Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, Vol 20, No 2 (2007)

Unstructured networking in a charisma-based new religious movement: the 'Baba lovers'

Ray Kerkhove
Issued Date: 6 Oct 2007


The relatively unstructured beginnings of many charisma-based new religions, and their rapid transformation into structured institutions is a process that has attracted many studies since original forays into this field by Max Weber. Although several scholars - notably Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine – have identified more diffuse modes of religious organization amongst new religions (usually ‘networks’ of one sort or another), there has been little investigation of why some groups begin with a charismatic leader yet never transform into a structured, hierarchical entity. The ‘Baba lovers’ movement is considered in this paper as a prime example of this occurrence. Despite its origins in the charismatic authority of its founder - Avatar Meher Baba (1894-1969) –it does not seem to have solidified into a structured, hierarchical form. It seems to have remained a loose network. This essay identifies various ways in which the Meher Baba movement exemplifies a SPIN-type network. The author seeks an explanation for this continued fluidity in Meher Baba’s dictates concerning organizational structures, and in Indic notions of “internal guidance from the Master.” The author argues that for many “guru”-oriented groups past and present, belief in posthumous “internal guidance” minimized the need for complex organizational/ hierarchical structures.

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DOI: 10.1558/arsr.v20i2.159


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