From sect to cult to sect: the Christian Catholic Church in Zion

Beaman, Warren
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Source URI
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue

This is an ethnographic case study of the founding of the Christian Catholic Church and Zion, IL, by John Alexander Dowie from 1893 to 1905. This group is analyzed as first a sect, then a cult, and finally a sect. This is not the expected change from sect to denomination suggested by Niebuhr following Troeltsch;Recent research on cults and sects follows Stark and Bainbridge's definitions. Both cult and sect are deviant religious movements. The sect revitalizes an established religion and the cult begins a new religion. The Stark and Bainbridge definition proves inadequate in its prediction of cult origins in secular roots and in its failure to highlight the important role of the charismatic leader in founding a cult. Roberts' more recent definition of the cult addresses this inadequacy;Three models of cult development used by Stark and Bainbridge are tested in this study. While the subcultural-evolution model is useful for its connection between group isolation and religious innovation, it fails to note the importance of the charismatic cult founder. The psychopathology model is critiqued for its reductionist assumptions and rejected for lack of empirical fit. The entrepreneur model is supported by this study. A fourth model is developed by using symbolic interactionism. The fourth model is more parsimonious, more consistent, and less reductionist in describing a cult with a charismatic founder.

Sociology and anthropology, Sociology