Youth Culture Religious Movements: Evaluating the Integrative Hypothesis

Author(s): Thomas Robbins, Dick Anthony, Thomas CurtisSource: The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 1, (Winter, 1975), pp. 48-64
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
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The Sociological Quarterly 16 (Winter 1975):48-64

Youth Culture Religious Movements: Evaluating the Integrative Hypothesis *

Queens College,
City University of New York

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This paper assesses the "integrative hypothesis" as an aid to understanding the current emergence of new religious movements appealing mainly to young persons. Four ways in which these movements reintegrate young persons into the social system are identified: adjustive socialization, combination, compensation, and redirection. The limitations of each of these as an explanation for the integrative consequences of youth culture religious movements are discussed. A distinction is made between adaptive movements which actually appear to reassimilate social "dropouts" into conventional instrumental routines, and marginal movements which appear to take converts out of conventional roles and routines, but which also perform latent tension management functions for the social system. The correlated properties of adaptive and marginal movements and the tendency for marginal movements to evolve into adaptive movements are discussed. Finally, the problem of "reductionism" in analyzing religious movements in terms of their latent integrative "functions" is discussed.

A GROWING MINORITY of young persons from middle-class backgrounds appears to be attracted to spiritual groups which are unconventional in the American context (Greeley, 1969; King, 1970; Needleman, 1970; Rowley, 1971; Eister, 1972; Heenan, 1973; Ellwood, 1973a; Ellwood, 1973b; Fornaro, 1973a; Fornaro, 19783b; Wuthnow and Glock, 1973).1 A number of papers and articles dealing with these groups have linked them to the "alienation" and identity confusion of middle-class youth in the sixties and to deviant expressive activities, in par- ticular "drug abuse," which reflected this confusion (Robbins, 1969; Harder and Richardson, 1971; Nolan, 1971; Adams and Fox, 1972; Robbins and Anthony, 1972; Richardson et al., 1972; Petersen and Mauss, 1973; Mauss and Petersen, 1973; Fornaro, 1973b; Robbins, 1973). A number of these papers exemplify what we shall call the "integrative hypothesis." These articles have analyzed the new spiritual movements in terms of their consequences for rehabilitating drug users, reassimilating social "dropouts" into conventional educational and

Youth Religious Movements 49

vocational routines, mitigating youthful alienation, and redistricting protest away from dominant sociopolitical institutions.2 Robbins (1969), in a study of the Meher Baba movement, argues that "eastern" mystical cults currently growing in America "serve as a half-way house between the drug culture and reassimilation into conventional society" (Robbins, 1969:308). In a similar vein, Mauss and Petersen (1973) have argued that "Jesus freak" groups in Seattle and Spokane appeal to "prodigals" who, having "spent a period of time in deviant and stigmatizing behaviour … have begun to find their way back to God and respectability through becoming 'preachers' in a new youth movement that has functioned to recover them for the establishment from which they once turned away" (Mauss and Petersen, 1973:9).

The purpose of this paper is to develop further this hypothesis and to specify precisely the integrative processes operative within these movements. We also intend, however, to offer some criticisms and indicate the limits of the utility of the integrative hypothesis as an aid to understanding the current growth of new religious movements in America.

Adjustive Socialization

The "integrative hypothesis," as we define it, states that new youth culture religious movements have the consequences of reconciling and adapting alienated young persons to dominant social institutions, and in so doing, they perform latent pattern maintenance and tension management for the social system. There are at least four ways in which these movements facilitate the social reintegration of converts - adjustive socialization, combination, compensation, and redirection. In this section we will discuss adjustive socialization.

A major theme of the sociology of "sects" has been the insight that sectarian movements which recruit "alienated" and maladjusted persons tend to "socialize in dominant values," and thereby facilitate the integration of converts into conventional social roles (Holt, 1940; Johnson, 1961). This is even frequently the case with respect to movements that are both unconventional and vehemently anti-establishment, but that also stress the middle-class virtues of thrift, sobriety, industriousness, education, and cooperative efforts for economic betterment (Niebuhr, 1929; Willems, 1968; Laue, 1963). The "dominant values" inculcated are often of a negative nature (e.g., don't drink, don't gamble, don't fight), but internalization of such norms may be conducive to successful adjustment to an industrial milieu. Socialization in norms, values, and skills which are conducive to successful coping and adaptation to conventional institutional milieux is what we will refer to as adjustive socialization.

With respect to current youth culture religious groups, the most salient adjustive norm is the prohibition against drug use. Negative orientations toward drug use characterize eastern mystical cults now operating in America (Robbins, 1969; Fornaro, 1973b), some of which operate drug rehabilitation clinics that accept referrals from psychiatrists and courts (Fornaro, 1973b). Anti-drug


attitudes are also widespread in the Jesus movement (Harder and Richardson, 1971; Adams and Fox, 1972; Mauss and Petersen, 1973; Robbins, 1973). Termination of "drug abuse" is naturally an important factor facilitating one's eventual social reintegration.

Other norms inculcated by new religious movements may also have an integrative potential. The sexual puritanism of Jesus groups, which many writers have noted (Harder and Richardson, 1971; Adams and Fox, 1972; Balswick, 1974), may release energy for conventional "career" pursuits. Adjustive socialization may also take place in Jesus communes, through which converts are "learning to get along with others and participate in communal tasks" (Adams and Fox, 1972:56).

A number of writers have noted the emergence of a partial functional equivalent of the "work ethic," which is integrated into the expressive values of each movement (see next section). Robbins identified "worldly ascetic" elements in the meaning system of the Meher Baba movement. According to Robbins, "many Baba-Lovers eventually come to believe that a person really ought to busy himself working off his karma and wearing out his ego through right action in the world … implied is a devaluation of sensationalism and idleness in general, which facilitates the resocialization of Baba followers into the norms of the 'straight' world" (Robbins, 1969:314). Snelling and Whitley have noted that the Hare Krishna cult appears to have reconstructed the Protestant Ethic in its "heavily moralistic emphasis … on 'doing everything for the glory of Krishna' "3 (Snelling and Whitley, 1972:36). Other religious and "para-religious" groups studied by Snelling and Whitley also appear to emphasize Protestant Ethic elements. The authors conclude that scholarly and journalistic post-mortems on the Protestant Ethic "may have been premature." They recall Anthony Wallace's dictum that "old religions do not die; they live on in the new religions which follow them" (Wallace, 1966:4).

Summarizing this section, a number of new and seemingly unconventional religious movements appear to "socialize in dominant values" in the sense of inculcating norms, values, and skills which have an integrative potential in better equipping the convert to adjust to dominant institutional contexts. But adjustive socialization is not really a sufficient explanation for why or how new spiritual movements assist in the reassimilation of young "dropouts" into conventional roles and routines. Adjustive socialization begs the central question of how alienated persons from the counterculture can become committed to movements emphasizing the "straight" values which these persons stridently rejected in the recent past. Although disillusionment with the excesses of drug scenes can be cited and plugged in as an explanation for these movements' appeal (Balswick, 1974; Robbins and Anthony, 1972; Fornaro, 1973b), the question nevertheless arises as to why unconventional movements are necessary to reintegrate the alienated; why the disillusioned hippie cannot be reassimilated through his local church or YMCA.

Youth Religious Movements 51


Combination, which can be considered as an elaboration of adjustive socialization, refers to the fact that some movements appear to have developed meaning systems which are able to combine or synthesize countercultural values with traditional or mainstream orientations, thereby making it easier for former "alienated" participants in deviant expressive milieux to act in accordance with conventional expectations. By combining or synthesizing counterculture meanings with dominant values, these movements bridge the gap between the cultures, and legitimate external conformity to conventional expectations in bohemian expressive terms. While "socializing in dominant values," these movements nevertheless embody some important element of continuity with the "alienated" orientations and expressivity of the counterculture.

Robbins and Anthony show how the instrumental "selfless service" ethic of the Meher Baba movement is integrated with an expressive hippiesque "love" theme; one loves and serves Baba by loving and serving others. The authors argue that while the traditional entrepreneurial work ethic derived expressive values from instrumental ones, "the 'sacred cosmos' of Baba followers supersedes that ethic by deriving instrumental values from expressive ones" (Robbins and Anthony, 1972:138).

Robbins (1969) has noted elements of "psychedelic" subjectivism in the Meher Baba movement which co-exist with activist service-oriented elements. The continuity of the Jesus movement with the drug culture with respect to the experiential preoccupation with "highs" has been emnhasized by a number of writers (Adams and Fox, 1972; Balswick, 1972; Ellwood, 1973b). Other writers have stressed the convergence of millenarian tendencies in the Jesus movement with the apocalyptic mood of the sixties counterculture (Enroth et al., 1972; Ellwood, 1973b; Robbins, 1973). Balswick argues that Jesus followers' "emphasis on 'speaking in tongues' fits in nicely with the counter- cultural emphasis on spontaneity and yielding to impulse through disregarding intellectual control … the emphasis on speaking in tongues also fits in with the counterculture's emphasis on 'doing your own thing.' " (Balswick, 1974:362). Finally, Mauss and Petersen argue that stylistic continuity between the Jesus movement and the counterculture facilitates the social integration of converts; "convers;on to the Jesus movement has allowed these youth to return to the 'system' with a minimum of 'culture shock' by providing a kind of asylum or haven from both the system and the counterculture, in which they could temporarily, at least, retain the style of the counterculture, while changing their values and behaviour in the direction of Establishment requirements" (Mauss and Petersen, 1973:4).

Most recently, Levine (1974) has analyzed the Divine Light Movement of the Guru Maharaj-ji in terms of its combination of counterculture communal ("love") themes with dominant American cultural orientations including "uncritical acceptance of technologv," and a fixation on instant gratification. Cultural "combinations" are thus relevant not only to the integrative consequences of movements, but also to the sources of a movement's growth and appeal.

Analysis of "combinations" crops up in most scholarly and journalistic analyses of youth culture religious movements. Perhaps, however, combinations are too


well documented; i.e., given the multiplicity of both "counterculture" and "mainstream" value complexes, it is too easy to find convergences and parallels with the values of a given religious movement and depict the latter as a synthesis. Indeed, the dominant culture and "counterculture," whose elements the movements are alleged to combine, are often not very clearly defined.


The next two processes, "compensation" and "redirection," do not require the presence of explicit norms either proscribing deviant involvements (e.g., drugs) or legitimating non-deviant commitments (e.g., to conventional "careers"). Compensation refers to the renewal of commitment to conventional vocational routines, which derives from having the expressive needs that these routines cannot gratify, gratified elsewhere (i.e., in religious groups). Redirection is more exclusively negative and refers to the substitution of socially legitimate religious activities and satisfactions for stigmatized activities and satisfactions (e.g., spiritual "highs" for drug induced "highs"), from which the convert is thusly "redirected." We deal in this section with compensation.

Young people "drop out" and become heavily involved in deviant activities (e.g., "drug abuse") in part due to expressive needs which dominant bureaucratic structures cannot adequately meet (Roszak, 1968; Klapp, 1968; Slater, 1970; Kelley, 1972; Robbins and Anthony, 1972). Youth culture religious movements also respond to these needs (Hargrove, 1971; Robbins and Anthony, 1972; Petersen and Mauss, 1973a). It would seem to follow that to the degree to which these movements are able to meet effectively communal and other expressive needs of members, members will no longer feel compelled to flee from dominant institutional structures into social marginality. If expressive needs are effectively serviced extra-vocationally in religious subcultures, bureaucratic instrumental roles may no longer be perceived or experienced as oppressive and dehumanizing. Robbins and Anthony discuss how the meaning and symbol system of the Meher Baba movement legitimates a spiritually based expressive community of "Baba-Lovers"; "as a result its members no longer suffer from 'love starvation' and thus no longer feel a need to rebel against the impersonal institutions of the larger society" (Robbins and Anthony, 1972: 135). Youth culture religious movements may thus provide members with expressive rewards which members do not feel they can obtain through conventional roles and routines, thereby paradoxically rendering these roles and routines more bearable and less subjectively oppressive.

Compensation is essentially a somewhat speculative notion for which there may be little direct evidence. Nevertheless, it may be a vital concept because it focuses attention on the original sources of youthful "alienation." It thus facilitates articulation of the relationships between integrative consequences of new religious movements and their sources of appeal in the expressive deprivations on an increasingly rationalized and bureaucratized society.

But there is another problem. The logic of "compensation" implies that all of the new religious movements, to the extent that they effectively provide communal and other expressive gratifications to converts, will have the effect of reconciling converts to dominant social institutions. As we shall later see,

Youth Religious Movements 53

however, some of the most tightly communal and solidary groups are very limited in their integrative potential. The problem is that needs that are gratified outside of the dominant institutional structures are likely to be gratified in a way that is incompatible with these structures, and compels segregation from dominant institutional milieux (e.g., pursuing communal gratifications in self-sufficient rural communes or rigidly disciplined monastic orders is not compatible with reassimilation into conventional vocational routines).


Redirection may be the most fundamental integrative pattern associated with new youth culture religious movements. It refers to the observation that many youth culture religious movements appear to offer "alienated" converts a means of expressing disaffection and protest which does not involve overt conflicts with authorities or seriously threaten the society. In this way these movements "redirect" converts away from movements and activities that are overtly stigmatized or directly threaten the dominant sociopolitical institutions. Thus, "for the [Hare Krishna] convert, Krishna consciousness offers a relatively safe vehicle for expression of deep estrangement from mainstream culture" (Howard, 1974: 206).

Redirection is thus essentially negative; it does not necessarily involve any positive reassimilation into conventional vocational routines or any mitigation of "alienation" and the refusal to "compromise" with a society perceived as evil. Richardson et al. have commented regarding their Jesus movement subjects:

The overt rejection of society is evidenced by the fact that an overwhelming majority of the persons we interviewed expected the "end of the world" during their generation, and they wanted this to happen. The latent function of this explicit rejection of society is the maintenance of the very society that is so strongly rejected and withdrawn from (Richardson et al., 1972:192).

By and large, involvement in new youth culture religious movements is substantially more socially legitimate than either "drug abuse" or political radicalism. To the extent that persons who have been involved in such "deviant" activities become totally and exclusively involved in religious movements, they are necessarily "redirected" away from stigmatized and overtly oppositional involvements. Depoliticization and diminished interest in radical social orotest and reform has been noted by several writers on the Jesus movement (Harder and Richardson, 1971; Harder et al., 1972; Adams and Fox, 1972), while some have also noted a shift to conservative attitudes, or a tendency for Jesus groups to strongly criticize radical and peace groups (Adams and Fox, 1972; Enroth et al., 1972; Robbins, 1973). Depoliticization and apolitical attitudes have also been noted among young converts to eastern mystical movements (Kopkind, 1973; Robbins, 1973; Fornaro, 1978b).4 It appears that to some extent, persons


who have been involved in new religious movements simply lose interest in politics, and cease thereby to become available for institutional social protest. As one Meher Baba convert interviewed by one of the authors states, "The only thing that has any real, lasting importance is the reality of your unity with God, everything else is temporary." Another "Baba-Lover" stated: Baba makes it how I can see the unity of all things. Whereas now like I might not still agree with political methods, but it doesn't strike me like I have to go out and fight in the street sort of thing. When I know we're all one, there's no reason to go there and fight.5

A similar "redirection" process seems to operate with respect to drug use. Even where stiff anti-drug norms are not influential, mystical converts who really feel tuned in to spiritual "highs" usually gradually lose interest in chemical "highs" (Weil, 1972; Fornaro, 1973b; Gray, 1973; Robbins, 1973). A "substitutions" effect seems to operate whereby spiritual experiences become satisfactory substitutes for drug-induced "highs," which are perceived as more ephemeral than "real," i.e., non-chemical mystical experiences, and thus ultimately less satisfying as well as more dangerous (Robbins, 1969; Weil, 1972; Fornaro, 1973b; Robbins, 1973; Anthony and Robbins, 1974).

It is important to realize that there is often a symbiotic relationship between "redirection" and "combination"; religious movements must provide an element of continuity with the orientations of deviant countercultural groups in order to "redirect" effectively persons into more socially legitimate outlets for personal expressivity. Thus McAfee notes that followers of the Guru Maharaj-ji consider themselves "revolutionaries" and view the Guru as "the most revolutionary of revolutionaries" (McAfee, 1973:21). Rennie Davis, a former SDS leader who is now a disciple of the Guru, frequently stresses the continuity of his present spiritual endeavors with his revolutionary work in the sixties (Gray, 1973).

Redirection, however, may sometimes be problematic. Richardson and his associates found depoliticization among converts in Christ Commune, but also found that only a minority of converts had been highly politicized prior to conversion, which suggests "that the political activist and Jesus movement groups have less overlap of membership than we have been led to believe" (Richardson et al., 1972:200). The tendency for converts to have been formerly involved with drugs is much greater and better documented, but there also is evidence

Youth Religious Movements 55

that these groups are increasingly appealing to relatively "straight" types (Streiker, 1971; Mauss and Petersen, 1973; Robbins, 1973). Arguments involving what we have termed "redirection" may be increasingly obliged to hypothesize that converts to youth culture religious groups would have become involved in radical activism or drug use had they not been "redirected" by a spiritual movement. This is an intriguing speculation, but it is hard to substantiate.

Adaptive vs. Marginal Movements

We have summarized some of the basic strengths and weaknesses of the different explanations for observed integrative consequences of youth culture religious movements.6 The most salient problem with these analyses, however, is the fact that many youth culture religious movements appear on the surface to have only very limited integrative consequences. The Children of God, a fundamentalist millenial sect on the fringe of the "Jesus movement," has been depicted as fiercely antagonistic to American society, and tending to segregate rigidly its converts in self-sufficient communes, which operate as total institutions regimenting the lives of the inhabitants (Streiker, 1971; Enroth et al., 1972; Leming and Smith, 1973). Similar comments may apply to other communal Jesus groups including the Christian Foundation of Tony and Susan Alamo (Streiker, 1971; Enroth et al., 1973) and Christ Commune studied by Richardson and his associates (Harder and Richardson, 1971; Harder et al., 1972; Richardson et al., 1972). The members of Christ Commune are described as "alienated from institutional society" and "unlikely to drift back into ordinary society" (Harder et al., 1972:113). None of these groups appear to be "integrative" in the sense of facilitating the reassimilation of converts into conventional educational and occupational roles (in fact they appear to inhibit such "reintegration"), although they do assist persons to terminate drug use. On the other hand, the Christian World Liberation Front in the San Francisco-Oakland area encourages teenage runaway converts to return to home and school (Enroth et al., 1972); and Jesus groups in Seattle and Spokane have been described as a "waystation to respectability" for young dropouts, many of whom have been "gradually filtering back into normal family life, institutional church life, further education, and/or regular jobs" (Mauss and Petersen, 1973:4).

There also are ambiguities with respect to the integrative functions of eastern mystical cults. The well-known Hare Krishna cult appears to be a strictly disciplined monastic order, many of whose members are segregated in temples which totally organize their lives, although there are "householders" who live outside the temple and hold conventional jobs (Snelling and Whitley, 1972). The Divine Light Mission of the Guru Maharaj-ji has been analyzed by one writer as a convenient way for middle class dropouts to return to respectability and rationalize their resumption of class privileges (McAfee, 1973), while another writer depicts the same movement as an ominous locus of thought control whose fanatically devoted members are prompted to commit acts of extreme violence and illegality (Kelley, 1974).


Two different types of movements can be distinguished with respect to socially integrative consequences: 1) Adaptive Movements which facilitate the reassimilation of converts into conventional vocational and educational routines; and 2) Marginal Movements which actually remove members from conventional pursuits and lock them into social marginality. The latter groups are less integrative than adaptive movements, yet they are still integrative in the sense of assisting converts in the termination of drug use and possibly in the sense of "redirecting" people away from political radicalism.

Adaptive movements rebuild positive commitment on the part of converts to dcminant social institutions and roles. They therefore appear to perform what Parsonians term "pattern-maintenance" functions for society. In contrast, marginal movements provide legitimations to converts for not participating in conventional institutions and roles. This may be functional, however, in a society in which affluence and automation are progressively "lowering the proportion of the civilian population which it is necessary to mobilize into the labor force" such that "a decrease in the levels of motivational commitment may, therefore, well be a positive source of order in modern social systems" (Fenn, 1972:27). Thus, seemingly non-integrative marginal groups may actually perform "tension-management" functions for the social system by "cooling out" surplus bodies from the economic and political systems.

The distinction between adaptive and marginal movements is essentially a distinction between pattern maintenance and tension management. Although Parsons has fused pattern maintenance and tension management in'o a single functional imperative, Turney-High argues that this bracketing is unwarranted. Pattern maintenance devices function to sustain commitment to dominant in- stitutions and roles, while tension management mechanisms operate to control tension and channel protest into "safe" areas that do not seriously threaten the system. Thus "maintenance devices are reinforcement for the system; tension release techniques drain off emotions into harmless channels" (Turney-High, 1968:277). The Meher Baba movement appears to facilitate a renewal of motiva- tion to nerfo m conventional instrumental roles on the part of converts (Rob- bins, 1969; Robbins and Anthony, 1972; Robbins, 1.978). In contrast, the Children of God, who are occasionally subjected to persecution by state officials and private citizens (Leming and Smith, 1973; Perlez, 1974), fiercely condemn dominant economic and political institutions as sinful and doomed to imminent destruction and refuse to participate in them (Streiker, 1971:50-54; Enroth et al., 1972:21-67; Leming and Smith, 1973). Yet in so doing they may con- ceivably helo stabilize the social system because "it is when unusually large numbers of individuals insist on participating in the labor force or in the decision making processes that tensions are likely to ensue" (Fenn, 1972:27). Comb:nation is usually highly developed in adaptive movements and often takes the form of an ethos of "inner detachment," e.g., being "in" but not "of" the world, which operates to legitimate conventional work activities in expres- sive and spiritual terms (Robbins, 1969; Carnes, 1974). Adjustive socialization is also far more extensive in adaptive movements and is usually present in marginal groups only in the form of simple negative injunctions, e.g., do not use drugs. Compensation, which presupposes some involvement with conventional work

Youth Religious Movements 57

roles, pertains exclusively to adaptive movements. Only redirection may be equally relevant to both adaptive and marginal movements.

Characteristics of Adaptive and Marginal Movements

The distinction between adaptive and marginal movements is based exclusively on observed integrative patterns; within each type structural and doctrinal characteristics may vary widely. There do, however, appear to be some corre- lations between certain structural and ideological attributes and adaptive vs. marginal patterns of social integration. Our comments in this respect must be viewed as highly tentative.

Marginal movements tend to entail highly regimented, cohesive, and eco- nomically self-sufficient (often rural and isolated) communes and/or monastic institutions. These tend to operate as "total institutions" which entirely structure and regiment the lives of members who have few or no commitments not overtly subordinated to the movement. Socialization within "Christ Commune" has been compared to Maoist "thought reform" (Richardson et al., 1972), and in the Children of God, "every effort is made to destroy one's former identity" (Enroth et al., 1972:32). Converts are totally dependent upon the commune or temple for both livelihood and expressive interpersonal satisfactions. This pat- tern seems calculated to maintain the strict separation of members from main- stream society and inhibit their assimilation into conventional vocational roles. Adaptive movements, on the other hand, are more likely to have a "cult" structure. "Cults" are characterized by minimal intragroup social control and group pressure on individuals, vague group "boundaries" with multiple grada- tions of marginal membership, non-exclusivity, and an absence of sharply and rigidly defined credos (Nelson, 1968; Eister, 1972). This pattern clearly fits the Meher Baba movement (Coty, 1971; Robbins, 1973; Anthony and Robbins, 1974), and has been identified with groups such as Baha'i, Transcendental Meditation, Subud, Vedanta, Soto Zen, and the Human Potential movement (Eister, 1972). The cult pattern clearly minimizes conflicts with members' instrumental roles and involvements and thus facilitates their social reintegra- tion; it is well adapted to highly differentiated modern society (Coty, 1971; Robbins et al., 1973).

The cult pattern seems to be primarily associated with non-Christian move- ments (Nelson, 1968), although MacNamara (1974:345-347) seems to imply that some new Jesus groups can be assimilated to this pattern. While not com- pletely fitting the cult type, relatively adaptive "Jesus movement" groups nevertheless do tend to be characterized by less stringently regimented urban communes or "houses," which tend to have a more rapid turnover than marginal communes, and are often supplemented by coffee houses, crisis centers, exten- sively marketed newspapers, and ties to establish fundamentalist churches (Enroth et al., 1972; Jacobsen and Pilarzyck, 1972; Robbins, 1973; Mauss and Petersen, 1973).7

7 It is important to note, however, that marginal Jesus groups may also be associated with a less cohesive and disciplined urban "house" system. Without a self-sufficient, highly dis- ciplined, and solidary communal system, however, marginal groups tend to evolve in a more adaptive direction (Robbins, 1973).


With respect to meaning and symbol systems, there is probably a wide variation within both adaptive and marginal patterns. Nevertheless, although the stringently monastic Hare Krishna cult may be an outstanding exception, "eastern" mystical groups seem slightly more likely to have highly adaptive con- sequences than fundamentalist movements. The apocalypticism of many Jesus groups has frequently been cited as a factor that inhibits the assimilation of converts to conventional work roles. "The apocalyptic feature of the [Jesus] movement dissuades young people from rejoining society because they are led to believe that the second coming of Christ is imminent" (Adams and Fox, 1972:56).

Nevertheless, there are still many relatively adaptive Jesus groups whose members are "encouraged to get jobs, return to school, and make amends with parents and the law" (Enroth et al., 1972:228). It appears that there is some tendency for Jesus groups to evolve in several years from a marginal pattern to an adaptive pattern. Robbins (1973) discusses the evolution of the Berke- ley-San Francisco Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF), which has evolved in the direction of a diminishing fixation on apocalyptic and millenial visions, a lessening emphasis on proselytization, and "increasing positive sanc- tion for 'normal' occupational roles for Christians and increasing 'compromise' with society" (Robbins, 1973:353). Mauss and Petersen (1973) appear to link the integrative potentialities of Jesus groups in Seattle and Spokane with their ongoing "routinization," which entails a rapprochement with pentecostal churches, an abandonment of street preaching, a recruitment of less stigmatized and alienated young persons, and an expansion of public relations activity. Jacobsen and Pilarzyck (1972) have analyzed a Milwaukee Jesus group that did not survive the departure of its charismatic founder, but which, prior to its dissolution, was evolving in a more adaptive and integrative direction.

Although many "eastern" mystical groups such as the Meher Baba move- ment or the Divine Light Mission seem to be relatively adaptive (Robbins, 1969; McAfee, 1973), the Meher Baba group does seem to have been slightly less adaptive in the sixties than it is in the present (Robbins, 1963). The tendency to evolve from marginal to adaptive patterns may thus also apply to "eastern" groups. There may thus be a general tendency for youth culture religious move- ments to evolve in a more adaptive direction." This tendency is related to the general process of the institutionalization and general accommodation of "youth culture," which is achieving recognition and legitimation from the broader society as it increasingly "deradicalizes." In short, the youth culture ceases to be an overtly oppositional counterculture as it "is increasingly victorious in its 'bargaining' processes with the larger society" (Berger, 1970:48). The develop- ment of apolitical sects and cults which "redistrict" persons away from overtly 8 Some groups appear to be able to operate simultaneously as adaptive and marginal groups. Morgan (1973) reports that four thousand premies or devotees of Guru Maharaj-ji live in strictly celibrate monastic lives in ashrams. On the other hand, the same article reports that there are 40,000-50,000 premies in America, who, presumably, do not live permanently in ashrams. A meeting attended by the senior author was presided over by a full-time advertising executive.

Youth Religious Movements 59

"deviant" activities and sometimes reinvolve them in conventional instrumental roles can be seen as an aspect of this broader process.9


In this section we examine some problems which arise in analyses of youth culture religious movements in terms of latent integrative consequences. It is our contention that analyses in terms of latent integrative functions frequently make certain assumptions that are unwarranted, logically untenable, or unduly reductionistic and debunking.

Analysis of "latent functions" of social movements is by itself a legitimate sociological enterprise. Some papers focusing on consequences do not therefore explicitly analyze the origins or sustaining sources of the movements being analyzed. Among those writers who do strive to articulate functions and "causes" of youth culture religious movements, there seems to be a temptation to treat the consequences themselves as sources and origins. Usually the conversion of consequences into sources or "causes" of youth culture religious movements is merely implicit, and entails reading integrative consequences back as motivations for members' initial conversion. Converts are viewed as really "wanting" to be socially reintegrated, providing this can be accomplished via an aporopriate rationale which establishes that they have not simply "copped out" to the "Establishment." Thus, "Jesus people" are depicted as young ex-hippies who "have lived for the moment, but in the process have found that although man does not live by bread alone, he does need bread" (Balswick, 1974:364). The 9 The distinction between "adaptive" and "marginal" youth culture religious movements is vulnerable to three criticisms: (1) A group may appear marginal in the sense that it segregates converts from dominant institutional processes, yet it might still recruit "alienated" persons from the "counterculture," who, having recovered from disorienting drug experiences and developed social and technical skills, might subsequently leave the group and become reassimilated to conventional social roles. In this way, seemingly "anti-cultural" and totalistic movements may still operate as "halfway houses" and "waystations" to middle-class respecta- bility. Organizational skills and "work ethic" values developed through participation in the movements may, in the long run, facilitate the social reintegration of converts, although their immediate application may be in terms of the upkeep of communes and temples. Perhaps, then, the labels "adaptive" and "marginal" should only be applied to given groups after longitudinal studies? (2) Certain roles which now appear marginal (e.g., Hare Krishna monk) may eventually be recognized as fully respectable and legitimate. The adaptive/marginal dis- tinction presupposes distinctions between marginal and 'mainstream" roles and life-styles, which are naturally fluid and problematic. (3) Some formerly marginal groups may evolve so thoroughly in an adaptive direction that they no longer recruit "alienated" dropouts, but rather appeal primarily to persons who have never given serious thought to rejecting conventional social roles (Jacobsen and Pilarzyck, 1972; Mauss and Petersen, 1973). Such groups would no longer "reintegrate" converts; they would be "adaptive" only in the specu- lative sense that without them converts might have "dropped out." Careful longitudinal studies will thus be necessary to further develop and research the utility of the distinction between adaptive and marginal movements. Such research should focus particularly on the nature of "turnover" in different movements and the emerging lifestyles of persons who terminate in- volvement in youth culture religions. In this connection several authors have noted a tendency for ex-"Jesus freaks" to become assimilated to established fundamentalist and pentecostal churches (Engels et al., 1972; Mauss and Petersen, 1973).


Jesus movement is seen as a convenient device for young dropouts from middle- class backgrounds who are "torn between their former values and those of the drug scene" and who "may welcome the Jesus trip as an expedient means of returning to middle-class values while retaining peer approval … one can gradually become reoriented to the larger segments of the population without really going too straight" (Adams and Fox, 1972:55). Similarly, through "east- ern" cults, alienated middle-class youth "can join the guru movement and thus define [themselves] in total opposition to the [American] culture" while main- taining a steady job and not having "to worry about cops and jail" (McAfee, 1973:21). Other papers by Robbins (1969) and Mauss and Petersen (1973) also stress the convenience of youth culture religious movements for allowing dropouts in the process of reintegration to camouflage increasing external con- formity to conventional expectations by retaining a degree of stylistic or sub- jective "alienation." As these papers are not primarily concerned with the origins of these movements or the reasons why young people become involved in them, the impression is created that the "return to respectability" and "reassimilation into conventional society" experienced by converts is itself the motivation of young deviants for becoming involved in the first place.

The proposition that the integrative consequences of conversion are equiva- lent to initial motivations to convert may be true in some cases (e.g., addicts turning to Jesus to help them kick their habit), but it cannot be simply assumed. To make this assumption is also to assume that the religious impulses are essentially superficial rationalizations for the impulse to evade social marginality, which alone is "real" and fundamental.1'

The sociologist qua sociologist may be more concerned with the socially integrative dimension of religious movements than with other dimensions such as their "truth." In this sense, the integrative "function" of these movements is more "real" than other aspects of these groups, at least to the sociologist. Yet the sociologist's inference regarding these movements' integrative properties may sometimes implicitly repudiate the beliefs and meanings of the movement in question, whose participants may define the movement as socioculturally disintegrative. Thus, a devotee of the Guru Maharaj-ji may assume that the Guru's message of love poses a more serious threat to the "military-industrial complex" or to institutional racism than do overt political protests. Can a sociological analysis of religion validly make an a priori assumption that the religious beliefs being studied are empirically false or illusory (Bellah, 1970)? It is not our intention to offer a definitive answer to this question. We do, however, offer three comments: (1) Sociologists analyzing latent integrative "functions" of social movements need not assume automatically that move- ments which reassimilate dropouts and mitigate alienation have no transforma- tive effects on the society whose stability they help to maintain. "Co-option" is usually a two-way street, and movements which help sustain social stability do not necessarily help to preserve the status-quo in all respects. 10 Many analyses seem to make ontological assumptions that perhaps should be "bracketed." Thus "redirection" analyses often seem to assume that radical protest is the natural authentic response to alienation, but in the face of repression one displaces one's concern to the epiphenomenal realm of religion. Such analyses are more or less predetermined by the order- ing of reality assumed by the analyst at the outset.

Youth Religious Movements 61

hat the integrative consequences of a movement are not necessarily the essence of the movement; they are merely one sociological aspect of the movement. This realization may go part of the way toward separating analysis of consequences from "consequential reductionism," recently criticized by Bellah (1970).

(3) Analyses of the consequences of religious movements must be articu- lated not only with an analysis of the sources of these movements' appeal, but also with an analysis of processes of symbol formation which mediate the per- formance of "functions." To proceed directly from sources to consequences, or conversely to infer sources directly from consequences, is superficial. As Geertz has pointed out, in most functional analyses, "the link between the causes of ideology and its effects seem adventitious because the connecting element-the autonomous process of symbolic formulation-is passed over in virtual silence" (Geertz, 1973:207).

In conclusion, analysis of youth culture religions in terms of latent socially integrative consequences may be unduly "reductionistic" when they (1) treat integrative consequences as origins, (2) treat integrative consequences as latent motivations for individual conversions, (3) treat sociological consequences as constituting the essence of the movements under investigation, (4) presuppose the falsity or illusory quality of the beliefs and claims of the movements being analyzed, and (5) fail to describe closely and analyze the symbolic processes which lead to the analyzed consequences.

The above criticisms notwithstanding, the "integrative hypothesis" is valu- able and provocative in its attempt to aid in understanding new youth culture religious involvements by relating them to deviant youth culture phenomena of the sixties including student radicalism, heavy drug use, and "dropping out." Innovative religious involvements are viewed from this standpoint as "less deviant" functional alternatives to the latter phenomena. Our own analysis has stressed the broader trend toward the institutionalization of "youth cul- ture" as an acceptable and non-threatening American subculture. Both the decline of radicalism and the growth of bohemian religiosity can be viewed as aspects of this trend.

* This study was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health grant number 1-RO1-DA00407-02.
Reprints of this article may be obtained by writing Thomas Robbins, Sociology Department, Queens College, City University of New York, Flushing, NY 11367.

1 A recent study of college students at Berkeley (Wuthnow and Glock, 1973) revealed a general trend away from conventional religions and a smaller sub-trend towards unconventional deviant religions, which included 8 percent of the sample of college seniors. Pope (1974) esti- mates over 1 million current practitioners of "eastern" religions in the United States, and Rowley (1971) estimates 2.5 million Americans involved in "new religions" in 1970, although these latter estimates are not based on rigorous and systematic sampling methods.

2 The terms "social reintegration" or "integrative" consequences will henceforth refer to the general re-adjustment of deviants to the social system. "Integration" is thus not being used with a precise Parsonian meaning, although the terms "pattern maintenance" and "tension management" shall later be used in the technical Parsonian sense.

3 With respect to the Krishna cult, this variant of the "work ethic" may be more significant in terms of motivating devotees to perform maintenance work around the temple, "taking the trash out is keeping the temple clean for Krishna" (Snelling and Whitley, 1972:25), than in terms of reintegrating converts into conventional vocational routines.

4 Wuthnow and Glock (1973), in a survey of religious trends at Berkeley, report that students involved in new mystical trends tend to be more sympathetic to illegal activities such as political radicalism and drug use. Such "neo-mystics" are also "least likely to value conventional career rewards, such as job security, a high income, and a chance to advance; are least likely to think that a businessman's career would give them what they want in life; and are most likely to adhere to such countercultural goals as changing society, not having a career, living in a rural area" (Wuthnow and Glock, 1973:175). Wuthnow and Glock's findings would appear to contravene the "integrative hypothesis." However, "mysticism" was broadly defined by Wuthnow and Glock in attitudinal terms involving respondents' stated preference rather than in terms of actual membership in specific groups. Many drug users and some political radicals are mystically oriented, but they tend to relinquish drug use and become relatively depoliticized shortly after being assimilated to specific spiritual movements such as Hare Krishna, Meher Baba, or the "'Jesus movement" (Robbins, 1973; Fornaro, 1973; Adams and Fox, 1972).

5 This interview excerpt is from data gathered in connection with the senior author's doc- toral dissertation (Robbins, 1973), but has not been previously published or included in the actual dissertation manuscript.

6 The integrative processes discussed in the preceding sections are not really mutually exclusive; rather, they interact with each other, and may be interdependent. The integrative pattern observed in any particular movement may involve two or more of the above processes.


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