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Social Aspects of the Cultic Process: Tensions and Reactions


In this chapter we wish to present a broad overview of the cultic process, beginning with some very general observations and then moving to a consideration of more specific social details.

Much of the baby-boom generation will be able to remember the beginnings of the counterculture era in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Young people generally, but especially college students began to experience and express their disillusionment with the politics and warmongering of their elders. We slid into the permissive society. Challenged by the social and cultural confusion of the times, some relationships or marriages broke up, casualties of the tidal wave of sexual permissiveness. And yet most people steered a course somewhere between the conservatism of their parents and the fashionable openness of peers who gave themselves over to drugs, sexual promiscuity, and hippie communities. Most of those who took the middle course then are still doing so today; they did not convert then, and they are not converting now. On the other hand, significant numbers of those who converted to permissiveness then are now converting to new religions.

This crop of converts has some distinctive characteristics. For instance, we have found compelling evidence that the new religions of the 1970s were primarily a middle-class phenomenon, much as the BŁnde or German Youth Movements were at the turn of the century [1]. Within this group however, there are some significant differences between converts who come from upper middle-class backgrounds and converts who come from middle-class backgrounds. These two backgrounds entailed different experiences of affluence, culture, and relationships that affected what young people rejected about society, how secure or insecure they felt concerning their identity, how deeply they sank into the counterculture, and which new religions they tended to join.

Of course the sources of converts for the new religions have changed over time. As movements mature, they tend to change their witnessing techniques. In recent years, for example, the doctrine and goals of the Unification Church have been refied in ways that affect the sorts of people it attracts and the ways it goes about attracting them. What follows is a look into the dynamics of recruitment into new religions during the early counterculture era ...