Journal Article

Impact of the State on the Evolution of a Sect

Yunfeng Lu and Graeme Lang

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 67, issue 3, pages 249-270
Published in print January 2006 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2006 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/socrel/67.3.249
Impact of the State on the Evolution of a Sect

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Theories about the sect-to-church transition focus on changes in the social characteristics of members, or changes in the size and prosperity of the organization, to account for the transition. However, the state may also affect the likelihood of a sect-to-church transition. Under conditions of state repression, sects are likely to be more schismatic. State repression can also strengthen sectarianism by preventing the orderly succession of leaders and the emergence of professionalized and educated priesthood. We illustrate with the case of Yiguan Dao in China. This sect exhibited sectarian features under state repression, until the late 1980s when the sect was legalized in Taiwan. Thereafter, the various branches of the sect have introduced a series of changes designed to reduce schisms, formalize the succession of leadership, professionalize sectarian leaders and elaborate doctrines. These developments cannot be comprehended theoretically without some revisions to theories of sect-to-church changes.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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