Theorizing about leadership in new religious movements has often assumed that leaders have a powerful form of charisma with magical powers allowing leaders to exercise total control over the group and its members. This “myth of the omnipotent leader” is complemented by the “myth of the passive and brainwashed follower,” which assumes that those who participate have their agency overcome by the leader’s charisma and are under some sort of spell cast by the leader. Both myths mislead and belie societal conditions that lead to the formation of new religions as well as the inherent agency of those who participate. Examples from research on newer religious groups are presented to demonstrate the naiveté of assuming that the intertwined myths promoted in the media offer a full and adequate explanation of group formation and decisions by individuals to participate.
The Myth of the Omnipotent Leader: The Social Construction of a Misleading Account of Leadership in New Religious Movements
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James T. Richardson; The Myth of the Omnipotent Leader: The Social Construction of a Misleading Account of Leadership in New Religious Movements. Nova Religio 1 May 2021; 24 (4): 11–25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/nr.2021.24.4.11
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