FINAL REPORT OF THE ENQUETE COMMISSION ON "SO-CALLED SECTS AND PSYCHOGROUPS"
3 Macrosocial and microsocial dimensions of the phenomenon
The Enquete Commission's work has
clearly shown that the phenomenon of "so-called sects and psychogroups"
is a highly complex issue. Attributing problems simply to those who
allegedly caused them - i.e. the "sects" - gives rise
to more questions than answers. This does not mean that one should deny
that certain groups or individuals may take advantage of the existing
room for maneuver above and beyond what is acceptable if one finds that
associated with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are to a large extent due to social causes and settings.
Only if these causes and settings are understood is it possible to adopt
an adequate approach aimed at
The public has been paying a great deal of attention to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups: a large number of articles have been published in daily and weekly newspapers; and TV and radio programmes, as well as books have dealt with this phenomenon. In the public debate, the quantitative scale of the groups concerned has sometimes been overestimated. In its Interim Report, the Enquete Commission found - largely in agreement with earlier surveys 13 ) -- that new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are not so widespread that this alone could explain the echo which this subject has found in the public. About 0.5 percent of the respondents said that they were members or followers of a new religious or ideological movement. Another 0.7 percent stated that they were somewhat close to such a movement. 14 ) Despite this limited magnitude, new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are perceived as a major threat by the public. However, the quantity and the quality of a problem are not identical.
Some of the most important social causes of, and conditions for, the emergence and the growth of new religious and ideological groups and life counselling programmes as well as their perception in society are outlined below.
Modern industrial and service societies are characterised by the fact that they loosen and sometimes break up traditionally grown structures to replace them by more flexible ones. The efficiency and the capacity for development of modern societies is based on this very potential in terms of flexibility, willingness to change, and adaptability. In various fields - e.g. in associations, trade unions, political parties, or in married and family life - this development is also perceived as a loss; this is true in particular in the field of religions. It is generally assumed that religion unfolds automatically and largely in a parish, i.e. anchored in the direct environment shared by all its members.
This has been largely the case in the history of Europe, but also in other cultures. According to relevant theories, religion was seen, among other things, as an institution which comprehensively provided transcendental and immanent meaning for the development of the individual's identity, life-style concepts, the "cosmisation" of reality, coping with contingencies, reference towards transcendence, for the entirety of government, society, and culture, as well as for the community (both political and religious) and the life world, etc. This world, which is of course never completely homogeneous, has been in a process of profound change, dissolution, and restructuring ever since the 17th /18th century -- a process which was accelerated once more during the years after World War II, and which is often referred to as secularisation. However, what this process represents is pluralisation of religious contents and forms, as well as alternatives and options, which creates religious diversity and a religious market. In addition, there is a distinction between religious and non-religious life counselling movements or programmes designed to help the individual find meaning in life. In itself, this is not yet any different from religiousness in parishes, or from the practice of religion in congregations; instead, a market-like situation is developing, with a large number of suppliers. In addition to the traditional religions, there are new ones which are very different, not only in terms of their origin and tradition, but also with regard to their forms of organisation.
However, the fact that other organisational forms of religion - such as supplier or service religions - are possible and widespread became clear when Peter L. Berger published his book "Der Zwang zur Häresie" (The Need for Heresy); because religion or the religions as providers of meaning and life-style concepts (which they have always been) are obliged to move within this societal context and look for their links within this context. However, in addition to communities practising religion in parishes where all the people living in a given town or district are members, there have always been special alternative communities such as secret cults, mystery cults, orders, etc.
As far as organisational forms are concerned, there are two extreme forms of new religiousness, "in addition to the Churches", i.e. our traditional religions. On the one hand, there are religious offerings which are evolving into the direction of religiousness in the form of communities or parishes. Whenever such religious communities tend to develop into very closed forms (possibly connected with "isolation" and "insulation", as mentioned above), there is a great likelihood that conflicts will arise. 15 ) This is the case especially if these groups have recourse to pre-modern patterns, i.e. if they try to use what could be referred to as the "interpretative value added" of religion (in other words, the functions and services mentioned above) in order to undo the separations and segmentations in today's society and culture by re-establishing traditional unitary concepts, by tying the entire reality of life directly to religion, and by considerably curbing personal freedom rights. In addition, there are market-oriented forms of organisations which convey religion and meaning in a more precise sense, e.g. in the form of numerous offerings for therapy and advice on how to cope with life. These forms do not organise themselves as congregations or parishes; instead, their structure is flexible, less binding. In such cases, the purpose of the "interpretative value added" of religious organisations and organisations designed to help the individual find meaning in life can be to conceal the professional limits or shortcomings of their life-counselling and therapeutic programmes behind a veil of religion/ideology (there are parallels to be found in the ideological components of psychoanalysis).
Such movements either take a critical stance towards the alleged lack of
tradition in the modern age and propagate a more traditionally oriented
way of living and believing. Or they are very specifically geared
towards helping individuals to adapt to, and make them "fit" for, the
achievement-oriented society. This can be done by having recourse to
one's own religious traditions or by importing other religious/cultural
patterns. Quite often, there are also mixed forms composed of, for
instance, European-Christian, Asian and/or (psycho-)therapeutic
components. 16 )
However, these very differentiation processes are in turn based on some underlying standards whose validity is growing world-wide, e.g. human rights in an individualised interpretation, the pursuit of happiness as a source of meaning, again in an individualised form (see Chapter 3.1.8), etc. Hence, the individualisation process is unfolding in a globalisation setting; there is considerable pressure toward uniformisation, not only with regard to normative standards, but also concerning the overall economic and social settings of our everyday life world. This standardization (e.g. in professional career expectations) is progressing both world-wide and within our society; hence, those who fail to adapt to these changing standards or take the wrong decisions in their professional and private lives will suffer very negative sanctions as individuals. On the one hand, therefore, "individualization" means more choice for the individual; but on the other hand, modern biographies are very much subject to the constraints of increasingly uniform economic systems and professional options, which in turn depend on political constraints. Some of the conflicts with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups have to do with, among other things, the fact that some of the groups concerned negate or intend to reverse globally recognized orientations in life, and that they encourage their followers more or less blatantly to ignore the mandatory general rules that apply in business and in the world of work.
Conversely, another major reason why individuals turn to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups is that people founder, or fear that they will founder, under the conditions prevailing in this very world of work and life, or that they are at least under the subjective impression that they cannot cope with the pressure to adapt and to do well.
Individualization processes also become manifest in socio-demographic terms. Reliable data are nowadays available on, for instance, urbanization, as well as trends with regard to household size, family size, forms and intensity of personal contacts, and forms of housing and participation, to mention but a few. For years, these data have revealed a growing trend: The scope and the binding force of close social relations in families, neighborhoods and local communities have been declining. Instead, specialized areas of life - first and foremost, the world of work, but also family life, leisure pursuits and friends - have been gaining ground as factors of social integration of the individual. At the same time, the subjectively perceived relative importance of more collectively oriented areas of life is decreasing. Only about 20 percent of the respondents regularly state that politics/political parties and religion/Churches are important areas of life for them, while between 60 and 80 percent mention professional and family life or leisure pursuits. Except for minor variations, this has been the result which the Allgemeine Bevölkerungsumfrage in den Sozialwissenschaften (ALL- BUS - General Population Survey in Social Sciences) has regularly revealed since 1980.
The statistical findings indicate that society has been changing in two directions: On the one hand, the statistics suggest society has lost some of its collective formative influence on general patterns of thinking and behaviour; on the other hand, the data have shown that the individual depends on, and is supported by, smaller units of social orientation areas, such as one's own family, the circle of colleagues at work, or leisure-time acquaintances.
As shown above, the changes in traditional social relationships have led to a loss - which in some cases is substantial -- of social continuity and transcendence. Filling one's biography with one's own particularities in order to prove oneself as a social creature is an achievement which used to be supported by the community and which nowadays is largely up to the individual. Thus, the "post-modern concept of living" opens up a broad spectrum of options for action which are equally legitimate in society, as long as they are covered by a subjectively perceived order or are plausible to the individual, and providing that they are compatible with the general economic conditions prevailing in society.
Against this background, it is much more difficult for an individual to develop and preserve a personal identity. It becomes a life-long project in the course of which the identity has to be continuously re-established and consolidated. Problems with regard to the meaning of life are experienced by the individual much more intensely than would be the case if the individual was part of a closer community.
This is described very succinctly by Niklas Luhmann when he says: "The components of an individual's curriculum vitae are made up of turning points at which something happened which was not inevitable, beginning with birth". There is no better way of describing the demands made on the individual's constitution and his or her biography in the modern age. Against the background of a broad choice of social options, it is up to the individual to meet the general requirements for successful participation in social life and to give meaning and context to what appears to be a random combination of different elements. 17 )
So while there are better opportunities in life, there is also a greater risk that - given the wide variety of choices and options available - one might take a decision which proves to have been wrong at a later point in time. This is the source of many of the problems and conflict constellations which have been recently discussed in connection with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups: the need to choose from a range of offers made to individuals to help them cope with life, coping with life in an alternative religious group (during membership and possibly also after leaving such a group), and the discussion of these choices in society.
Over 50 percent of the respondents in Germany's old federal states and almost 80 percent in the new federal states describe themselves as being non-religious. 18 ) The expression "neue Unübersichtlichkeit" (Jürgen Habermas; roughly: the "new complexity") also applies to the Churches. On the one hand, the number of Church members has declined substantially since the 1950s; on the other hand, an average of 17 percent of the respondents still go to church (with considerable variation both above and below this average) and a much higher percentage of individuals are still members of a Church. In the Churches themselves, the phenomenon of a shift from tradition to option has also become manifest, and has even reached their core congregations.
This illustrates that religious aspects of life and performing religious acts jointly in a congregation have become less important for the German population. However, this is not tantamount to a complete loss of religiousness or full secularisation of life as a whole. As far as values are concerned, for instance, there is still a strong emphasis on Christian values. The belief in religious patterns in the broadest sense is also quite widespread. In their everyday lives, people read their horoscopes, believe in faith-healers, witches or lucky charms; they believe in reincarnation or occult phenomena. Religious needs and religious patterns of coping with life are still widespread in the population. 19 )
Nevertheless, there is a large amount of religious indifference with regard to social contexts. In the framework of such social action contexts, religion does not seem to be immediately required to help individuals find meaning and orientation and to cope with life as long as those individuals are sufficiently involved in everyday life and as long as their everyday life is intact. In the family, at work and in professional life, as well as during leisure pursuits with friends and acquaintances, there are many opportunities for an individual to fill his or her everyday life sufficiently. Often, there is no time for religious practice, nor is there any pressing need. On the contrary: In many parts of society, there is even massive social pressure supporting religious indifference. In professional life, for instance, an excessive orientation towards religious norms could easily hamper an individual's career. According to a survey conducted among managers in German industry, indifference towards religion is a very pronounced attitude in professional life. Or as Franz-Xaver Kaufmann found out: "Religious standards are not generally rejected, but they are not highly valued by most people". 20)
Hence, religious references are excluded from many sectors of life in society because they are considered to be irrelevant. Religious activities form a separate, specialised sector in society, in which such activities can unfold.
This constellation is by all means paradoxical because it demonstrates that while individuals are relatively out of practice when it comes to religion, they are unquestionably receptive to religion. Questions about the meaning of life can suddenly come to the fore in an individual's everyday life when that individual is personally affected by radical change or crises; this may be the loss of one's job, sickness, or the severe illness and death of a close relative or friend. In other cases, one's expectations with regard to one's professional career, or one's marriage or partnership are frustrated, which raises the question of the meaning of life. From this perspective, it can therefore be said that it is not the individual who is indifferent towards religion, but it is the social structure in which he or she lives and acts.
From the individual's perspective, this constellation of the integrated secular world appears to be continuously jeopardised and unstable; as a result, indifference can also turn into determined opposition to, or support of, a given religious life-style. From a perspective of cultural sociology, this is corroborated by a supplementary analysis of the current attitude towards religion of the citizens of a secular society, which shows that there is a separate secular history of religion in modern age. 21 ) This would mean that fundamental concepts of occidental modern age - such as the idea of scientific progress, the idea of the development of new human beings by means of education and psychology, etc. -- can themselves assume the function of a religion (which has already happened to some extent) and compete with the religions for cultural influence. In the case of modern ideologies such as Communism and National Socialism, this influence cannot be denied; however, it is debatable whether the individualised life-styles of today's majority also derive meaning from "secular religious" ideas. In this case, the majority's indifference towards pre-modern-age religious traditions could also be interpreted as a commitment to such secular religious sources of meaning and interpretations of human existence.
Against this background, the emergence of a market-oriented religiousness, which almost invariably also wants to provide life-counselling, would also have to be seen as an attempt at finding a different way of keeping the promises made after all with regard to finding meaning in a secular world, after the plausibility loss of the conventional institutions, i.e. politics and science. At any rate, the development of so-called "psychocults" and "political sects" in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the emergence of the New Age and esoteric movements in the 1980s, give credence to such an interpretation.
Various recent studies, some of which were also proposed by the Enquete Commission, 22 ) have shown that, in most cases, the reason why individuals turn to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups has to do with personal problems which tend to be secular problems from today's perspective. Such motives include the departure from the parental home, conflicts with one's parents or partner, professional problems, unfulfilled wishes. Usually it is not until later that explicitly religious motives come to the fore, once a certain life-counselling programme available from a group has been put into a broader context of helping the individual to find meaning in life. At this point, the individuals concerned are very willing to get involved in a "completely different life" whose quality, concomitants, and consequences cannot be surmised by them; on the other hand, their ability to handle religious feelings and impressions today probably tends to be poorly developed.
In response to these specific needs for meaning and help in coping with life, a form of organisation has emerged to which various secular societies have not yet sufficiently adjusted because these societies continue to assume that the institutions providing meaning and help to cope with life are embedded in relatively homogeneous forms of religiousness, or that religion and meaning can only be provided in the context of parishes or congregations practising their religion. Such more market-oriented approaches cannot be generally applied to specific religious groups, including specific new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups; instead, they can be associated with most religious doctrines. This is a way of spreading religious ideas and life-counselling assistance in general which can be established more effectively because of the modern structures prevailing in society. In the past few years, for instance, the Churches have been confronted more and more with the demand that they should offer their services in a more demand-oriented manner.
However, in order to deal with market-oriented aspects and offerings, 23 ) there is not only a lack of consumer awareness among the "buyers" but also a lack of consumer protection criteria such as transparency of offers and options, contents and costs. The realisation that there is a need for consumer protection is growing only slowly.
Unfortunately, the awareness of this need is not yet sufficiently developed on the part of the consumers and on the part of relevant social institutions, e.g. in the fields of law and life-counselling. However, the increasingly individualised demand for sources of meaning and help in coping with life makes individuals particularly vulnerable, especially in a society which is or was characterised by a situation of relative religious clarity. Some of the conflicts which have arisen in connection with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups are due to the fact that people are not sufficiently familiar with a pluralistic offer of religions and that they misunderstand the market-oriented religious offers made.
For certain groups of people, the threat to their modern life-styles is much more concrete than for others, which also increases the willingness in certain contexts and of certain people to adopt compensatory, radical religious or ideological orientations in life. Young unemployed people with a lower level of education, for instance, whose prospects of participating in the fruits of working life are currently very dim, have a high aggression potential which can be exploited in a variety of ways by satanic groups (cf. Chapter 3.4). Riesebrodt, for instance, used the example of Protestant fundamentalism in the United States to show that a tendency towards religious fundamentalism in a given population stratum may be associated with protests against a loss of social privileges, in this case a loss of social status and economic security in the lower white middle class. 24 )
It can be assumed that the "classical" sects will benefit from these interdependencies, at least those which can be ascribed to Protestant fundamentalism in terms of their contents and their life-world; it is also likely that there will be similar interconnections in the Catholic tradition. There is a lot of evidence which proves that politically marginalised population groups tend to gain self-esteem and confidence in their actions by way of compensation in the field of religion.
This can be demonstrated by the rise of Spiritualist communities and Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil and the success of the Pentecostal movement among Caribbean immigrants in the United Kingdom, etc. Hence, it can be assumed that there is not only a general social interconnection between individualisation and the "need for heresy" on the one hand, and on the other hand a possible sudden change into rigid interpretation systems with totalitarian claims imposed on the individual. Instead, it can also be assumed that concrete biographical processes - which may also be based on specific problems such as membership of a disadvantaged population group, unemployment, the collapse of current social security systems, etc. - may accelerate an individual's conversion.
This specific parallel connection cannot necessarily be formulated in the framework of the overriding sociological theories underlying this report (risk-taking society, experience-oriented society, communication society); however, a separate theoretical deduction would go beyond the scope of this report. Such conversion processes are sufficiently known, based on historical and practical experience. This is all the more significant since this is exactly the point of focus for political measures aimed at preventing religious and ideological radicalisation.
However, the growth of market-oriented movements which help the individual find meaning in life and which provide life-counselling services is not exclusively due to relevant demand. Instead, it is the processes of social change outlined above that enable sellers or operators to open up distribution channels and find acceptance among "customers" in the first place. For this reason, it is not easy to say how much of the demand for market-oriented movements which help individuals find meaning in life and which provide life-counselling services is caused by the fact that the advocates of certain forms of religion and life-counselling have become more professional, as it were, allowing them to gain their livelihood in this way and to improve their social status in their context; this is a development which is not considered to be very unusual in other countries with different religious traditions (e.g. the United States).
It is almost trivial to point out that the Free Christian Congregations, for instance, which have emerged in the past 20 years - usually initiated by individual missionaries - and which exist side by side with the established Churches and Free Churches, are usually groups with a very distinct profile which follow a specific school of thought and which cover a rather large geographical area; such organisations are only possible because of the high mobility of people in conurbations. Likewise, the opportunities of the esoteric movement for distributing their courses, seminars, etc. depend largely, and increasingly so, on modern communications media and modern modes of transport.
Today, we are witnessing an accelerated development of our societies towards a global society: in economic terms, in terms of the media, but also in political, legal, and cultural terms. However, the effects of this development towards a global society are contradictory. It is not simply a development which leads to the unification of a variety of different cultures and societies in an overarching form. It is first of all a matter of establishing comparability and having the experience of being compared: comparability of political, economic, and social systems, their cultural foundations, as well as their systems of religious thinking and standards. Essentially, this leads to two opposing trends. On the one hand, given the wide variety of the different approaches currently pursued, the global society creates pressure for a generalisation of its values and regulatory systems. In other words, what this global society has in common in terms of its substance, will tend to be more and more generalised and will be bound to encompass more and more conflicting traditions. On the other hand, there is a trend toward consolidating regional and particular traits. As Roland Robertson said, globalisation and localisation combine to become glocalisation. 25 ) The generalisation of the basic legal system and of basic values goes hand in hand with the isolation of regional sub-societies which take certain particular idiosyncrasies to extremes. Distinctions thus gain greater importance. New religious subcultures emerge. This is a trend which incidentally can also be observed in the Churches. New religious and ideological communities and psychogroups, but also new parishes established either within the Churches or at their fringes represent such religiously motivated localisation phenomena. At the same time, however - and this is the global dimension - there are relatively small groups which establish themselves as international organisations operating world-wide.
This conflicts with the century-old experience of relative religious dominance in Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia because religious diversity and the development of new, alternative or simply hitherto unknown forms of religious life and action are incompatible with this picture of well-ordered religious structures.
The conflict is due to the fact that the religious market and its possibilities to establish new patterns do not coincide with societal expectations; hence, many people affected initially reject, or are alarmed by, patterns which do not correspond to the "Church"-type image. This also applies to groups and movements within the Churches (e.g. the Protestant Confessional Movement, Opus Dei) or at their fringes. In a certain way, this situation is compounded by the concept of society's progressing secularisation propagated in social sciences in particular in the 1960s and 1970s; according to this concept, the inclination towards religion was considered to be a phase-out model. Even if sociology today assumes that the secularisation of society continues, it also assumes that there is a shift of religious needs to the individual.
This conflict is further aggravated by another effect of globalisation: the implementation of de-traditionalised "alien" religious convictions and groups in social contexts. Not only are the new pluralistic religious phenomena confronted with different societal expectations; instead, it is also a potentially disturbing, frightening, but certainly irritating presence of something "alien" in the form of religion in one's own social environment, "next door", as it were. So, the thrill of the "exotic" and the "alien" which the individual expects to find at a remote holiday destination as part of the local everyday life can turn into something which is perceived as threatening.
Society's image of what is publicly presented or presents itself as religion is biased in a very specific direction. Considering that in Germany, as well as in many other European countries, the concept of religion is primarily characterised by relative homogeneity and by the notion that religion is practised in parishes, whereas there is also a variety of market-oriented groups today, all forms of religion which are not in keeping with the traditional image can initially only be described in public in terms of their conspicuous or deviating features.
It would be wrong to suggest that it is the sensationalist journalism of the media which creates a "sect problem". One must realise that the media - as the term indicates - are only the messenger, the mediators who respond in a very specific way to the expectations of those who are supposed to receive given messages or news. Nevertheless, in a society which is increasingly characterised by "media-conveyed hyperrealities", the media's potential in terms of generating images and perceptual patterns should not be underestimated. Hence, the media aggravate the problem if they suggest as a generalised message that sects are a "peril". However, the core of the problem is that there is no open social discourse on religion.
The image which the media present to the public about new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups is often focused on sensational events.
This type of presentation will only decline and stop finding a market if it is deprived of its "mystique", so much so that individuals can also reflect their own impressions and their rationale for turning towards religion. Interestingly enough, a term such as "sect" is always used to describe others. It is always the others who are the "sectarians", not only for "sect members". This is the only explanation why almost 80 percent (of a total of over 33,000 callers) were in favour of "banning sects" during a survey conducted by the German TV station 3SAT in December last year. There seems to be no other field of public debate in which there is less information about the subject under discussion than in the field of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. Religion as a whole is defined in terms of its extremes. Often there is no useful information which would enable the individual to deal with religious matters adequately, i.e. to have a free and informed choice and discussion. It is doubtful whether the often very popular sensationalist journalism increases the population's level of information.
For this reason, an open, unbiased and informative analysis of the opportunities and risks associated the search for meaning and religious devotion in modern society does not take place in a way which encompasses all sectors of society.
According to Gerhard Schulze, 26 ) the process of modernisation can also be seen as an "expedient-rational transformation of action structures". Society's outward or collectively oriented modernisation (i.e. the development of societal institutions) is continuing, but it is supplemented by an inward type of modernisation.
If the individual is ultimately unable to act or to decide because of the mind-boggling variety of offers and options available - a variety which can only be achieved by explicitly relinquishing any far-reaching collective rules - the interest in an option for action (such as buying a specific product) can be stimulated by establishing a direct relationship to the individual. Hence, inner-direction means establishing a connection with potentially desired characteristics of the individual. In this way, consumption becomes a possibility for the individual to do something very special for him- or herself.
What is striking in this context is the subjective reference of the action patterns, and hence also a strong subjectification of the stabilisation of identity. Schulze calls this form "Erlebnisrationalität" (experience rationality): "The subject treats himself as the object whose condition is to be manipulated". 27 ) Basic patterns of such experience include: social rank, conformity, belongingness, self-fulfilment, or stimulation, with the individual being able to use the most varied means to achieve this realisation. The common denominator of these means is that while they are generally available in society, they can take on both a positive and a negative form. Self-fulfilment can be experienced by means of professional activity or by explicitly abstaining from such activity; it can be achieved both by means of close social contact, but also by social isolation; by establishing a family or by living the life of a single. An individual can also find self-fulfillment by continuously increasing the intensity of pursuing specific goals, in particular in professional life, but also in the social arena.
This type of uncertain societal anchoring of experience makes this experience vulnerable, both in its collective and in its individual form. Collectively reliable structures do not develop. Instead, there are fads that change very quickly. They change like market trends, and tomorrow they may be quite different from what they are today. From the individual's perspective, this means that the experience cannot be perpetuated. As a result, there is a permanent search for new or revamped experience opportunities in ever new fields of experience: experience demand and supply combine to form an experience market which provides considerable potential - albeit a very delicate one - for the expression of individual identity.
The fleetingness and arbitrariness of emerging and passing forms are not problematic for the "experience market" itself. However, problems arise with regard to the individual's reliable self-portrayal because while the experience market is capable of supporting a sufficiently well-functioning everyday life, it cannot provide answers to questions about the meaning of life, about the major transcendences such as disease, death or other major strokes of fate.
The demand for, and great respect in society for, the assumption of personal responsibility and autonomy by individuals, as well as the assumption that the individual is able and willing to perform, is combined with highly stable, specialised institutional sectors and increasingly generalised social and cultural values.
In view of the (necessary) weakening of the major collective meaning-imparting and rule-setting systems, represented - particularly in Germany - by the Churches on the one hand and science based on enlightened reason (belief in science and progress) on the other hand, this situation leads to a permanent need for the provision of meaning which is adapted to the very specific problems experienced by individuals in terms of meaning and life. This has been demonstrated very clearly by the relative attractiveness of experience-oriented religiousness and psychotherapy in the past few years. This applies not only to developments within the established religious groups but also to the new religious groups.
Experience-orientation also leads to the creation of a market in which individual buyers are supposed to act and opt for products. This also includes the existence of controlled counselling institutions. Counselling has become more and more important in all areas because the individual is less and less capable of acquiring sufficient competence in all walks of life. The fact that professional counselling services are still rather underdeveloped in the religious and ideological sector, which is developing more and more commercial momentum, is problematic because such services tend to be simplistically seen as competing with systems that help individuals find meaning in life and not as an attempt at helping individuals cope with very profane problems in life, without any direct and explicit reference to systems that help individuals find meaning in life.
In the past few years, the various contemporary sociological diagnoses have been evolving into a theory of the communication society. 28 ) This has led to the contention that there is a need not only for differentiation in society and development of the inner logic of its differentiated sub-systems (e.g. the economic or the political system) but also for mediation of this logic by means of processes that cross system boundaries. This mediation can be achieved by specific systems which can be described as a specific form of communication. Modern society has to build bridges within and among all societal fields; these bridges consist of transboundary communication circles which ensure the necessary transfer of information, e.g. by means of simple discussion forums where various sectors exchange their views, or by means of advisory boards, commissions, but also through associations and public discourse.
Modern society is no longer capable of finding "all-embracing and definitive" solutions to its key problems. One of the major attributes of modernity is the ability to deal with problems in a flexible manner. The efficiency and stability of modern society is due to the development of specific sub-systems. It is not possible to control society by setting and pursuing certain political objectives; nor is it possible to do so by means of confidence in a society's industry and the prosperity which it can provide. Only mediation between the systems can protect modernity from the paradox which would result from the one-sided dominance of the logic of individual sub-systems. And as far as political action is concerned, this means: regulation and not control, 29 ) as well as stimulation and utilisation of the self-regulatory forces in other sectors of society which are confronted with problems, and the development of objectives in a dialogue and in a discussion with all the parties concerned.
How religion or religions will or should cope with the challenges described above is an open question which cannot be answered in this Report. It would also go beyond the scope of this Report to discuss whether and how religion can fulfil its traditional functions without a certain measure of institutional transcendence and continuity.
The fact that there is a risk that modernity might lead to a fall-back to forms of traditionalism is paradoxical. This risk seems to be ubiquitous, especially in the field of religion. However, traditional solutions would not be viable at the overarching level of society as a whole. It is not possible to go back to the conditions prevailing before modernity. Ideological pluralism, diversity of life-styles, the individual as the key element in the determination and preservation of personal identity, performance orientation instead of the feeling of belonging to a community, systemic differentiation of society - all these are characteristic features of modernity.
At the level of individual biographies or contexts, however, it is quite possible for traditional and particular approaches to be adopted as specific solutions, but they must be susceptible to integration in the context of an overall pluralistic society. Such approaches create problems in particular if they lead to actions that are liable to criminal prosecution, or when there is a manifest attempt to impose de-differentiation and de- modernisation at governmental and systematic level as binding policies. In other words: what is no longer feasible in society as a whole, is quite conceivable at the level of mediating systems. Concepts such as that of the "intermediary institutions" or the "revitalisation of small life worlds" are examples of such systems. 30 )
This must also be the basis of any debate about new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. The variety of alternative life designs and religious ideas is a "normal" part of any modern society, a part which will probably tend to increase in importance. Of course, this does not in any way mean that this phenomenon is only positive. However, it is becoming clear that society and its institutions must reckon with this situation, that they must develop mediation systems which can help not only to preserve a sufficiently harmonious societal structure and to protect the individuality of the individual but also help to sustain a common cultural legitimation basis. So far, such a basis of legitimation is virtually nonexistent in the ideological field, which itself is seen as such a legitimation basis.
In its Interim Report, the Enquete Commission had already decided to approach the subject of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups by consistently focusing on conflicts which may arise. This is not a new approach introduced by the Commission; instead, it is a perspective which has become manifest in announcements and opinions of public authorities in the past few years. The Commission has kept the cause of its establishment in mind, i.e. petitions addressed to the German Bundestag by citizens because of concrete conflicts which the individual citizen could not cope with at all, or not adequately. It became increasingly clear to the Commission in the course of its work that a generalising approach, involving the use of the term "sect" as a generic term to describe all forms of new or binding types of religiousness and/or ideology, cannot do justice to the diversity of phenomena and the different types of conceivable conflicts. And there is another aspect that needs to be considered: If the popular but nebulous term "sect" is used as a generic term, this can lead to stigmatisation. A religious or ideological group which has been publicly labelled as a sect will experience a wide variety of problems because of the great attention paid by the public to the alleged conflict-proneness of "sects". A wide variety of very different religious groups, including smaller Christian groupings, have expressed concern to that effect vis-à-vis the Commission.
In the public sector, it is therefore neither advisable nor acceptable to use a single generic term ("sects") for controversial phenomena or groups if the public already applies this term - usually without reflection - to all smaller, recently established or simply unfamiliar movements.
In the 1960s, the phenomenon of new or alternative religiousness - which has its roots in the United States - also appeared on Europe's societal stage. At first, it was hardly noticed in the political arena. This "new religiousness" was seen at best as a less problematic concomitant of the youth movement. Nevertheless, politicians were soon confronted with quite a large number of well organised religious and ideological groups.
The Churches were the first to look after this new field. Groups of individuals affected by the actions of these new religious groups (parents, family members, friends, as well as former group members) formed, usually around the Protestant and Catholic Churches' commissioners in charge of sects. One of the first of these groups that were formed was the Munich initiative centred around Reverend Friedrich Wilhelm Haack, the Protestant Church's Commissioner for Sects. In his paper on the "new youth religions", Reverend Haack set an initial standard in the discussion.
Subsequently, the phenomenon was referred to as "youth religion" or "youth sect". 31 ) Since most of the groups which emerged in Europe - usually coming from the United States - in the late Sixties acted as "collecting vats" for individuals who had been active in the disbanded youth movement, 32 ) the problem was first and foremost a youth problem.
In addition, the new religious groups emerged when the population's commitment to the Churches was declining. For this reason, it was assumed that there was a link between the growing attraction of the new religious groups for young people and the growing disillusionment with the Churches, especially on the part of young people. For a long time, the fact that the new religious and non-religious groups slowly began to offer life-counselling services was not sufficiently taken into consideration because the "sect approach" suggested that these groups were a purely religious phenomenon (cf. Chapter 3.5).
Since some segments of the public were concerned about the appearance of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups, governmental bodies also began to express their views about this issue in the course of the 1970s. The German Federal Government and various state-level governments published brochures designed to inform the public about "sects". Furthermore, some of Germany's federal states established centres whose task it was to deal with the questions arising in this context, and to collect and process information and make this information available to the public. However, almost all of these centres only dealt with this issue "as a side-line". As a result, it was not possible initially for any governmental concept to emerge. Even if approaches towards developing such a concept were made at an early point in time (e.g. in the 2nd Status Report published in 1983 by the Government of the State of North-Rhine Westphalia), it took quite a while until the various objectives and approaches of governmental, Church and private organisations began to become clear. This is a shortcoming which has persisted until today and which the Enquete Commission also has to address.
From the very beginning, public authorities benefited from work done by the Church commissioners and groups of parents and other affected individuals.
The authorities were even largely dependent on this work because basic scientific studies on this subject were not available, nor was it possible to refer to social work or psychosocial counselling services in this context. This continued to make the development of a single governmental concept difficult. Initially, the governmental bodies had to rely on the work done by the Church commissioners and by private initiatives of parents and other affected individuals. Apart from very few exceptions, these private groups were the prime source of the necessary information gathered in the course of the groups' daily counselling work and the support given to various groups of affected individuals (family members, friends, colleagues, drop-outs). Other potential sources such as psychosocial counselling services, social workers, and academia did not provide sufficient useful information for governmental bodies.
In addition, governmental authorities expected the major Churches to have a certain competence and responsibility in religious matters, also as far as macro-social developments were concerned. This role of the Churches became questionable with the emergence of religious/ideological pluralism (see Chapter 3.1).
As a result, the governmental bodies themselves had to assume greater responsibility, which made it necessary for them to compile know-how of their own.
Even today, it is difficult to measure the success of governmental measures adopted in connection with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. This is primarily due to the fact the political objectives were not clearly defined over a long period of time. What should or can be achieved by governmental intervention?
As far as religious beliefs are concerned, governmental action is subject to the principle of neutrality laid down in the German Constitution (cf. Chapters 4.1 and 220.127.116.11 for more details). However, the Constitution does not define what a religion or an ideology is; instead, the two terms are simply taken for granted. Even if the authors of the Constitution may have had Western Christian concepts in mind, today it is clear - in view of an increasingly multicultural society - that it is only with great care that any restrictions can be imposed on religious/ideological activities. Instead, the government is obliged to protect the freedom of worship - in particular the freedom of religious minorities - and to guarantee the right to exercise one's religion.
The role of government is to protect the citizens and to preserve social peace.
In connection with the conflicts arising in the field of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups, there are four types of governmental intervention:
One of the purposes of governmental action in this field is to reduce social tensions and to reconcile conflicting interests. For this purpose, it is necessary to identify objectives in an appropriate and comparable manner, and to find instruments for their implementation.
In one of its hearings, the Enquete Commission asked various groups in society to present their views. The groups invited included the political parties represented in the German Bundestag; representatives of the Protestant Church, the Catholic Church, the Association of Free Protestant Churches, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany; the German Trade Union Federation, the German Press Council, and the German Sports Federation. In addition, representatives of Germany's industry associations were also asked for their views during the hearing dealing with "So-called Sects and Psychogroups in Business Enterprises".
All the organisations invited pointed out that this was an important issue to them, although only very few cases were reported where any of them were directly affected by the issue. All the political parties in Germany expressed a particular concern about the Scientology Organisation. The CDU/CSU, as well as the SPD and the F.D.P. have adopted incompatibility decisions 33 ) because they feel that being a member or a follower of the Scientology Organisation is not compatible with membership in their parties. They contend that the objectives of their parties are not compatible with the objectives of the Scientology Organisation. This is obviously an exceptional approach because the political parties have expressly stated that they do not see any need for adopting similar decisions with regard to other groups.
All the political parties stated that they were not being infiltrated by the Scientology Organisation or by any other new religious and ideological community or psychogroup. However, they felt that it was necessary to provide information and education on these matters not only to the members of the political parties but also to the public at large. Brochures to this effect have been produced by the CDU/CSU, the SPD, and BÜNDNIS 90 / DIE GRÜNEN. Their efforts were invariably aimed at achieving an adequate approach to, and better understanding of, religiousness and life counselling under the conditions of a changing modern society. In addition, the representative of the F.D.P. pointed out that it was not only desirable but also necessary to adopt a common approach nationwide towards providing information and education on these matters.
The representative of the German Sports Federation stated that there had been isolated cases of attempts made to influence sports clubs, and that this applied in particular to the fields of marketing and sponsoring. The few cases that had become known involved the Scientology Organisation. However, there could be no question of infiltration. In this context, the German Sports Federation also provides information and education to its members.
The representative of the German Press Council drew attention to two other issues:
First of all, attempts had been made repeatedly - in particular by the Scientology Organisation - to prevent consistent, systematic and aggressive reporting and commentaries. However, the representative of the German Press Council pointed out that, overall, these attempts had not been very successful to date; publishing houses and press organs had recognised the problem and were able to handle this problem themselves.
Secondly, it was up to the press itself to contribute towards objectifying its reporting on new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups. However, this issue was not a major problem in the work of the German Press Council. In the past few years, there had been an average of about 12 complaints in this area, most of them referring to the Scientology Organisation. However, there was no question of the press being infiltrated or even the freedom of the press being jeopardised.
Similar comments were made by the representatives of German industry associations during the hearing on the subject of "So-called Sects and Psychogroups in Business Enterprises". It was pointed out by the representatives of the associations that this topic had gained considerable significance in recent years, although it was difficult to assess the actual magnitude of a potential threat; on the one hand, there were only few reports on specific cases where a group - in most cases, the Scientology Organisation - succeeded in gaining influence on a company's management; on the other hand, companies had a major image problem and suffered massive economic losses if their name was mentioned in connection with a group such as the Scientology Organisation. 34 )
Other aspects were emphasised by the members of the religious communities which had been invited by the Commission. The representative of the Catholic Church drew attention to the increase in the number of options available to individuals in modern society to find meaning in life. At a time of individualisation and growing diversity, the concepts offered by the Churches for finding meaning in life were less appealing to people. Approaches developed within the Churches and offers made to specific groups were also aimed at finding new approaches. The representative of the Catholic Church pointed out that the answer to the problem was not isolation; instead, attempts had to be made to meet new needs. After a period of fierce controversy with new religious and ideological movements, today the Catholic Church's commissioners for sects are more relaxed and more focused on providing information.
The representative of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany pointed out that, on the one hand, it was necessary to prevent abuse in this new, complex situation. He was in favour of consistent consumer protection, including in the field of institutions or services offering individuals to find meaning in life and to cope with life; he suggested that there was a lot to catch up on in this area. On the other hand, the representative of the Protestant Church felt that any criticism with regard to a potential abuse should be launched very cautiously; otherwise, there was a risk that criticism of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups and their offers might turn into general criticism of religion.
The representative of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said that she was "full of consternation" and that she was "offended" by the comparison made between the situation of the Scientology Organisation in Germany and the situation of the Jews during the holocaust. She strongly objected to this comparison.
However, she felt that this problem also demonstrated that while it was necessary to have this debate in society, it should be handled very prudently. She stated that legislative action seemed less appropriate in this area; instead, it was necessary to identify and eliminate the social causes. She drew particular attention to the fact that new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups had failed to gain a foothold in the Jewish community.
The representative of the Association of Free Protestant Churches was concerned about the "sectophobia" that prevailed in Germany according to his observations. He pointed out that this impression was also corroborated by a study conducted by Infratest on behalf of the Enquete Commission. 35 ) According to the representative of the Free Protestant Churches, this study showed that quite different groups were being lumped together and jointly considered to be dangerous and threatening, to the point that even the Free Churches were now included in this assessment. He reminded everyone that there was a need for careful differentiation and for an informed, appropriate treatment of the subject. He admitted that it was clear that warnings had to be expressed with regard to certain aggressive types of group; however, it would have to be equally clear in these warnings what specific groups and events they referred to. He pointed out that one also had to realise that the growth of problematic groups was largely facilitated by causes rooted in society.
In summary, the hearing of the social groups mentioned above led to the following findings:
3.2.4 Survey conducted among various groups
This survey was primarily carried out because of numerous requests and complaints addressed by various groups to the Chairwoman and the members of the Enquete Commission. The authors of these letters stated repeatedly that they were being discriminated against. A variety of groups have also submitted statements on the Enquete Commission's Interim Report.
The Enquete Commission asked the groups invited to answer the following questions:
The Commission selected communities which had been in correspondence with the Enquete Commission and which were invited by the Commission. In addition, the Enquete Commission asked the Free Churches which are members of the Verband Evangelischer Freikirchen (VEF - Association of Free Protestant Churches) to answer the questions.
Some groups had interpreted the questions mentioned above to mean that the Commission was asking them in its letter to prove that they were religious or healing communities. They hoped that their answers would lead the Enquete Commission to confirm at an appropriate point (in statements or in the Commission's Final Report) that they were not a "sect". Very few groups refused to answer the questions because they did not see themselves as "sects".
In addition to answering the questions in their replies, many groups also made comments on themselves or on the Enquete Commission's work, e.g. on the problem involved in defining the terms "sects" and "psychogroups". The groups criticised the fact, for instance, that the term "sect" was a "war cry used by the Churches". Similarly, some expressed concern about the fact that this term might be defined by Church representatives in the Enquete Commission. If this was done, some groups suspected that relevant movements within the major Churches would be deliberately excluded.
The answers given by the groups in their replies were most detailed with regard to the media. What the groups criticised most was that reports published on them were distorted or false.
What is particularly striking is that the groups feel that media reports on them are objective if they paint a positive picture of them. However, they feel that they are being discriminated against whenever they are criticised. The groups allege that critical media reports are due to, for instance, inadequate or insufficient investigations, sensationalist journalism, or simply ignorance.
Only very few groups criticise the way in which they are publicly portrayed by politicians or public institutions. Their criticism is focused on publications in the form of governmental "Reports on Sects"; because of the wording used in the Commission's letter, these reports were taken to mean "decisions taken by governmental institutions". The "Reports on Sects" were criticised for drawing on information from biased sources. In addition, it was also alleged that "decisions by governmental institutions" included negative portrayals in teaching materials, the withdrawal or refusal to grant non-profit-making status, as well as the banning of events, etc.
Overall, the survey conducted among selected groups or communities can be rated as a success. Of a total of 27 groups, 23 answered the questions put to them by the Commission, with some of the answers being very extensive. The vast majority of the groups contacted by the Commission are willing to continue to co-operate with the Commission. Some of the groups felt that the written questions were a particularly positive contribution towards initiating a constructive dialogue.
Many of the groups that responded were critical with regard to the role played by the Churches in their public portrayal. They claimed that the Churches' commissioners for sects and ideology issues were particularly powerful with their publications in influencing definitions, and that they also had a strong impact on public opinion. Overall, however, the responses varied widely:
The vast majority of the groups felt that there was little discrimination against their members in public life. While the groups reported quite a number of cases where members were discriminated against or put at a disadvantage through insults, verbal abuse, problems in their families and with friends and acquaintances, as well as problems encountered by children in schools and nursery schools, once their membership in a given group became publicly known. The Enquete Commission was unable to verify these isolated accounts.
Nevertheless, if one examines the statements in terms of their overall tenor, these accounts seem to describe isolated cases; while these cases have to be taken seriously, they do not at all reflect the general situation of minority groups in Germany. Instead, the generalising public debate ("sectophobia") is perceived as threatening and disparaging, not only by the Free Churches but also by other groups. Some think that one way out of this dilemma would be for the Enquete Commission to clear up the allegations by drawing up "black lists" and "white lists", as it were. Without exception, however, the responses indicate that groups questioned would like to see a more open and unbiased public debate.
The findings described above show that there are two trends in society with regard to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups.
On the one hand, the progressing decoupling of religion and life-counselling has led to the emergence of a new, largely non-regulated field of social interaction. Many things that used to be integrated into the context of a religious life-style in the past are now also available from life-counselling providers in a non-religious context. Apart from the question of proving that such alternative offers are effective, they have also not at all been tried and tested in practice. In some cases, this creates considerable scope for conflicts and problems which must not be ascribed to religiously oriented life-styles. 36 )
On the other hand, the findings which the Commission has obtained during its work suggest that current public debate is problematic. This debate can even aggravate existing problems if its overall impact is ignored. The Commission would like to make the following comments on this point: In addition to the (still outstanding) development of a common concept with regard to education, advice and, where necessary, mediation on the part of the German Federal Government and the state-level governments, the following aspects seem to be noteworthy. While the information pamphlets published by the state-level governments played an important role in terms of educating the citizens and objectifying the public debate, they also had certain side-effects.
Pamphlets on the general topic present highly different groups side by side, although they are at different stages of their development. The more problematic groups always have radiating effects on the other groups. Thus, the image of the "most dangerous group" at a given point in time tends to affect all the other groups in the same way. In addition, there are accumulation effects due to the fact that the problematic features accumulate from one reference group to the next, so that this may lead to lead to incorrect general images in the minds of the readers of such pamphlets.
It is advisable that governmental information pamphlets should not provide such general reports; instead, they should present descriptions of specific groups or movements for which there is a current need for information and education. These descriptions of specific groups or movements should basically be conflict reports, and they would have to be updated regularly. These reports should also distinguish between legally relevant "hard" conflicts and other, more socially relevant "soft" conflicts. A side-effect of such an approach would also be faster availability because in the event of a legal dispute, this dispute would be limited to the group described in the report. Hence, there would not be the accumulation of legal actions and temporary injunctions which have led to major delays in the publication of governmental information pamphlets in the past.
On the other hand, this would also create incentives for contentious groups because there would be no need for a report if a group eliminated or reduced the intensity of particularly controversial characteristics and patterns of behaviour. At any rate, conflict characteristics could no longer be ascribed collectively to the entire sector.
In addition, generalising terms such as "sect" should be avoided altogether.
Instead, it is necessary to use more specific terms which describe the orientation, as well as the objectives and, where applicable, the particular conflict characteristics of the group concerned (cf. Chapter 2).
Since one of the reasons for the attractiveness of problematic religious or non-religious groups is the desire of individuals to be able to cope with change processes in society, better information and education can only be part of the solution. This has also been confirmed by the Commission's hearing of various social groups. In a broader sense, it is also a societal problem. And it is also part of the modernisation of society that the social settings for the life of the citizens must be designed in such a way that problematic developments - whether religious or political in nature - will have little prospect of success.
These framework conditions also include social attributes such as prosperity, solidarity, and empathy, as well as cultural and intercultural learning and tolerance. However, they also include a broadly-based debate in society on questions of religion, ideology and life, and the scientific study and analysis of these questions. Neither task has been adequately fulfilled in the past few decades.
In accordance with the Commission's intention to largely do without referring to specific groups, the following description of group structures, activities, and objectives is typological in nature. It is designed to capture general, significant, and specific characteristics, while at the same time paying attention to concrete particularities. The Commission's hearings of groups have served, inter alia, as a source of information for the development of the following typology. The Commission has approached the subject from the perspective of the conflicts or the conflict-proneness of groups in a wider social context. 37 ) In this context, it should not be overlooked that conflict-proneness is not usually a unique feature of the religious and ideological groups described below; instead, such conflict-proneness can also be found in other sectors of society. Nevertheless, there are also specific conflicts which are due to religious or ideological claims.
The typology covers characteristics which, first of all, (can) apply almost without exception to all religions, religious and ideological groups, communities and movements; hence, they do not pose a problem. At this general level, it is not possible to provide an adequate description and assessment of conflicts and conflict-proneness. In addition, some of the potential conflicts and conflict constellations may be quite normal in the context of religious conversion and socialisation, and should therefore be tolerated, at least in principle and as far as government is concerned. For this reason, there is a considerable need for a differentiated description which also includes concrete conflicts. Such concrete conflicts illustrate that certain identifiable group structures appear to be inadequate, problematic, dangerous, etc. because their purpose is to achieve certain specific objectives by means of certain specific activities (cf. Chapter 3.3.5).
Secondly, there is also a risk that this may lead to unacceptable generalisation. In this case, the most conflict-prone groups or those which are most highly developed in organisational terms are then chosen as a model and paradigm; or conflict-promoting characteristics in structures, activities and objectives are described in an additive form, which creates the impression that the sum of all negative characteristics thus obtained applies to all groups, and equally. "Sects" would then be indiscriminately seen as being "totalitarian" and organised in a "rigid hierarchy", etc.; they would be seen as being involved in "aggressive recruitment" or "evangelising", while simultaneously or primarily pursuing economic and political objectives; and they would be ascribed at least a tendency to lust for international/global influence or power, which they may have already achieved to some extent. On the other hand, there is a risk that even blatant cases of abuse may be justified by religious and ideological motives.
Hence, the following points should be clearly stated from the onset:
However, minorities can also be a source of hazards for individuals and/or society as a whole.
The following general description includes elements found in the development of any group or community, as well as the basic elements inherent in the development of religious or ideological groups and communities. Generally speaking, these elements are not problematic as such, at least with regard to governmental action.
It must be assumed that, when religious or ideological groups and communities establish themselves, there is always a potential or latent chance that conflicts will arise. This is due to the particular demands imposed by religions and ideologies in terms of life-style and way of life. Whenever groups with controversial or radical views come across vulnerable individuals and conditions, there is a particularly high likelihood of conflict.
Hence, the following chapters describe a framework which can be applied under a variety of circumstances and which needs to be filled with specific constellations and patterns of conflict.
Many, if not most religious and ideological groups are established because individuals, ideas, intentions and practices of a religious and/or ideological nature interact with each other; i.e. there is a more or less informal network of relations.
These elements can usually be identified and linked with each other when such a network develops into a genuine group.
Similar patterns may also be found in the genesis of psychogroups, as well as mixed types with features of profit-minded business enterprises, and extremist political groups, etc.; this also applies to the subsequent development steps:
When small informal groups develop into larger and better organised groups, it is possible to distinguish between six phases or aspects which are of particular interest:
Each of the phases mentioned above may trigger specific conflicts, either within the religious/ideological context itself or outside. As far as the theory and its application in practice is concerned, it is important how both fit into, and relate to, their socio-cultural environment in religious, ideological, and cultural terms, etc. (e.g. they may either accept or reject this environment). This has a particular impact on concrete and practical issues of life and concrete life-styles (e.g. questions of authority, obedience, married life, work, family, and raising children).
It is difficult to identify general characteristics of relationship patterns which tend to prevent conflicts versus those which tend to promote conflicts. However, the question as to how the central authority (master, teacher, etc.) defines his/her relationship with his/her own background in terms of the history of ideas or traditions, and how he/she relates to the other (non-member) advocates of these ideas, traditions, promises, etc., seems to play an important role in most cases.
There is a particularly great likelihood that a radical development will occur whenever two conditions coincide: First of all, the community claims to be the sole representative of its religion/ideology vis-à-vis other, closely related religious/ideological communities; i.e. it feels that it is the only group that is entitled to communicate its promises, etc. Secondly, this exclusive claim is not substantiated by actual modifications or significant differences in terms of theory, etc.
On the contrary: Relative to the original traditions, the community's own ideas and practices are more restricted and extremist, so that the claim of exclusivity cannot be justified by intellectual or practical substance. In this situation, the central figure of the community (or the community itself) can enhance its self-perception by means of psychological and social radicalisation. The purpose of the conflicts which arise in such cases is - at least initially - to consolidate one's own identity by developing enemy images, etc. The community's social isolation and "insulation", as well as its marginalisation and stigmatisation, are the results of interactions between the increasingly radical group and conflict-promoting or mediating reactions of the environment. This can be illustrated by means of the two following examples:
Conversely, it is often possible to reduce conflicts because the ideological and practical substance of a community changes in the course of its development; and/or the group's claim to exclusivity is put into perspective or eventually even abandoned altogether. A well-known case in point is the post-war development of the Seventh-Day Adventists in Germany, from an exclusive special community to a Free Church.
Another important factor for an analysis of contentious developments is the question of whether a group's theory and practice can be qualified as being religious and ideological in the narrower sense, or whether they also cover other areas such as culture, economics and politics to some extent, significantly or even primarily. It is part of the nature of religious and ideological concepts that these areas are also covered. However, in view of the fact that these areas are separated from each other in a modern state, this raises a particular problem which explains the conflict-proneness of some groups, in particular so-called sects and psychogroups. This applies especially to extremist political groups. It is noteworthy that some (many) of the internationally organised groups which are active in Germany have passed the development steps mentioned above elsewhere (e.g. in the United States).
The various development steps are described below. This description is based on concrete groups which, however, have been generalised for the purpose of this typology.
New religious and ideological communities and psychogroups often revolve around a male or female master (prophet, etc.) and a circle of persons gathering around this individual. The founders usually do not come from a religious/ideological "vacuum"; instead, they rely on existing religious, ideological or general cultural convictions which they either give a new interpretation and update, or which they reject, sometimes strongly, polemically, etc. Much of the plausibility for the circle of followers who gather around the master is derived from this positive or negative reference to the religious, ideological, cultural, and social environment.
A characteristic feature of the way in which such groups are founded - which in fact applies to the beginnings of many traditions - is the strong attachment to the master, the circle of people around the master, his doctrine and life-style, etc., which can lead to profound changes, upheavals, and reorientation in an individual's private, religious, social, and professional life.
Initially, the structures in this founding circle tend to be rather informal; usually, however, informal differences, hierarchies and membership categories begin to manifest themselves even at this early stage. The circle's activities and objectives are designed jointly to preserve and cultivate their new knowledge and the new life-style they practise. Often, recruitment activities are also of a more informal nature (word-of-mouth propaganda, simple leaflets, etc.).
A crucial step in the transformation from a circle to a group or large group (terminological accuracy is not considered to be important in this context) is the development of formal group structures. These result or may result from the need to cement the position of the founder and the circle of people closest to the founder.
A broad spectrum of objectives may be pursued in this context, ranging from religious and ideological objectives in the narrower sense to merely consolidating one's power and exercise of power; often these objectives overlap, and it is not possible to draw clear-cut lines between them. The general reason for the transformation of circles into groups is the desire to adapt the life of the group to new circumstances, for instance, in the event of rapid growth or because of the need to organise the relations with followers elsewhere and with newly emerging groups, so as to be able to recruit or evangelise more efficiently, etc.
Often the key impetus for the development of formal structures comes from the founder himself, i.e. it emanates from the latter's missionary zeal; however, this impetus may also come from a group of "managers", i.e. individuals who organise or "manage" the founder, as it were. The primary objective and interest of this formalisation process is to ensure the sustainability and continuity of essential elements of the group: both on the inside and towards the outside world, by consolidating the (exclusive) position of the founder, his doctrine and his practical life-style across long distances in the group's missionary expansion and in the interest of increasing the efficiency of this expansion; in addition, rules on the assignment of powers and membership status also serve the purpose of preserving essential elements of the group. This stabilisation and institutionalisation phase is, or may be, associated with the adoption of legal rules, both internally and in terms of civil law (i.e. establishment of an association under civil law, adoption of a financial regime, etc.).
This phase basically completes the development of a new organisation, which does not rule out a continuation of the institutionalisation process, e.g. in the event of geographical expansion, additional growth in numbers, the death of the founder, etc. The characteristic features are the group's formalisation and stabilisation on the one hand, and its differentiation on the other. These three processes may be associated with the development of a variety of permanently installed power, influence, and decision- aking structures and levels, as well as related competencies in terms of defining activities and objectives, hierarchies and dependencies, the distribution of responsibilities, and fixing rules on membership, status, and membership say, etc. When satellite units (i.e. separate local chapters) are established, it is important how the relationship between the head office/parent organisation and the sub-groups is organised. Many of the supra-regional groups with a long-term conflict potential are stable entities with a sophisticated organisational structure. A strengthening of the group's formalised and complex structures, activities and objectives may be the result of a transition from the founder to one or several successors.
A step which is associated with, results from, or follows the stage described above is the development of an organisation which is present nation-wide or internationally/world-wide and which may have a Church-like structure. Generally speaking, this phase is organised exactly like the previous one; however, everything is more complex, and hence less transparent (e.g. management structures, legal conditions, financial regime, etc.), especially if the organisation or network involved is active internationally/world-wide.
The various groups may vary widely in terms of origin, self-image, age, etc.; however, they are all variations of a basic model. This also applies mutatis mutandis to ideological communities, so-called psychogroups, mixed types with ideological elements and a strong emphasis on economic objectives, and extremist political groups.
With very few exceptions, the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups that are now present in Germany did not evolve into international/global organisations from their base in Germany; instead, they achieved this development abroad, mainly in the United States, and then went to Germany as more or less developed international/global religious organisations.
This may also give rise to specific conflicts (inculturation problems).
A number of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups which are present nation-wide and/or internationally/world-wide have established additional institutions and facilities in the fields of culture, education, medicine, business, and politics. This sometimes leads to conflicts which go beyond a religious or ideological context in the narrower sense.
It is necessary to clarify how the structures, strategies, and objectives of a religious and ideological parent organisation relate to the religious/ideological objectives, and to the structures, objectives and activities of subsidiary organisations. There are four potential models which are, of course, not clearly distinguishable from each other:
In all four cases, the likelihood of a conflict increases with the number, efficiency, and lack of transparency of the subsidiary organisations and their activities. This applies in particular if it is difficult to identify the exact extent to which the subsidiary organisations or sub-organisations are associated with the primary organisation, its management and management structures, as well as its objectives and activities, especially in the case of covert organisations.
In this context, there are also mixed forms of organisations for which commercial or political objectives become so important that any existing ideological or religious beliefs and objectives are superseded or even replaced. This does not exclude the possibility that much of the development of these groups initially follows the patterns of development outlined above. As commercial or political objectives become predominant, new elements are added which result from the nature of the objectives which may now be pursued in a covert manner. It is quite possible in such cases that some of the followers will continue to be interested in the group's ideological objectives and that they declare for themselves that these objectives are their primary interest.
There is broad range of organisations and service providers in this so-called psycho-market or life-counselling market. The activities of these providers include personality development courses and seminars, management consultancy, direct selling, multi-level marketing systems and even pyramid selling systems (see Chapter 5.3). Such organisations also include groups which offer users a mixture between the "dream of big money", ideology and esoterics. In the past few years, various organisations operating in this field have been increasingly subject to critical questions. It is safe to say that it is not always easy to draw a clear line between respectable, qualified pyramid/direct selling enterprises and providers of training courses for the business community on the one hand, and less respectable, problematic providers on the other; furthermore, the methods used by such operations can also be applied in specific companies and corporate activities.
Some of these types of organisation deliberately claim for themselves that they work primarily in accordance with economic principles. However, many of the structural features such as the pyramid-like organisation (where possible, everyone should be both an employee and a customer; new employees are assigned to the person who recruited them, etc.) do not apply to all groups. The primary focus of these organisations is not on ideological issues but on enabling the individual to make a monetary profit. In many cases, however, hopes of success are supported by a "winner ideology". Those who join such organisations are not only people who would like to make a big profit with their money within a short period of time, but also people who hope to avoid a social decline by joining these organisations.
When new participants are recruited, the techniques used are designed to influence the individual psychologically. The world is sub-divided, for instance, into "winners" and "losers". The recruiters suggest to a prospect that an individual can achieve anything he wants, if only he puts his mind to it. During this early phase, individuals are already immunised against possible objections. Only the individual can fail, they are told, not the system. If the newly recruited individual is willing to go along with the "system", an attempt will be made to "install" a compatible corporate ideology and identity. The use of corporate phraseology, a commitment to money and success, a uniform dress code - all of these things can help to create identity. Bonuses which are distributed to employees in the presence of all their colleagues give a taste of the success to be expected.
Employees in management positions enjoy almost the status of a cult figure.
The feeling of belonging together is strengthened by means of group-dynamic games, and by allowing the employees to experience extreme situations to level out any differences among them.
Expensive status symbols and further education are prerequisites to rising in the hierarchy of the system. In some cases, it is also possible to pay a certain amount of money in order to reach the next higher status level, which makes the individual's prestige and rise in the system more profitable. The general conditions prevailing in this system context often lead to a complete change in the way participants think, feel and act. What emerges is a separate world, which is viewed only from the perspective of corporate ideology. The company becomes a substitute family. Former social relations with other persons are abandoned, unless they qualify as potential customers and employees.
The high cost of status symbols and never ending training courses, etc., as well as the losses due to unsold merchandise, in many cases lead to financial bankruptcy because no individual can rise as quickly in the system as is suggested during company events.
In the past 30 years, some new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups have proven to be contentious during certain periods or permanently; others still are today. It should be noted in this context that conflicts are interactive and may be caused by either side. 38 ) By way of a typology, these potential conflicts can be sub-divided as follows:
The following chapter gives an overview of the enlistment and recruitment strategies used in this particular sector. In this context, the same caveat applies that we expressed with regard to group structures, etc.: It is certainly not true to say that all groups have a highly developed, comprehensive, multi-level repertoire of enlistment and recruitment strategies. Such strategies require a sophisticated organisational structure and a certain size in terms of followers or members as well as a certain financial scope which can be found only partially and only in some groups.
This means that many groups do not make use of all the methods, but select only this or that method from the strategies mentioned above. And not all of the strategies mentioned are used to recruit followers and members for institutionalised and properly organised groups; in many cases, individuals are attracted by activities offered in the so-called psycho-market or life-counselling activities. Finally, it must be borne in mind that some of the enlistment and recruitment strategies presented below are ethically and legally acceptable. Nevertheless, one should be aware of the fact that new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups - as well as other relevant groups in society - practise systematic recruitment. Such recruitment is perceived as controversial when manipulative elements or forms of hidden recruitment are predominant.
To date, there have been very few systematic publications on the methods used for enlistment and recruitment. An expert report for which the Enquete Commission intended to award a contract did not materialise because of the short period of time available. Information on recruitment methods can be obtained by looking at the groups' recruitment materials, observing the behaviour of "recruiters" in the groups, attending pertinent events, and by reading or hearing reports of "dropouts". 40 ) It should be borne in mind in this context that enlistment and recruitment methods vary widely because of the differences (which in some cases are substantial) between new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups in terms of their age and organisational structure.
More than traditional religious communities, new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups primarily depend on advertising and recruitment efforts to attract new members, followers, participants and customers. In principle, not much has changed in this respect even for those groups which were established in the past century, although many of these groups have now seen the arrival of the "second generation" and although some of the future members are now also "born into" these religious communities. However, most of the new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups do not have enough members and their membership turnover is too high to be able to safeguard the group's survival even at its current size. Aside from those groups which want to fulfil the promise of salvation only for themselves and which therefore isolate themselves physically or withdraw from society, all other groups depend on active recruitment to obtain new members. This applies especially to groups which a priori are aiming to reach adults only. New groups are obliged to approach the general public by advertising their ideas, their promise of salvation, and their cults.
In their campaigns designed to recruit new members and followers, they assume that there is a "clientele" which is free, at least formally - a clientele whose "religious", therapeutic and other needs they try to satisfy by means of the activities they offer. At the same time, they have to compete with the major Churches and amongst themselves, as well as with other potential leisure pursuits.
In order to find buyers, followers and members, new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups use the methods developed by the advertising industry. However, there are major differences between the groups when it comes to the finer details, and the advertising methods used also vary, depending on the target group envisaged. While some groups tend to use unprofessional advertising methods, others mail glossy brochures, for instance, to selected addressees. These brochures include not only an invitation to attend a course customised for a given professional group or some other event, but also reply cards for ordering another publication, usually free of charge. One can find advertising materials produced by new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups almost everywhere that a large number of people gather: in pubs and student cafes, in esoteric and ecological shops, at esoteric fairs, at conferences on related subjects, at in-company and other further education courses and at neighbourhood festivals. Time and again, many groups try to recruit new members by directly approaching individuals in the street and by putting up book stands in public places. Only a few groups engage in door-to-door advertising. In addition, ads are inserted in the relevant sections of all local city information magazines to publicise courses and information events where the "entry package" is often offered on a free trial basis.
Some of the groups such as the new Christian groupings, the so-called classical "sects" as well as groups that offer help to individuals looking for meaning in life, etc. use clearly religious themes in their advertising. Other groups offer: practical, usually commercial life-counselling; management courses; therapies; the promise to increase the individual's working and performance capability; healing; professional, legal and health counselling/advice, etc.; in other words, they cover subjects and provide courses which at first glance do not appear to be religious, or only pretend to be religious, or which do not have any religious background. Some groups have established sub-organisations which are responsible for marketing these courses and activities. Occasionally, the relationship with the religious group is concealed, and it requires considerable effort to identify the ties which such "cover organisations" 41 ) have with other groups.
Many of these advertising activities can probably be qualified as sham advertising designed to conceal the actual recruitment method applied, so-called dialogue marketing, i.e. establishing contact with the "candidate" by means of personal talks. The recruiters contact their "customers" in the framework of courses and address their weaknesses, needs, wishes, fears and desires. At the same time, they make promises with regard to solutions to the individual's problems. In this process, they appeal to the individual's emotions. Their performance (packaging: friendliness and empathy) triggers certain dynamics. Once the "customer" has been given the impression that he/she has learnt something, that he/she has achieved a positive development (and this impression is evoked by the recruiters and in the groups, and it is then socially confirmed in the groups), the "customer" is given the credible assurance that he/she can improve even more. At this point, the candidate is encouraged to attend further courses, where he/she can eventually be "converted", which is the actual point of the exercise. If the "candidate" does not contact the group on his/her own, the recruiter will establish this contact, either by phone or even by visiting the "candidate" personally. During these contacts, the recruiters succeed in interpreting the candidate's personal as well as social, ecological, and economic problems as religious or psychological problems, in keeping with the doctrines of their leader or group. This seems to help the individuals to find meaning in their lives, so that some feel relieved of their relevant problems, at least temporarily. 42 ) The groups have realised that any efforts made to spread their concept of the meaning of life must be focused on the individual and that this concept can only be conveyed by people. This realisation suggests that establishing direct personal contacts is also the most promising approach for groups whose advertising efforts are aimed at integrating new members. This finding is confirmed - at least partially - by the fact that a considerable percentage of the followers of most groups is recruited by personal acquaintances (friends, colleagues, etc.).
For most people, publications which describe the ideology and the
religious belief of a given group are of secondary importance; however,
such publications can generate interest in, and create a positive
attitude towards, the group concerned. The purpose of events that are
organised is to create a feeling of belonging to a group and to
facilitate group experiences in order to confirm the religious or
psychological "concept of life" adopted by the group's members
During these recruitment talks - and even before - the recruiters apparently differentiate among their target customers by subdividing them into those who will only spend money on courses, meditation events, books, religious articles, devices, etc. and those who can be expected to become future members or co-workers. Because of their positions in society or in professional life, other persons are not primarily contacted with a view to recruiting them as future customers or members; instead, they are expected to help the group become socially accepted and to be recognised in society. It is not always easy to detect this intention, especially since many groups also feel that they are being "persecuted" and marginalised and also portray this image to the outside world, creating the impression that they are in need of help.
Some groups organise expensive world tours to the "holy" sites of the major religions. The individuals participating in such tours are carefully selected; it is virtually impossible for them to escape the group's dialogue marketing efforts during the entire trip. Other groups use such tours to reward successful members (trips to their headquarters located in another country, or to other special locations).
Some of the "courses" and cultic events organised are very expensive, so that students or trainees can afford such events in exceptional cases only. For this reason, advertising for such courses is mailed only to groups of persons who are expected to have an interest in such courses and to be able to afford them because of their professional and economic positions and functions. In some cases, the courses are disguised as courses designed to provide basic and further education and to upgrade professional skills. Some groups and event organisers claim in their advertising that they have a system of courses at the end of which candidates can become teachers themselves; and they create the expectation that course graduates will be able to earn their living in this way. In some cases, such advertising is deliberately aimed at a group of persons who, after completing an extended education at a technical college or university, failed to find the positions that they had hoped for. It seems that, overall, new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups provide courses and activities which are designed to meet the needs of a variety of social groups in different circumstances. However, each group is usually oriented towards a certain clientele; only very few groups try to reach several target audiences. Hardly any group's advertising is addressed to all social strata or all professional and population groups.
However, there are also groups - such as various (albeit not all) zen groups and some shamanistic groups, as well as the esoteric grail movement, etc. - which practically do not engage in any advertising and which even have reservations with regard to the use of word-of-mouth propaganda.
Once again, there is a need for further research in this area as well, especially in order to be able to distinguish the dubious and seductive recruitment methods from those that are still legitimate; and in order to be able to provide sufficient prior information to participants at recruitment events with regard to direct and - more importantly - indirect methods of influencing individuals.
13 ) Cf. Schmidtchen, G.: Sekten und Psychokultur, Freiburg, 1987; or Stoffers, M. and Puhe, H.: Neue religiöse Organisationen und Kultpraktiken, project report, Cologne, 1993.
14 ) Cf. German Bundestag: Interim Report of the Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups", Bundestag Doc. 13/8170, p. 35 f.
15 ) Cf. Chapter 3.3.
16 ) Cf. Interim Report of the Enquete Commission, loc. cit., p. 96 ff.
17 ) Cf. Identitätsarbeit heute, (ed.) Höfer/Keupp, H., Frankfurt, 1997.
18 ) Cf. Table 16 in Daiber, K.F.: Religion unter den Bedingungen der Moderne, Marburg, 1995, p. 55.
19 ) Cf. Eiben, J.: "Neue Religiosität" in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Cologne, 1996, p. 42f.
20 ) Cf. "Religiöser Indifferentismus", in: ibid.: Religion und Modernität, Tübingen, 1989, pp. 146- 171, p. 151.
21 ) Cf. Küenzlen, G.: Der Neue Mensch - zur säkularen Religionsgeschichte der Moderne, Munich, 1994
22 ) Cf. Andritzky, W.: Alternative Gesundheitskultur. Eine Bestandsaufnahme mit Teilnehmerbefragung, Forschungsberichte zur transkulturellen Medizin und Psychotherapie, Vol. 4, Berlin, Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1997; Dipl.-Psych. Dr. Murken, S.: "Soziale und psychische Auswirkungen der Mitgliedschaft in neuen religiösen Bewegungen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der sozialen Integration und psychischen Gesundheit", study conducted on behalf of the German Bundestag's Enquete Commission on "So-called Sects and Psychogroups", January 1998.
23 ) Cf. Zinser, H.: Der Markt der Religionen, Munich, 1997.
24 ) Cf. Riesebrodt, M.: Fundamentalismus als patriarchalische Protestbewegung, Tübingen 1990, ibid.: Protestantischer Fundamentalismus in den USA - die religiösen Rechte im Zeitalter der elektronischen Medien, EZW-Texte, Information No. 102, Stuttgart 1987.
25 ) Cf. Globalization, London, 1992.
26 ) Cf. ibid.: Die Erlebnisgesellschaft. Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart, Frankfurt, 1992.
27 ) loc. cit., p. 419- 420.
28) Cf. inter alia the theories developed by Beck, Habermas, Luhmann,
Mayntz oder Münch.
29 ) Cf. Mayntz, R. and Scharpf, F. W. (ed.): Gesellschaftliche Selbstregulierung und politische Steuerung, Frankfurt, 1995, in particular Chapters 1, 2, 4, 7.
30 ) Cf. Berger, P. L./Luckmann, Th., Modernität, Pluralismus und Sinnkrise. Die Orientierung des modernen Menschen, Gütersloh, 1996, pp. 59- 63, 70f.; Herzog, R.: Die Unübersichtlichkeit als Phänomen des wissenschaftlichen Zeitalters, Speech delivered by the German Federal President on 17 January 1996 in Tutzing, in: Bulletin, (ed.): Office of the Federal President, 13 Feb. 1996, p. 161. In addition, mention should also be made of the adage according to which constitutional democracies rely on conditions which they cannot create themselves (E. W. Böckenförde), i.e. on traditional, practised value convictions in society and on communities sharing these convictions.
31 ) In its Interim Report, the Commission described this development in great detail. Cf. The findings of Working Group 1.
32 ) This was made very clear by Steven M. Tipton: Getting Saved from the Sixties: Moral Meaning in Conversion and Cultural Change, Berkeley, 1982.
33 ) After passing through several stages of appeal, a final judgement has now confirmed the legality of the CDU's incompatibility decision.
34 ) As far as this hearing is concerned, see the Interim Report of the Enquete Commission, p. 62ff. Cf. also Chapter 5.3 of the Final Report.
35 ) Cf. Interim Report of the Enquete Commission, Bundestag Doc.
13/8170, Chapter 2.2.7,
36 ) Cf. Chapter 3.5 for more details.
37 ) See also Chapter 2.
38 ) See Chapter 2.5.
39 ) Cf. Chapter 5.1.
40 ) Cf. Zinser, H., Der Markt der Religionen, Munich 1997, p. 111 ff.
41 ) Cf. e.g. Haack, F. W., Findungshilfe 2000, Apologetisches Lexikon, Munich 1990.
42 ) Currently, there is a lack of empirical studies on the reasons why people go to such groups and attend their events (e.g. Klosinski, G. Warum Bhagwan? Auf der Suche nach Heimat, Geborgenheit und Liebe, Munich 1985). However, it is very difficult to carry out such studies successfully because some of the members refuse to answer these questions for themselves while others only repeat the answers given in the doctrines of their group. These individuals have assimilated the their group's "explanations" of their personal problems and questions. This assimilation of the "explanations" offered by the groups can be described as the true objective of the recruitment methods applied and the efforts made to convert individuals.