emphasis is thus on fluidity spontaneity and ad hoc
decision-making by charismatic pronouncement But if the movement in question
is to acquire stability and continuity it must come to terms with the exigences of
everyday existence particularly economic existence Spontaneity and fluidity
must give way to routine and order
Much of the discussion of the process of routinization has concentrated
probably because Weber himself seemed to give it some importance on the crisis
of succession which occurs at the death of the charismatic leader and the period
of consolidation if it takes place which follows this event But as Weber also
stressed routinization must begin much earlier on in the development of the
movement as consideration of any social movement no matter how small in
scale or ostensibly spontaneous will readily indicate In fact going back to
point made earlier routinization in principle begins at the very establishment
of the charismatic community This implies that to the extent that charismatic
community exists over time it must acquire some degree of organisation This
is particularly apparent in the case of those movements which aim to recruit new
members Something must be done with these new members They must be
initiated into and controlled by the movement their energies utilized as
The main features of ideal type are taken from The Theory of Social and
Economic Organisation Part III
David BEETHAM has pointed out that the term Weber used to describe the orientation
of those subjected to charismatic domination was not Glaube belief) but Hingabe devotion
of surrender See Max Weber and the Theory of Modern Politics London Alien and
Unwin 1974 247
Robert TUCKER The theory of charismatic leadership Daedalus 97
Summer 1968) 751
WEBER op cit. 1964 pp 370-373
Now so far as movement acquires organisation it acquires offices and
these to some extent will be differentiated from each other in terms of status
power and possibly in terms of monetary or other material rewards This means
that incumbency will yield to the office-holder returns of fairly worldly nature
Weber himself recognised this crucial point when he observed that routinization
was synonymous with the appropriation of powers of control and economic
advantage on the part of followers Only small minority Weber suggests will
devote themselves idealistically to cause whilst the vast majority will in the
long run make their living from it 10 It is thus possible to envisage bureau-
cratised or bureaucratising movement at the centre of which is nucleus of the
faithful possibly the original Gemeinde Hans Gerth has identified just such
Gemeinde at the centre of the Nazi movement and Richard Dekmejian and
Margaret Wirszomirski have done likewise in the case of the Mahdist mov
ement 11 In one of the few really systematic attempts to utilise the notion
of charismatic authority on Dekmejian and Wirszomirski have undertaken an
analysis of the personnel of the Mahdist movement and are able to identify
group of inner core leaders approximating the Gemeinde who remained
loyal to the cause despite considerable setbacks in the later stages until the
movement was finally defeated by the Anglo-Egyptian authorities Interestingly
and bearing upon point above Dekmejian and Wirszomirski agree that
many of the traders and tribesmen who came to support the Mahdist movement
were more interested in booty than piety 12 Here it is pertinent to refer to
the observations of those few writers who in bemoaning the indiscriminate use
of charisma have argued especially in relation to under-developed polities
that the term patrimonialism more appropriately describes many of the relation
ships that others have dubbed charismatic 13 Patrimonialism is one of
main types of traditional domination under which the patrimonial ruler secures
obediences as the representative of an order that has been handed down from the
past Patrimonialism is to be distinguished from other types of traditional
authority by the existence of an administrative structure the positions which
are used by the ruler to consolidate his own political standing These positions
may be employed in their turn by incumbents to further their political economic
or social ends patrimonial relationship thus involves an exchange of fairly
tangible resources buttressed by the traditional status of the ruler 14 It is
10 Ibid. 367
11 Hans GERTH The Nazi Its leadership and composition American Jour
nal of Sociology 45 January 1940) pp 517-541 and Richard DEKMEJIAN and
Margaret WIRSZOMIRSKI Charismatic in Islam The Mahdi of the Sudan
Comparative Studies in Society and History 14 March 1972) pp 193-214
13 See especially Guenther ROTH Personal Rulership Patrimonialism and Empire-
building in the New States World Politics 20 January 1968) pp 194-206 See
also Jean-Claude WILLIAME Patrimonialism and Political Change in the Congo Stanford
Stanford University Press Ch and Aristide ZOLLBERG Creating Political Order The
Party States of West Africa Chicago Rand McNally 1966 141
14 Roth wants to introduce modern form of patrimonialism personal rulership
which is based solely on material considerations and does not require belief in the
personal qualifications pp cit. pp 195-196)
worthy of note that Weber when discussing the routinization of chansma saw
it as moving typically in the direction of patrimonialism 15 Now large
institutionalised movements it follows that may be as important
source of integration at its alleged charisma In fact for writers like
Roth it is the major source of integration so far as the polities of many under
developed states are concerned Certainly if we think back to own
observations and if we take account of those subsequent writers such as Dekmejian
and Wirszormirski who have examined empirical social movements it seems to
be the case that charisma will explain the commitment of only small minority
of the faithful 16)
But although the patrimonial element may increase in importance as
movement routinizes it is not necessarily the only additional source of integration
It should be apparent that routinization involves elaboration not only at an
organisational level but also at the level of ideology as early and possibly inchoate
charismatic pronouncements are gradually codified and systematized Thus one
may speculate that an individual may join or remain committed to movement
for mainly ideological reasons with little or no regard for what others perceive
as its charisma In effect certain writers have interpreted Weber to have
made distinction between charismatic leadership where allegiance is to person
and those forms of leadership where allegiance is primarily to programme which
the leader is to implement 17 Whether or not Weber did make such distinction
is less important than the point that so far as institutionalised movements are
concerned the same leader will almost certainly be perceived in different ways
by différents individuals and factions within that movement Adored by some used
by others ignored by others execrated by still others The fundamental point is
that to the extent that movement is routinized so will the commitment of those
in it or the motives of those about to join it diversify This is very well brought
out in the following quotation from discussion of the Nazi party
The motives of those who join the party range from ardent belief and
more or less rationalised conviction to an opportunistic adjustment to new
facts acquiescence grumbling concession and finally mute adaptation for fear
of legal or other disadvantages 18)
It follows that those who have sought to explain the cohesion of social movements
solely in terms of charismatic authority have misunderstood the nature of this
form of authority particularly its relationship to the process of routinization But
15 WEBER cit. 1964 369
16 Apart from GERTH op cit and and WIRSZOMIRSKI op cit. see also
Mattei DO AN Le Personnel politique et la personnalité charismatique Revue Fran aise
de Sociologie pp 305-324
17 See BEETHAM op cit. 231 Thomas Dow Jr The Theory of Charisma
Sociological Quarterly 10 Summer 1969) 311 and Arthur SCHWEITZER Theory
of Political Charisma Comparative Studies in Society and History 16 March 1974)
169 Joseph NYOMARKAY has emphasized the non-ideological character of charismatic
leadership in his Charisma and Factionalism in the Nazi Party Minneapolis University of
Minnesota Press 1967
18 GERTH op cit. 535
what aspects if any of the development and integration of social movements
will charismatic authority then explain now want to try and answer this
question by turning to look at the emergence and development of the Seventh-day
Adventist movement
What is today known as the Seventh-day Adventist movement has its origins
in the millennial Millerite movement which developed in the in the eastern
United States William Miller Baptist preacher of Low Hampton New York
had prophesied the second coming of Christ sometime in 1843 basing his cal
culations on the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation and especially on
the verse in Daniel Unto two thousand and three hundred days then shall the
sanctuary be cleansed teachings were publicised and were taken up by
growing numbers of people until at the climax of the movement when expectations
had come to focus upon October 1844 there were over 100000 firm believers
with perhaps million or more sceptically expectant 19 With the non-
materialisation of the advent on the definitive date of October 22 the Millerite
movement disintegrated into factions each attempting to explain the apparent
failure of prophecy From one of these factions was to emerge the Seventh-day
Adventist movement Of crucial importance in understanding the ability of this
small group of believers to survive what has become known as the Great
Disappointment of October 22nd 1844 was the development by two Millerites
Hiram Edson and O.R.L Crosier of satisfactory explanation of this Disappoint
ment On the morning after October 22 Edson was walking through cornfield
near his home when the overwhelming conviction came over him that instead of
descending to earth on October 22 Christ had in fact entered the second apartment
of the sanctuary in heaven where he had further work of cleansing to perform
Edson and his colleagues embarked upon close study of the scriptures especially
that part of the book of Hebrews which deals with the earthly sanctuary as
counterpart of the true sanctuary in heaven Their conclusions were published
in an adventist newspaper and soon came to constitue rallying point for certain
remnants of the Millerite movement 20 The outstanding merit of the sanctuary
doctrine was that it confirmed the accuracy of the Daniel 2300-day prophecy
which had indeed referred to cataclysmic event to take place in October 1844
The Millerites had simply misunderstood the nature of that event This position
19 See Whitney CROSS The Burned-over District The social and Intellectual
History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York 1800-1850 Ithaca Cornell
university Press 1950 14
20 See Leroy Edwin FROOM The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers Vol IV Wash
ington DC Review and Herald Publishing Association 1961 pp 881-891
contrasted sharply with that currently being embraced by the hardcore of the
Millerite movement including Miller himself who were admitting that the
October 22 date had been mistake
crucial stage in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist movement
was marked by series of meetings held at various locations in New England
and New York during 1848 At these meetings were three people who were to
become the architects and chief builders of the SdA movement Joseph Bates
and Ellen and James White Joseph Bates an ex-sea captain turned temperance
reformer had been prominent figure in the Millerite and in its after
math had introduced to the coterie that were uniting around sanctuary
doctrine the arguments for the observance of the seventh day as the true
sabbath In 1846 James and Ellen White had read tract written by Bates where
upon they had become convinced that the seventh day was the true sabbath and
began to observe teach and defend it Seven months after Mrs White experienced
vision in which she was transported to the heavenly sanctuary where she was
shown by the angel that accompanied her the ark containing the law On looking
down upon the tables of stone she saw that the fourth commandment was encircled
by soft halo of light The holy sabbath looked glorious halo of glory was
all around it 21 This vision was taken by those close to Mrs White as
sign of divine affirmation of the arguments for observing the seventh-day sabbath
It was in fact not the first of Mrs visions In the wake of the Great
Disappointement she had experienced vision in which she witnessed the travels
of the advent people to the city of God During the vision Mrs White was taken
up to behold the wonders of heaven all of which would be the rich reward of
those who could withstand the trials and tribulations of the journey This vision
was accepted by fellow adventists in her home town of Portland Maine as being
divinely inspired
Ellen Harmon as she was then was in many respects typical visionary
After being struck in the face by stone as child she was to suffer years of
illness reduced for long periods to semi-invalid status Her accident also
seems to have affected her mentally being lonely and withdrawn and experiencing
deep feelings of inadequacy and despair However after an incident in which she
was moved to pray aloud during an adventist meeting shortly before the Great
Disappointment most of Miss afflictions seemed to leave her and she
found herself able to preach the advent message with confidence 22 Eye witness
accounts some of them from persons initially sceptical testify that whilst in
vision Mrs White stopped breathing although her heartbeat was normal After
an initial loss of strengh she became possessed of superhuman strength Men
could not move her arms nor impede them when she moved them herself during
one vision she is alleged to have held an 18i pound bible in the palm of her hand
at length for half an hour In vision Mrs White was oblivious of what was
going on around her her eyes open she seemed to be observing some sequence
21 Arthur WHITE Ellen WHITE Messenger to the Remnant Washinton DC
Review and Herald Publishing Association 1969 34
22 Arthur Whitfield SFALDINO Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists vols.
Washington DC Review and Herald Publishing Association 1961 Vol Ch
of events indicated by occasional exclamations On coming out of her vision she
would deliver to those assembled coherent account of the instruction she had
been given 23 Mrs visions were to play decisive role in the meetings
of 1848
At these meetings those present reaffirmed their adherence to certain doc
trines that had been inherited from the Millerite movement mainly the belief in
an imminent personal pre-millenial second advent and the accuracy of
2300 day prophecy as re-interpreted by Edson In addition virtually all the
participants were deeply interested by if they had not already accepted the
arguments relating to the seventh-day sabbath But despite basic agreement with
regard to fundamentals there was much difference of opinion over issues of detail
For example at the second meeting held in Volvey New York thirty-five were
attendance bringing with them according to seventh-day Adventist historian
A.W Spalding thirty-five different creeds 24 The meeting looked as though
it might break up when Mrs White possibly overcome by the atmosphere of
dissension fainted and then having revived went off into vision With
heavy Bible lifted high in one hand she turned over the pages pointing to different
texts which she recited without it is claimed actually looking at the text 25
Mrs White was then instructed to admonish the contending parties to yield to
the truth and to unite upon the fundamentals of the advent message At this
we are told the discordant elements were brought into harmony
Mrs White played similar integrative role at the other meetings during that
year and at the final one was to experience vision which was to have far-reaching
in fact worldwide consequences There was at this meeting some debate amongst
the brethren as to whether those who were to be saved had already been sealed
or if not whether it would be of use to publish the message in order to bring
other sheep into the fold In answer Mrs White was shown in vision that the
angels were holding back the four winds that is the final conflagration that
is to be unleashed upon the earth prior to the second coming and that it would
therefore be expeditious for Adventists to embark upon publishing activities On
coming out of the vision Mrs White turned to her husband have message
for you You must begin to print little paper and send it out to the people
Let it be small at first but as the people read they will send you the means with
which to print and it will be success from the first From this small beginning
it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear around the
world 26 Seventh-day Adventists now refer to this vision and point to the
current situation in which Adventist literature is published in 273 languages and
has entered 193 of the 222 countries in the world
During the course of these 1848 meetings the Sabbatarean Adventists the
name Seventh-day Adventist was not adopted until 1860 came to identify
themselves as members of the church of the last generation or remnant who
keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus They also discovered
23 Arthur WHITE op cit. pp 22-26
24 SPALDING op cit. Vol 193
25 Ibid. pp 193-194 FROOM op cit. 1021
26 ibid. pp 195-196
scriptural evidence which they believed supported the idea that the spirit or gift of
prophecy would be revived during the last days and indeed would be an
these meetings came to accept the visions and pronouncements of Ellen White
as the embodiment of the spirit of prophecy 27)
Any charismatic leader no matter how extraordinary his personal magnetism
faces problem if he wishes to extend his influence beyond the range of bis
immediate disciples By the logic of social interaction there will come point
where personal influence must be supplemented by other bureaucratic means
Accordingly whereas Mrs personal authority was able to unify small
company of the faithful to the extent that the movement increased its following
the need for more impersonal forms of regulation became apparent The problem
of exerting control over the expanding periphery was exacerbated
firstly by geographical situation in which an increasing number of small
bands of believers were scattered over wide area and secondly by the
prevailing background of religious enthusiasm which tended to give full reign to
the extreme individualism which is inherent in reformed protestantism So at
the beginning of the fifties we find James White starting to issue warnings through
the regular paper the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald about
those among the brethren who were advocating heretical doctrines of various
kinds Towards the end of 1851 general meeting decided to withdraw fellowship
from certain of the brethren who had continued to ignore the spirit of prophecy
i.e. Mrs White and the warnings of James White In 1853 group of believers
in Michigan began to publish broadsheet The Messenger which attacked
certain tenets of Sabbatarean Adventism but particularly the person of Ellen
White During the autumn of the same year the Whites were dismayed to come
across good deal of strife and rebellion amongst Adventists in the Eastern
states 28 Shortly after Mrs White was instructed that the movement should
set itself on gospel order and concern itself in particular with the problem of
those individuals who were teaching the present truth yet because insufficiently
qualified were spreading confusion and disunion among the brethren The
movement must accept the responsibility for looking into the lives and investigating
the qualifications of those who were professing to be teachers
This call to regularize the ministry was prompted not only by an attempt to
implement doctrinal uniformity Throughout the early fifties the ministry rested
on highly irregular economic base full-time preachers subsisting largely on
charity supplemented during the season by farm work This situation proved
unsatisfactory for number of reasons The dependence on charity led to
27 FROOM op cit. pp 969-979
28 C.C CRISLER Organisation Its character purpose place and development in
the Seventh-day Adventist Church Washington DC Review and Herald Publishing Asso
ciation 1938 pp 43-44