Journal Article

What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch

Simon Dein

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 62, issue 3, pages 383-401
Published in print January 2001 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2001 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails: The Case of Lubavitch

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Until fairly recently Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance has been the standard paradigm for understanding reactions to failed prophecy. This theory has been criticized on both empirical and theoretical grounds. Festinger's approach fails to pay sufficient attention to the perspectives and interpretations of followers, who are seen by him as irrational and driven by forces beyond their understanding. This paper examines messianic belief among Lubavitchers and discusses what happened when their leader died without revealing his messianic status. Following failed prophecy, Lubavitchers continued missionizing at the same high level as previously. The case material illustrates the fact that such an intense religious group as Lubavitch do not follow teachings blindly but are sane people who try to reason their way through facts and doctrine in pursuit of understanding. Lubavitchers dealt with this failure of prophecy by appealing to a number of post-hoc rationalisations. In accordance with Melton's (1985) theory, the messianic belief underwent a process of spiritualization.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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