Roy Wallis


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A British sociologist of religion, whose more general writings include notable studies of social movements (particularly moral crusades), and of the place of actors’ motivational accounts in sociological analysis. An early study of the Church of Scientology (The Road to Total Freedom, 1976) generated the typology of ideological collectivities shown below. Cults and sects are both religiously deviant by comparison to the normatively sanctioned or respectable church and denominational orthodoxy. Unlike sects, however, cults are ‘pluralistically legitimate’ in the sense that membership is perceived to offer but one of a variety of possible paths to salvation. Sects, on the other hand, purport to offer adherents a unique access to such rewards.

In a subsequent study of contemporary sectarianism (The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1984), Wallis offered a tripartite typology of new religious movements, distinguishing between ‘world-rejecting’, ‘world-affirming’, and ‘world-accommodating’ types.

Subjects: Sociology.

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