The Cultural Significance of New Religious Movements: The Case of Soka Gakkai

This paper advances previous arguments I have made about assessing the cultural significance of new religious movements (Dawson 1998a, 1998b) using the example of Soka Gakkai. An examination of this Japanese-based, but now world-wide, new religion highlights two things: (1) it demonstrates that there is an intimate relationship between the investigation of the "success" and the "significance" of a new religious movement, though the two concerns arc not necessarily linked; and (2), and it points to the most methodologically sound foci for future research on both topics through the comparative analysis of new religious movements. The success and significance of Soka Gakkai in the West is explained in terms of certain organizational adaptations and the elective affinity of its ethos with the emergent religious sensibilities of advanced industrial societies.Implicit to the study of new religious movements is the assumption that they are somehow of cultural significance, either as individual phenomena or as part of a larger pattern of social development. It is widely recognized, however, that even the most successful new religious movements (hereafter NRMs) are unlikely to achieve a size sufficient to directly influence the development of any Western society in the foreseeable future. Rather, as socially segregated and permitted realms of lifestyle experimentation, the significance of NRMs rests with their potential status as windows into broader patterns of social change. But what kind of change, and how are the different NRMs connected with the patterns of change? Sociologists have been trying to answer these basic questions for some time, acquiring in the process a much better grasp of the forms, functioning, and possible futures of the new religions in our midst (e.g., Bellah 1976; Wilson 1976; Campbell 1978; Stone 1978; Westley 1978; Hunter 1981; Johnson 1981; Robertson, 1985; Robertson and Chirico 1985; Bromley and Busching 1988; Robbins and Bromley 1992; Dawson 1998a and 19986). But the efforts made to date are still fragmentary and handicapped by an explicit or implicit reliance on the conceptual parameters set by the debate over secularization in Western societies.When the study of NRMs began in earnest in the late 1970s and early 1980s almost all sociological discussions of the meaning, importance, or significance of contemporary religious phenomena were cast against the backdrop of the theory of secularization (see Dawson 1998c:13-29, 41-62).This theory assumed that the modernization and secularization of societywent hand-in-hand. With this assumption in place, most attempts to discern the cultural significance of NRMs entailed questioning whether the NRMs were in alignment with the dominant social trends of modernity, or opposed to them. This was the focus of debate, though often only implicitly. The further study of diverse NRMs suggests, however, that these theoretical terms of reference are too restrictive. Some new religions have a far more dialectical relationship with the changing religious consciousness of North Americans and western Europeans.I have argued that the attempts to link NRMs with modern, pre-modern (or anti-modern), or even postmodern orientations should be replaced with a more delimited focus on specific changes to the religious sensibilities of Western societies (see Dawson 1998a). This analysis seeks to demonstrate the merits of this alternative approach through an examination of one of the most successful NRMs, Soka Gakkai International (hereafter SGI).1 The case study helps to alert scholars to the complex issues involved in seeking to discern the significance of any NRM.For practical and historical reasons, discussions of the significance of NRMs are also often conflated with two other analytically distinct yet closely intertwined theoretical concerns: What factors account for the relative success or failure of NRMs (e.g., Bromley and Hammond 1987; Stark 1987, 1996a, 1996b, 1998; Stark and Iannaccone 1997; Wilson 1987)? What is involved in the successful transplantation of a new religion, from Asia or elsewhere, to the West (e.g., Pike 1969; Cox 1977; Gussner and Berkowitz 1988; Stark 1987; Mellor 1991; Stark 1996; Montgomery 1996; Dawson and Eldershaw 1998; Eldershaw and Dawson 1995; van den Hoonaard 1996; Howell and Nelson 1997)? These concerns feed into one another, raising a complex set of relevant theoretical and empirical issues.Success, of course, cannot simply be equated with significance. As Weber (1949) stressed, in the last analysis, the significance of any social phenomenon stems in good part from the concerns and value-orientations of researchers. There is no avoiding this measure of subjectivity in the social sciences. Thus judgements of the cultural significance of NRMs are more or less subject to perpetual interpretive shifts as the times and generations change. In some cases, then, the failure of a NRM may be seen as equally revealing, depending on the agenda of the researchers. But in most cases it is the NRMs that survive and manage to prosper, especially if they have had to adapt to a new culture as well, that are seen as the most direct and consequential sources of information about the significance of NRMs. Logically and empirically, investigations of the success and the significance of NRMs (whether of any particular movement or a type of movement) tend to converge, for it is assumed that the survival and success of movements frequently depends on their being in line with what is happening in their host cultures, either by intent or fortunate accident. Such is certainly the case with recent studies of SGI in America and Britain (Hurst 1992; Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994; Hammond and Machacek 1999). In these studies the success of SGI is traced to two related yet distinguishable processes: (1) a series of conscious organizational adaptations to Western society and, (2) a less conscious "elective affinity" (Weber 1958a) with the changing ethos of Western culture. The success is linked, in other words, to complementary processes of internal and external change that establish a special correspondence between this new religion and the surrounding culture. In terms of the conscious adaptation of SGI, attention is directed to both obvious and less obvious features of the organization of the group. In terms of the elective affinity, each of these studies call on an elaboration of Weber's Protestant ethic thesis (Weber 1958b) to help explain the fit of SGI with an emerging cultural pattern.The focal point of these discussions is the convergence of the ethos of SGI with the shift of Western culture from a society attuned to the needs of production to one focussed on consumption.There is some merit in these speculations, but there is also a significant measure of variance and vagueness in the accounts offered. More importantly, the discussion is cast at too broad a level, making it difficult to test the claims made, or to lay the grounds for the kind of comparative analyses needed to assess the relative significance of different NRMs. As indicated, it would be profitable to supplement this kind of grand cultural analysis with the investigation of the relative presence or absence of a more delimited set of specifically religious doctrinal and organizational preferences that appear to be emerging in Western societies (see Dawson 1998a).In this paper I will first explain briefly why I am focusing on SGI, and summarize my critique of past efforts to discern the cultural significance of NRMs. Then I will describe briefly the history, beliefs, and practices of SGI. With these background considerations in place, I will present an synthetic analysis of the strategic adaptations of SGI that scholars think contributed to its success, and hence its probable significance. Attention will be directed to changes in practices, methods of recruitment, and the organization of SGI. With this done, I will critically discuss the elective affinities posited between SGI and contemporary Western culture, and show the ways in which SGI conforms with a more specific set of emerging religious preferences, preferences for more individualism, experientialism, pragmatism, syncretism and relativism, holism, and organizational openness.WHY FOCUS ON SOKA GAKKAI?It should be possible to convincingly illustrate the argument I am makingwith reference to any NRM. But it is particularly instructive to begin witha strong case for one's point of view, and then consider the range of lesserand contrasting cases at a later point. SGI is my strong case. Why? Thereare essentially two reasons. First, the analysis of this particular movementhas already been drawn directly into the relevant debates - more almost byintuition, one suspects, than design. Second, we now have a surprisingabundance of quite high quality and detailed studies of this particular, yetstill relatively unknown, group. There is something intriguingly significantabout the quiet success of this seemingly very non-Western group in so manycontemporary Western societies. 2Not much has been written about SGl in the (non-Japanese) periodicalliterature of the sociology of religion. The discussions available also tendto use the group to illustrate or demonstrate some theoretical point (e.g.,Oh 1973; Hashimoto and McPherson 1976; Snow 1979; Snow and Phillips 1980;Snow, Zurcher, and Ekland-Olson 1980; Snow and Machalek 1982; Snow 1987;Shupe 1991). This dearth of interest may reflect, in part, the surprisinglylow profile that SGI maintained throughout the most heated days of theso-called cult scare of the 1970s and 1980s in the West (relative to suchNRMs as the Unification Church, Krishna Consciousness, and Scientology). Yetfor a variety of reasons, we have a notably large number of book-length casestudies of SGI (e.g., Brannen 1968; Dator 1969; White 1970; Metraux 1988,1994, 1996; Hurst 1992; Snow 1993; Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994; Hammond andMachacek 1999).Some of these books are about the early history of SGI as a militantBuddhist sect in post-World War Two Japan. Others are simply overviews ofthe history and theology of the movement. Of particular interest here arethe five books dealing with SGI in the West - in the United States (Hurst1992; Snow 1993; Hammond and Machacek 1999), Canada (Metraux 1996), andBritain (Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994). The recent studies by Wilson andDobbelaere, A time to chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain andHammond and Machacek, Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and conversion,are of particular interest. These very good studies are based on extensiveand similar surveys of the membership of the movement, and focussedspecifically on determining the reasons for the success of this movement inthe West. This paper will concentrate on their analyses, while also makinguse of Jane Hurst's Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai in America:The ethos of a new religious movement (1992) and other studies.3THE CRITIQUE OF EXISTING APPROACHESThere are two aspects to the critique I have developed of past efforts todiscern the possible cultural significance of NRMs (Dawson 1998a). The firstand more negative aspect involves casting doubt on the adequacy of the termsof reference currently used. The second and more positive aspect involvestrying to refocus attention on the features of an emerging set of religiouspreferences to which many NRMs are responding, and which some NRMs arestimulating.In recent years belief in the complete secularization of modern societieshas waned (e.g., Stark and Bainbridge 1985; Hadden 1987; Martin 1991; Warner1993; Casanova 1994; Stark 1999). A new consensus is arising that religion,contrary to the predictions of Marx and others, is likely to co-exist withmodernity.4 All the same, most sociologists think that religions of everytype are compelled to cope with three relatively new environmental realitiesof modern religious life: institutional differentiation, religiouspluralism, and the privatization of religious belief and practice (or whatperhaps should be called, following Peter Berger, the subject ivization ofreligion). In the face of these pervasive tendencies, religion will survive,but its social legitimacy and function, and hence cultural significance,will be curtailed. Summarily, the results are often cast in terms ofreligion becoming subject to the dictates of a pervasive contemporaryculture of choice and consumption.In an early, highly influential, and rather bleak statement of this point ofview, Berger (1967:153) argues that there are only two options for religionstoday. They can either accommodate the emerging world of "religiousfreeenterprise" by adapting their product to consumer demands, at the costof calling into question their plausibility as truly religious systems. Orthey can refuse to accommodate and survive behind various social andsymbolic barriers, at the cost of becoming ever more marginal and small. Thesame message is driven home, with perhaps even more force, in Bryan Wilson'smany influential discussions of secularization and the fate of religions,both old and new (e.g., Wilson 1976, 1982, and 1988). This kind of reasoninghas led sociologists to treat most NRMs as part of a cultural reactionagainst modernity. The religions tend to be viewed as primarilyanti-modernist or pre-modern in character. They are nonrational or evenirrational acts of collective resistance to the onslaught of societalrationalization. Thus, short of a catastrophic reversal of modernity, thefutures and cultural significance of most NRMs are limited (see e.g., Hunter1981). Commentators have in mind such prominent NRMs as the UnificationChurch, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and The Family(formerly The Children of God).There are some NRMs, however, that clearly do not fit this scenario - mostnoticeably groups like Scientology, Eckankar, The Forum (formerly est), andthe Raelians. These groups tend to be cast in the role of "modernistmovements." They have struck some kind of accommodation with the dominantconsumer culture and consequently their very status as religions is indispute. But the implications of this label have never been worked outsystematically. To be sure the modernist orientation involves somesyncretism of the worldviews and ethoses of science, business, andspirituality. But the details remain vague. Nonetheless, others have begunto try to apply yet another label, postmodemist, to a few other religiousalternatives, most notably the New Age and Neo-Pagan movements (see forexample the discussions presented in Flanagan and Jupp 1996; Heelas 1996,1998; Brown 1997; Lyon 2000). These movements are said to entail a playfulpastiche of traditional and modernist elements analogous to postmodernisttrends in the arts, architecture, literature, and philosophy. But thenotorious vagaries of the term postmodern pose serious conceptual challengesto the development of this line of interpretation. In agreement with JamesBeckford (1992, 1996), I have expressed my doubts about the theoretical andempirical utility of using the postmodernist label to identifying thecultural significance of any NRMs (Dawson 1998a:147-151).In the end it seems to be possible and advisable to differentiate betweentypes of NRMs. Not all these movements are anti-modernist; nor are they allmodernist. But it is easier to speculate about which is which, than tomarshal a convincing argument for a specific classification of any onegroup. Even seemingly very conservative organizations, like the UnificationChurch and the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, display ideological andorganizational features commonly associated with the modernist label. Whenpressed, the standard ways of differentiating modernist and anti-modernistNRMs tend to collapse. There is as much structural similarity as differencebetween the so-called antimodernist and modernist movements (see Dawson1998a:144-147). The conceptual framework is too simple to adequately depictthe dialectical play of religious and secular, and pre-modern and modernelements in most NRMs, and it is probably the mix of these elements thataccounts for the appeal and power of some of these movements (see Dawson1998b:584-585).Curiously, Bryan Wilson, one of the chief exponents of the conceptualframework I am calling into doubt, may have actually changed his stance onthis issue as a result of his detailed study of the SGI (Wilson andDobbelaere 1994). In Contemporary transformations of religion, Wilson hadcharacterized NRMs as "no more than transient and volatile gestures ofdefiance" against secularization (1976:101; see 1987 as well). Yet as I cameto appreciate in re-reading A Time to Chant (1994), things seem to havechanged. Consider the closing words of the book (1994:231):Ideologically and organizationally . . . the SGI has found ready resonancewith the changing course of wider currents of thought in contemporaryBritish society .... In presenting an ancient faith in modem form it offerslegitimization for many of the dispositions of today's young people.Innovation is backed by tradition .... Well may dedicated members affirmthat SGI is a faith whose time has come - a time to chant.Jane Hurst noted this important change as well, with reference to an articleWilson published in 1992 in the World Tribune, the newspaper of SGI (Hurst1992:295-298). What accounts for this change of mind, if indeed one hashappened? Answering that question will bring us to the heart of what I wishto explore, in all its' hard to dismiss ambiguity .5The realities of the new religious life around us seem to have out-grown theinterpretive adequacy of the old terms of reference and this is leading somescholars to entertain the idea that the characteristics of some NRMs are notso much reactionary as "symptomatic of the continued and healthy evolutionof the forms of religious life" (Dawson 1998a:138). Pursuit of this premisemay provide a more accurate assessment of the possible cultural significanceof NRMs.A SNAPSHOT OF SOKA GAKKAI INTERNATIONALSoka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) was formally founded in 1937, by agroup of sixty people who had been studying issues of educational reform inJapan under the leadership of a school teacher and writer named TsunesaburoMakiguchi. In 1928 Makiguchi had converted to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism andthe lay society soon became focused as much on the promotion of NichirenShoshu Buudhism as changes to the educational system. By 1941 there wereonly some 3,000 members, yet the military government of Japan sought tosuppress the movement, arresting its leaders for their refusal to co-operatewith the government's plans to merge all Nichiren sects and place them underthe control of the imperial religion of state Shintoism. Makiguchi died inprison and the reform society all but died out. His protege Josei Todaemerged from prison after the war determined to reinvigorate and expand SokaGakkai. In this he was wildly successful. In assuming the Presidency of SokaGakkai he set the goal of recruiting 750,000 member families, a goal thatwas accomplished by December 1957. Soka Gakkai became a force to be reckonedwith in Japanese affairs and the whole Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist faith wasrevived. In 1960 Toda was succeeded by an even more inspirational,charismatic, and equally efficient president, Daisaku Ikeda. Ikedaperpetuated the growth of the movement in Japan, with the group claimingabout 10 million members in 1988, and he began the vigorous exportation ofSoka Gakkai to other nations around the world (formally establishing SokaGakkai International in 1975).As with most NRMs, it is notoriously difficult to secure accurate membershipfigures. It is safe to say the membership in Japan is certainly in themillions, and there may be over a million other, largely non-Japanesemembers, scattered in 100 or more countries around the world (see Hurst1992:109; Hammond and Machacek 1999:37-42). It is estimated that there areabout 20,000 members in Europe, with about 4,000 in Britain (Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:13), and about 36,000 members in the United States (Hammond andMachacek 1999:41). The movement claims 300,000 members in America, butHammond and Machacek think that number is grossly inflated. Metrauxestimates that there are about another 4,000 members in Canada (1996). Thesenumbers are much larger than most of the better known NRMs (e.g., KrishnaConsciousness, the Unification Church, Eckankar). Even the most conservativefigures indicate growth rate in the United States, since the mid-1960s, ofroughly 33 percent per decade. This rate is impressive, and it must beremembered that no consideration is being given to the thousands of otherindividuals who have tried SGI for a time but are no longer members. Theirexposure is of consequence in determining the cultural significance of thisNRM.In 1991, for reasons too complicated to review here (see Hurst 1992:119128;Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:232-245; Metraux 1994:71-94; Hammond and Machacek1999:20-23), SGI split with the formal priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu. Thisschism has cost SGI some membership world-wide. It also has necessitatedsome relatively minor adjustments in doctrine and practice. On the whole,however, it appears that SGI is likely to fare better than the priesthood,which has been cut off from its major source of revenue and recruitment.Without the formal tie to Nichiren Shoshu, a long term question oflegitimacy may plague the movement in the future. The argument advanced inthis paper, however, inclines me to believe that the split may well work tothe advantage of the movement in promoting itself to a Western constituencythat has grown increasingly weary and wary of formal religiousorganizations.Soka Gakkai's religious practices are based on the teachings of NichirenDaishonin (1222-1282), the prophetic founder of a sect of the Tendai schoolof Mahayana Buddhism, which itself was imported to Japan from China in theeighth century. Nichiren Shoshu is one of several sects that emerged fromNichiren's teachings. Like the other sects of Tendai, Nichiren taught thatthe true essence of Buddhism is revealed in the Lotus Sutra. Such priorityis given to this relatively late Buddhist text that, like the Bible in somefundamentalist Christian contexts, the Lotus Sutra itself has become theobject of veneration and worship. For the iconoclastic and controversialNichiren, the Lotus Sutra alone contained the truth and all other religiousviews were to be expunged. The central religious practice of SGI is chantingthe phrase Nam myoho renge kyo (roughly translatable as "devotion to thewonderful Lotus Sutra"). The ritualistic chanting of this phrase is calleddiamoku. Members are enjoined to seek enlightenment through this chant,doing it at least twice a day, in the morning and the evening, inconjunction with the ritualistic reading of part of the second chapter andall of the crucial sixteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. This reading, whichtakes about 30-40 minutes, is called gongyo. It and the chanting are donewhile meditating on a copy of the Gohonzon, a framed mandala of Japanesecharacters originally inscribed by Nichiren. The original mandala hangs inthe main temple of the Nichiren Shoshu sect, Taiseki-ji, at the foot ofMount Fuji. Until the schism in 1991, temple priests bestowed a copy of theGohonzon on newly initiated members of SGI in a special cermony. Mostmembers also were expected to undertake a pilgrimage to the main temple atsome point in their lives. Otherwise the only other prescribed aspect of thereligious practice is the progressive study of the Lotus Sutra, the limitedwritings of Nichiren, and the numerous writings of Ikeda. But such study isdone as the members see fit. There is no set agenda or timetable. Assistancein all regards, and in bringing every possible facet of one's life into linewith Buddhist teachings, is provided by the many movement publications, mostnotably the newspaper, The World Tribune, and magazines like LivingBuddhism.As can be seen, the beliefs and practices of SGI differ quite sharply fromother kinds of Buddhism, whether Theravadin, Mahayanist, Tibetan, Pure Landor Zen. In its practice SGI is more parsimonious, and its mode of salvationmore immediate and accessible. Benefits are to be expected here and now, inthe improved quality of one's daily life, while the chanting alsoameliorates one's karmic legacy and prospects.STRATEGIC ADAPTATIONS AND SUCCESSSGI has won a sizable following and established a firm organizationalinfrastructure around the world while largely avoiding the wrath of theanti-cult movement or the public controversy over cults in the West. Hurst,Hammond and Machacek, and less directly Wilson and Dobbelaere, all attributethis state of affairs to certain specific choices made by the SGIleadership. As Hammond and Machacek state most explicitly (1999:96-103),these choices reflected the movement's decision to plan for the long term bycourting legitimacy, at the expense of some immediate growth and thepreservation of some of the movement's distinctively Japanese features. Whatchanges or innovations did SGI introduce?Changes to the PracticesBy the late 1960s, SGI had developed a highly successful organizational formin Japan, and with the direct replication of that form in the United Statesand elsewhere (e.g., Clarke 1999) it achieved a fairly sound foothold bothin the immigrant Japanese populations of these countries and amongst manynonJapanese followers as well. But by the mid-1970s SGI began a series ofchanges designed to better accommodate the movement to its new Westernenvironment. Some of these changes dealt with the group's style ofpresentation. English was used in meetings and publications, shoes were lefton in SGI centres and chairs were used instead of sitting on the floor, thetraditional segregation of the sexes during meetings was abandoned, andleadership positions were opened up to women. SGI community centres wereestablished, instead of Nichiren Shoshu temples, and the Japanese featuresof these centres were minimized. There was a move away from thepatriarchical hierarchy of SGI in Japan to a more decentralizedquasi-congregational model of organization.Hurst (1992:228-229) lays special emphasis on the extent of thisorganizational change, speaking of a virtual dismantling of the group'sstrong bureaucratic structure and a corresponding divestment of power. Inthe group's rhetoric, and in the perception of its members, SGI seemed to beplacing a new emphasis on the immediate needs and personal development ofits individual members over the importance of the organization as such. Thiswas all in keeping, Hurst proposes (1992:143), with the SGI doctrine ofzuiho bini. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism can be adapted freely to the customsand conditions of different eras and regions so long as the basic practiceof chanting Nammyoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon is strictly maintained. SGI,in contrast to ISKCON and other groups, has formally decided that changes inthe outward form or traditions of the movement need not be intrinsicallythreatening. Still the "Americanization" of SGI, as Hammond and Machacekcall these changes, did require a series of specific strategic decisions byDaisaku Ikeda and the others leaders of SGI.Changes to the Methods RecruitmentThe other most important and dramatic organizational change came with theabandonment of the group's aggressive recruitment style, known as shakubuku(meaning to "break and subdue"). It was replaced by a more soft-sellapproach called shoju. In its early years in the West SGI continued thefervent "evangelicalism" that helped catapulte it to success in thedisrupted cultural environment of post-World War 11 Japan. Members wereunder constant pressure to recruit new members, levels of activity in thegroup were intensive, and almost every meeting was dedicated to the task ofwinning new souls to the cause of spreading Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism (i.e.,the doctrine of kosen rufu). As the controversy surrounding other NRMs andtheir recruitment practices heated up, SGI reoriented the style andfrequency of its meetings, transforming them into sessions designed tofoster the faith and practice of existing members and only secondarily theeducation of potential new members. Public recruitment drives were abandonedin favor of introducing friends and acquaintances to a new option in life,and largely by way of setting an appealing example. Hurst documents thesechanges quite carefully through observations of the changing character ofSGI meetings at different phases of the movement's development(1992:174-196). Carefully orchestrated instruction sessions became moreinformal meetings for chanting and discussion. Making their own observationsin the 1990s, Wilson and Dobbelaere note (1994:17):The tone of the Soka Gakkai meetings is altogether more conversational thanexhortatory .... The occasions may be seen more as a sharing of experienceand of opinion than as attempts to define positions or reach decisions.Divergences of view are left unresolved, perhaps even unexplored .... thereis no attempt to produce artificial unanimity . . .All of the analysts agree that the turn away from shakubuku slowed thegrowth of the movement, and probably resulted in a significant net loss inmembership. They equally agree, however, that those lost to the cause wereprobably expendable (Hammond and Machacek 1999:101-103). They were thepeople least likely to become long term members; they were recent memberswrapped up in the enthusiasm of the campaigns of kosen rufu, rather than thearduous practice of daily chanting that leads gradually to "humanrevolution." Overall, these studies argue, SGI has significantlyconsolidated its membership and found a more efficient way to use itslimited human resources (Hammond and Machacek 1999:106). The revolving doorof recruitment and attrition that takes such a toll on the morale of mostNRMs has been replaced by a system that encourages slow but steady growth,while reinforcing the faith and practice of existing members in a personaland regular manner. As with most NRMs, attrition is still a problem, yetrelative to other groups, the number of more committed and long-term membersseems to have stabilized, and at a fairly high level.In the end, there seems to be scholarly consensus that these changes havestrengthened the hand of SGI in competing for a permanent place in theWestern religious economy (e.g., see Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:230-231;Hammond and Machacek 1999: 108-109). In part this is because the changeshappened to bring the movement in line with some of the factors nowsuspected to play a leading role in securing the success of any NRM (seee.g., Gerlach and Hine 1968; Stark 1987 and 1996; Wilson 1987). Let meaddress two examples, already partially broached: the role of socialnetworks in recruiting members, and the advantages of adopting adecentralized, segmented, and reticulate organizational structure.We now know that NRMs grow primarily by tapping into pre-existing networksof social relations and developing interpersonal bonds between members andnon-members. "Friends recruit friends, family members each other, andneighbours recruit neighbours" (Dawson 1998c:79-85). Hurst thinks that thereal recruitment success of the group has always reflected this reality(1992:210). But the strategic turn from shakubuku to shoju concentrated SGIrecruitment efforts on this source of potential converts. As Hammond andMachacek repeatedly stress in their analysis of SGI-USA (e.g., 1999:104),this change in recruitment tactics had several further advantageousconsequences. By the 1970s, the Japanese immigrant community in America wasdrawn disproportionately from the professional ranks, especially theso-called new class of information workers. Consequently, as SGI madeinroads into this community it began to recruit even more non-Japanesemembers, and non-Japanese members drawn disproportionately from relativelyhigh status backgrounds (Hammond and Machacek 1999:110). Forty percent ofthe American membership are in professional, managerial, or administrative occupations, versus only 29 percent of the general population (Hammond andMachacek 1999:50-51). Recruiting and retaining such members undoubtedlycontributed to the positive public image of SGI. Its status profile shiftedupward from the more heterogeneous pool of converts (often students,housewives, and transients) recruited through public forays in the 1960s.In Britain, where the role of professional Japanese immigrants affiliatedwith SGI played a much lesser role, Wilson and Dobbelaere (1994:119-121)found a disproportionate number of members drawn from the "caringprofessions" (e.g., social work, medical fields, therapists, teachers) andthe performing and the graphic arts. They do not discuss the consequencesfor the image of the group, but I think this profile would also solicit apretty positive response from the public. In any event the single largestsegment of the British membership (27.3 percent) is also drawn from whatWilson and Dobbelaere classify as administrative and office staff positions(e.g., managers, civil servants,. programmers, sales people, secretaries).So the profile is not that much different from the American case, and theresults should be similar for the image of the group.In line with the occupational profile, in both the U.S. and Britain, thelevel of educational attainment of the membership was significantly higherthan the national averages. In Britain, 24 percent of the large sample ofmembers surveyed had attended university, when in 1990 only 8 percent of thepopulation had a university degree (Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:121-124).Hammond and Machacek's comprehensive survey revealed that "SGI-USA membersare considerably more likely than the American public (66 percent vs. 33percent) to have completed at least some college, more likely to hold abaccalaureate degree (40 percent vs 26 percent), and they are about twice aslikely to have an advanced degree (17 percent vs. 9 percent)" (1999:52).Hurst also comments on the large number of professional people sheencountered at SGI meetings, especially in the last meetings she attended in1992.In these ways, then, and more straightforwardly, the policy of shojuprobably strengthened the membership prospects of SGI, and its ability toretain members, by reducing the perceived costs of joining an unconventionalreligion (Hammond and Machacek 1999:102). The occupational and educationalstatus of existing members can act as an effective counter to the socialstigma associated with being a religious non-conformist.Organizational AdvantagesAs indicated already, the strategic accommodation of SGI also had beneficialconsequences in terms of the resultant organization of the movement in theWest. Gerlach and Hine (1968) have argued that a decentralized, segmentedand reticulate organizational structure is best suited to the growth andspread of a NRM. Similarly, Stark (1987:23) has suggested that "successfulmovements consist of dense, but open social networks." A rather loosenetwork structure incorporating a number of different and more or lessovertly associated types of groups, ranging from study classes to businessassociations, works to ameliorate a number of dilemmas faced by allreligious movements. To recruit and to sustain members, groups mustestablish some internal network of relations that maintains the exchanges ofaffection, self-esteem, and personal support that are perceived to be aprimary benefit of participation. But a pattern of contact and communicationamongst members that becomes too ingrained and personal can have undesirableconsequences for the growth of the group. It can impede the efficientdelegation and exercise of authority and the establishment of an appropriatedivision of labor. It can also breed a measure of corporate isolation thatrestricts the very kinds of personal and sustained contacts with the outsideworld essential to attracting new converts. Conversely, an overlyhierarchical and impersonal organizational structure, especially one thatcomes to rely too much on a professionalized leadership, can simply losetouch with the views of the rank and file, resulting in either the simpleloss or schismatic separation of estranged members.Either way, a NRM may experience real problems in mobilizing its members toundertake difficult collective tasks or accept new instructions andpolicies. NRMs must strike the right balance, but few have succeeded. Starkstates that "ineffective mobilization is chronic among new religiousmovements" (1987:16). But Snow (1987), Hurst (1992), Wilson and Dobbelaere(1994), and Hammond and Machacek (1999) all seem to think that SGI is anexception.6 The arguments offered are complex and as yet incomplete (i.e.,more empirical and comparative study is needed), but a few key points can besummarized.On first appraisal it is true that SGI would seem to have anything but adecentralized, segmented, and reticulate organizational structure. As Hurststates, SGI has always been a strict hierachical organization with a clearchain of command. Members belong to a stratified system of levels ofactivity and the leaders of all but the lowest levels are appointed fromabove. A worldwide bureaucracy has been established, focussed on theheadquarters in Japan, and on the powerful charismatic authority of Ikeda.With the shift in orientation effected in the mid-1970s, some clear changeswere introduced, though perhaps not as dramatically as Hurst suggests.SGI-USA and SGI-UK certainly have deviated from the rigidity of the originalJapanese model. But the accounts of Wilson and Dobbelaere, and to a lesserextent Hammond and Machacek, leave the impression that SGI is stillessentially a quite hierarchical and bureaucratic organization. Formally,its structure has more in common, in this regard, with Scientology than withKrishna Consciousness or The Family. As Hurst further asserts, however,,SGI's "organizational structure is successful because in the perception of[its] members it is decentralized, segmented, and reticulate" (1992:204).How can this be?Everything hinges on the operating style of the structure. Each member'sprimary experience is at the lower levels of the organization, where groupsare kept small (varying from 5 to no more than 30 people). These regularlocal meetings, which constitute the backbone of group participation, happenin peoples' homes and the interaction is very personal and supportive. Evenwhen members associate at the higher levels, as they regularly do as well,"a pattern of relaxed and informal sociation prevails" (Wilson andDobbelaere 1994:14). Leaders may be appointed, but this is done withconsultation. Moreover, the individuals selected normally are known fortheir long and faithful practice and service, so the respect accorded themis usually quite genuine.Most importantly, as both Hurst and Wilson and Dobbelaere stress, leadershipin SGI is modelled on the principle of "guidance" (Hurst 1992:205; Wilsonand Dobbelaere 1994:224-225). This pervasive style of leadership is based onthe traditional conception of the relationship of the master and disciple.People are not usually told what to do, they are offered encouragement andadvice. The guidance may be extensive and frequent in some cases, but it israrely doctrinaire or sanctimonious.While SGI is hierarchical, then, it is not necessarily authoritarian. Theemphasis on guidance, Wilson and Dobbelaere note (1994:225), "ensures thatthere is in place a systematic diffusion of certain values throughout theentire organization." Authority is reinforced in a subtle and continuousway, a way that is more in keeping with the democratic sensibilities of thegroup's Western members. The resultant "soft" hierarchical structure may beone way of effecting the dense yet open organizational structure Starkstipulates as a requirement for success.All the same, because so much of the core practice of this religion happensat home, the problem of mobilizing members for collective action continuesto loom large. SGI would seem to be a prime candidate for the free-riderproblem (see Snow 1987; lannaccone 1994). Calling to mind Beckford'sfascinating speculation on the transformation of religion into a mere"cultural resource" in advanced industrial societies (Beckford 1989:171 and1992:23; see Dawson 1998a:150-151), Wilson and Dobbelaere (1994:228) go sofar as to make the following suggestion:One hazard for religions in which all professional intermediaries aredispensed with, and in which the individual is enjoined to 'work out yourown salvation' and is regarded as fully capable of doing so, is that beliefand practice become independent of formal organized structures which may insuch a context come to be perceived as otiose.Wilson and Dobbelaere conclude, however, that such does not appear to be thecase for SGI. Why? The answer hinges largely on the impact of SGI'ssuccessful reticulate structure, though unlike Hurst, Wilson and Dobbelaeredo not use this term. SGI organizes its members into men's and women'sdivisions, as well as young men's and women's divisions, and each has itsresponsibilities. Further, SGI has developed a series of vocationalassociations designed to foster the integration of the member's Buddhistbeliefs into their practice of medicine, law, business, education, the artsand entertainment. They have also encouraged the formation of subgroupsbased on a common ethnic heritage, whether Indian, African, Caribbean, EastEuropean, or whatever. Moreover, volunteerism is the order of the day inplanning and running the many group activities. In Britain, the nationalcentre, for example, is maintained by rotating teams of volunteers fromacross the country. There are many opportunities then, Wilson and Dobbelaerepoint out, for members to become acquainted with diverse others across awide geographic area. Consequently, Wilson and Dobbelare conclude, "bysubsuming professional and cultural interests under the rubric of commitmentto Buddhism, and enlisting the goodwill, skills, time, and energy ofadherents, Soka Gakkai maintains a high level of personal identificationfrom its members, whose extra-religious interests and dispositions areassimilated to the movement's goals, and infused with its values"(1994:15 ). In fact, they later conclude, "a number of members had undergonea conversion from attitudes of hostility towards organization to acceptanceof, enthusiasm for, and commitment to SCI, and :ad acquired a keenappreciation of what they saw as the indispen- of tructure n. collectiveorder in religion." In the end, then, as Hurst asserts (1992:209), SGI "hasbeen able to do a delicate balancing act with its organizational structure.”7In general Gerlach and Hine (1968:30) argue that a reticulate structurefacilitates recruitment by making "it possible to meet a variety ofpsychological as well as sociological needs" and by the "spread of themovement across class and cultural boundaries." These are importantconsiderations since many contemporary NRMs have shown a tendency to recruitfrom too narrow a range of the populace, especially with regard to age. Thisdoes not seem to have been as much of a problem for SGI as for groups likeKrishna Consciousness or the Unification Church. SGI has been largely amiddle class group in the West, and thus unlike the Pentecostalists studiedby Gerlach and Hine, less in need of breaking out of a specific classimitation (i.e, the lower classes). Moreover, SGI has tended to appeal to asomewhat older and diverse segment of the population and its non-communaland decentralized practice is quite compatible with the responsibilities offamily life, reducing the defections that tend to occur in more communal anddemanding groups as their membership ages. These advantages were simplyenhanced by the shift to a softer sell and the use of a reticulatestructure.In the end, it certainly seems that the organization of SGI meets most ofthe relevant criteria for success delineated by Stark (1987) in his initialformulation of the factors affecting the success of NRMs. They have beenable to achieve "effective mobilization," through strong governance and ahigh level of individual commitment; they have attracted and maintained afairly "normal age and sex structure" (see Wilson and Dobbelaere1994:chapter 2; Hammond and Machacek 1999:chapter 2); they have been able tomaintain a "dense internal network of relations without becoming isolated;"and: they have been able to maintain a "medium level of tension" with theirsurrounding environment. In fact, Hammond and Machacek (1999:90) explicitlyconclude:SGI-USA played the . . . market wisely, adopting a low-tension positionclose enough to theAmerican mainstream religious culture to be a realistic alternative forthose who encountered the religion, but unique enough to maintain itsdistinctive appeal.Stark also argues, however, for a crucial measure of "cultural continuity"between a NRM and the surrounding culture if a new religion is to succeed(Stark 1987:13-15). On this count SGI would appear to be handicapped,despite the conspicuous efforts of SGI to don the trappings of Americanpatriotism (see e.g., Hurst 1992:161-163, 267-272). SGI is an Easternreligion after all, and a rather unusual sectarian form of Buddhism at that,seeking to operate in a thoroughly Christianized context. Its primarypractice is chanting a phrase of veneration for an ancient and decidedlynon-Western religious text, the Lotus Sutra, in a foreign language (i.e.,Japanese) .8 In style and content this practice is distant from thereligious experience of the vast majority of the British, American, andCanadian citizens that the movement is seeking to convert. Yet, asindicated, each of the scholars who has studied this movement has sought toaccount for its surprising success in terms of some deeper continuity ofworld views between SGI and emerging elements of its surrounding Westernculture. The key is an elective affinity with pervasive patterns of culturalchange in the advanced industrial societies of the West.ELECTIVE AFFINITIES, SUCCESS, AND SIGNIFICANCESGI has been unusually successful in the West, it is argued, because itsvalues and practices are convergent with those of a capitalistic, but nowlargely post-Protestant ethic of Western culture. Here I can only brieflysummarize these arguments. In part this is because the convergence is reallyonly postulated, more than fully developed, and the arguments hinge onunderstanding aspects of the practice of SGI that I prefer to develop atsome length later (to illustrate the ways in which SGI displays the featuresof an emerging new religious consciousness in the West).The Protestant Ethic, the Culture of Consumption, and SGIJane Hurst (1992:277-294) first introduced the idea that the appeal of SGIto contemporary Americans might be rooted in the tensions caused by a shiftin the dominant American cultural ethos.9 Hurst posits that the mainstreamvalues of late twentieth century Americans "are characterized by two relatedand sometimes contradictory views of the world, the Protestant ethic and theconsumer ethos" (1992:284). Her contention is that the ethos of SGI providesan effective substitute for the declining and problematic Protestant Ethic,fostering the drive to work hard and engagement in this world required tosustain capitalism, while offering new ways to overcome the no longernecessary, or even counter-productive, legacy of anxiety and guilt of theProtestant ethic.The [SIG] ethos gives psychological sanction to the optimistic,hard-working, extroverted individual who expects to see progress from hisefforts and wants to enjoy the fruits of his labors. It reinforcesself-improvement and self-determination and yet offers a theodicy whenobstacles arise (1992:287).The theodic aspects of SGI are its conception of the nature and benefits ofchanting and the doctrine of karma. As will become clear when these beliefsand practices are discussed further below, the SGI ideology provides anappropriate combination of rational and irrational elements to help motivatework and account for personal failures, and it does so without imposing thepsychological price of guilt for either one's success or failure. This ismost appealing to the citizens of the contemporary consumer cultures ofNorth America and Western Europe.Wilson and Dobbelaere (1994:217-223) pick up on this theme even morestraightforwardly. Without referencing Hurst, they speculate that the appealof SGI stems from its near perfect fit with the consumer ethos ofpost-Christian contemporary Britain. The ascetic message of traditionalChristianity, with its emphasis of willing self-sacrifice, discipline,obedience, and saving one's money, is no longer compatible with theexperiences and expectations of people. We live in times of plenty, andconspicuous consumption is the acknowledged wellspring of our prosperity andpower. The impersonal ontology, permissive ethic, and karmic theodicy of SGIare convergent with the ideological needs of the urban, educated, andrelatively prosperous consuming classes of today's advanced industrialnations.Hammond and Machacek (1999:110-141) seek to give greater substance to Wilsonand Dobbelaere's speculations by drawing a link between three sets of data:the values typically thought to characterize a culture of consumerism,Ronald Inglehart's (1988) index of material versus non-material values, andthe value orientations of members of SGI-USA. In his well-knowninternational study of the values of advanced industrial societies,Inglehart detected a shift from questions of economic and physical securityto greater concern with issues of self-expression, personal freedom, andaesthetic satisfaction.Wilson and Dobbelaere happen to use this index intheir survey of SGI members in Britain, and Hammond and Machacek replicatedit in their survey of American members. The results demonstrate thatconverts to SGI in both nations are overwhelmingly "post-materialists" intheir value orientation. With this correlation established, Hammond andMachacek then seek to supplement the implications of the correlation bynoting how the American members of SGI score on a number of other measuresof attitudes that they suggest are commensurate with a consumer culture. Forinstance, we are told that they place a lower priority on marriage andfamily life than most other Americans (i.e., they favor more personalautonomy and individualism); they are more open to women working outside thehome; and they adopt a more liberal approach to a variety of sexual andmoral issues.With these correlations in hand, Hammond and Machacek turn to the work ofthe American historian of religion Martin Marty (1986) for yet anotherclassificatory scheme with which to characterize the value orientation ofthe American members of SGI: they are "transmodern" (i.e., they fallsomewhere between the extremes of modernism and counter-modernism).Transmodernism is a style of American religious thought that seeks "to bringtogether the best of modernity and the inherited wisdom of religioustraditions" (Hammond and Machacek, 1999:127). Transmodernists are optimisticabout human nature and progress, yet stress "a certain humility in the faceof realities beyond human understanding." They display a therapeuticorientation in their religiosity, an emphasis on "healing and wholeness,"and an interest in other cultures, even a "fascination with the exotic"(1999:128-129). Consumer research by Paul Ray (1997), they then note,suggests that "as many as 44 million American adults . . . fit thetransmodern profile," and Ray's more elaborate "description oftransmodernists matches the demography of converts to SGI-USA to nearperfection" (1999:129; italics in the original).If any of this is true, then clearly the prospects of SGI-USA may well bequite bright. On first appraisal the line of argument certainly seemsplausible and persuasive. But we must pause to note that neither Hurst norWilson and Dobbelaere present any direct evidence, by way of statements madeby SGI members or pronouncements of the group, to support their interestingsupposition. Nor do they cite any studies or statistics to indicate thattheir conception of the belief structure of contemporary consumer culture isaccurate. Hammond and Machacek fill this gap quite ingeniously. But, as theyadmit, all the measures introduced are indirect and inconclusive. In fact wemust be a bit leery of their tendency to elide the conceptions of aconsumerist ethos, simple individualism and moral liberalism, andtransmodernism. The linkages or parallels suggested are more complex andambiguous than implied. Ray, for example, does speak of a transmodernisttradition of American thought, but he identifies the broader array of valuesand attitudes he is measuring with a segment of the population he calls"Cultural Creatives." It is not clear that the cultural creatives as a wholecan be identified with Marty's transmodernist religious perspective. Thereare interesting and suggestive parallels, but more study is needed and atpresent the jury is still out.Rather than grasping at demographic straws, perhaps we would be better offembarking on a more direct comparison of the basic religious expectationsand preferences SGI members and that segment of the American population thatindependent studies suggest is undergoing a change in religioussensibilities com- with the onset of a late modern social order. Can wedemonstrate a convergence in attitudes between these two groups with regardto such traditional religious concerns as the nature of authority,community, experience, practice, cosmology, soteriology, and organization?SGI and the New Religious SensibilitySGI appears so conform closely to the elements of an emerging new religiousconsciousness in the West. This new consciousness or sensibility seems to becharacterized, I have argued elsewhere (Dawson 1998a:138-144), by sixfeatures:1. a pronounced religious individualism (which entails three things: (i) thefocus is on benefits for the individual and only secondarily on broadergroup or social benefits; (ii) participation is motivated by the developmentof personal identity; (iii) the locus of the sacred is within and notwithout);2. an emphasis on the acquisition of personal religious experience;3. a more pragmatic attitude to questions of religious authority andpractice;4. a more syncretistic, relativistic, and tolerant approach to otherreligious perspectives;5. a strong preference for a holistic worldview (i.e., the rejection ordiminished significance of the traditional dualities of God and humanity,the transcendent and the immanent, humanity and nature, the spiritual andthe material, the mind and the body, the subjective and the objective, maleand female, even good and evil, and cause and effect);6. a preference for more loose or open organizational structures.This clustering of features is thought to be "more compatible with the newsocial order emerging around us, whether it is called advanced capitalism,late or high modernity, post-industrialism, or post-modernism" (Dawson1998a:141).10 New religions displaying a greater degree of conformity withthese features should, presumably, find a niche in our society, maybe evenprosper (e.g., Jorgensen and Russell 1999). Here I can only intimate, withreference to a few passages, how SGI displays these features.To begin with, Wilson and Dobbelaere quote approvingly an earlier survey ofAmerican SGI members done by the Japanese scholar Nobutaka Inoue. Inoue'sfindings, as summarized by Wilson and Dobbelaere (1994:13), clearlyestablish the connection we are after:... members declared that Nichiren Shoshu attracted them because it taughtthat the individual could change his own destiny by ritual practice, incontrast to the teachings of Christianity, in which the individual's destinywas in the hands of God; because Buddhism was realistic and compatible withscientific thinking; because its logic was inductive rather than, as in thecase of Christianity, deductive; and because it emphasized the here and nowrather than the afterlife.Whether the relative claims about Buddhism and Christianity are accurate isnot relevant. It is the perceptions of members that counts, and these pointtowards the strong presence of the individualism, experientialism, andpragmatism identified with the new religious consciousness.The locus of activity in SGI is chanting the daimoku and the gongyo beforethe Gohonzon. The practice is largely private, and directed to connectingwith and transforming one's inner states of mind and ultimately one'sbeing.11 The object is the release of one's Buddha-nature, one's potentialBuddhahood. A gradual and progressive transformation of the self, one's ownnegativity, is stressed as the means of eventually transforming one'simmediate environment and then by increments, as the movement expands, theworld as a whole (see e.g., Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:21-37 and 173-194;Hammond and Machacek 1999:55-85). These two elements together constitute the"human revolution" of SGI, and a sort of feedback loop is establishedbetween events in one's life and one's inner subjective states. Thisfeedback loop prevents the practice from slipping into a mystical detachmentfrom the world.In the language of SGI there are "conspicuous" and "inconspicuous benefits"to practice. The former are quite practical matters, better relationships,better finances, better health, and so on. It is taught and understood,however, that these miraculous benefits, when they do occur (and nothing isseen as automatic), are largely the result of success in achieving theinconspicuous benefits of wisdom, hope, courage, perseverance, and humour(Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:23). The promise of conspicuous benefits is madeto entice potential converts and motivate new members. But the teachings andthe social support system of SGI clearly place a priority on theinconspicuous benefits, which are the primary concern of mature members.Nonetheless, when fortune favors a member it is duly taken as evidence ofprogress towards human revolution.As Hammond and Machacek repeatedly stress, this has important consequencesfor the appeal of SGI to relatively prosperous contemporary Americans(1999:100 and 122):Competitiveness and the achievement of specific identifiable goals wereportrayed as evidence of human revolution taking place in the individual'slife. Instead of tuning in, turning off, and dropping out, Soka Gakkaimembers got focused, dove in, and got on with life.Soka Gakkai Buddhism, by interpreting personal happiness, success, andmaterial well-being as evidence of the process of spiritual transformation,gives religious meaning and moral sanction to self-gratification and theenjoyment of life.In its ideology and its practice SGI is neither a renunciatory nor an other-Religious prowess, displayed in daily chanting, is "entirely congruous, . .. with the everyday affairs of contemporary life" (.Wilson and Dobbelaere1994:27).In the movement itself, the emphasis on experience is manifest in the markedtendency to encourage renewed energy and faith in chanting in the face ofalmost all challenges and doubts. As with auditing in Scientology, in waysnot yet clearly specified, the appeal of SGI rests with the repeatedassertion of members that it "works." In fact Wilson and Dobbelaere's surveyof members revealed that "some 87 per cent of respondents were confidentthat chanting was ire :away to move towards the realization of theirpersonal goals" (1994:201). Members are enjoined to study and to teachothers, as well as chanting for t themselves n But Wilson and Dobbelaere(1994:27) found study and teaching were downplayed in Britain. The studyundertaken by most members was quite modest, consisting of reading andcontemplating a few lines of the Lotus Sutra, or the writings of Nichiren orIkeda every day. It is the experience of chanting that is pivotal.Unlike a religion like Scientology, or most New Age practices, SGI displaysless of the syncretism, acceptance of relativism, and tolerance of otherreligions that is identified as another key marker of the new religiousconsciousness. But these elements are, of course, a matter of degree. The"Americanization" of SGI may be indicative of an element of syncretism. Butfor the most part SGI still provides a rather pure manifestation of arelatively ancient brand of Buddhism. Intrinsically, this type of Buddhism(like most forms in fact) is quite tolerant of other faiths.Epistemologically, Buddhists are inclined to a more relativist reading ofthe world, with the exception of the essential truth of the teachings of theBuddha, and in the case of SGI the teachings of Nichiren - the new Buddha ofthe age of Mappo (i.e., the quasi-apocalyptic "latter day of the law"). Inits early evangelistic fervour in Japan, Soka Gakkai was harshly criticizedfor its highly intolerant and particularistic stance. But all thecontemporary commentators note that the rhetoric of intolerance is nowutterly gone, especially in Western contexts.In seeking to identify the nature of SGI, Wilson and Dobbelaere repeatedlyrevert to comparisons with Christianity, particularly the more sectarianforms of Christianity. In developing this contrast they draw attention toanother reason for considering SGI a more relativistic and tolerant form ofreligious life.It is a general characteristic of religious systems to embrace a body ofmoral prescriptions; indeed, it might be argued that it is in canvassing aconception of morality that religion distinguishes itself from magic. Inmany religious traditions, the ultimate and often long-term rewards forreligious commitment are depicted as dependent on moral attitudes andperformances. In the case of Judaism and Christianity, these moral demandsare set forth in codified form specifying required conduct and, inparticular, indicating just what is interdicted. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism isradically different in this respect. Whilst certain general dispositions andorientations are enjoined, they are expected to arise naturally in thebeliever as his Buddha nature is realized, and they are not cultivated inresponse to particular moral exhortations, much less are they ordered bycodes that specify the desirability or unacceptability of particular orexplicit acts. Indeed, the teachings eschew the type of evaluation andjudgement of behaviour which a distinctly moral orientation demands (Wilsonand Dobbelaere 1994:29).Reiterating the individualistic thrust of the SGI ethos, this moreopen-ended and flexible, perhaps even permissive, approach to behaviour isreinforced by a doctrinal onus on taking responsibility for making decisionsand judgements about one's own life, while remembering that the failures andshortcomings of others are their problem (Wilson and Dobbelaere 1994:29-31).At present little can be said about the fifth feature of the new religiousconsciousness, a holistic orientation, and SGI. The subject does not receivemuch attention in any of the studies of SGI. The strong belief that chantinghas a powerful impact on one's physical, as well as mental, health, however,clearly points to a sympathy for a more holistic reading of the world.Wilson and Dobbelaere uncovered claims that chanting had helped to cureindividuals of depression, asthma, eczema, cancer, epilepsy, rheumatoidarthritis, breast abscesses, multiple sclerosis, and drug addition andalcoholism (1994:202). Most forms of Buddhism, moreover, are highlynon-dualistic (relative to Western religions). There is no God, no soul, orheaven to be contrasted and held in tension with humanity and the physicalworld. In .many respects the contemporary Western turn to a more holisticview can itself be traced to the increasing influence of Buddhist teachings,art, and medical practice in the West.The sixth and last feature of the new religious consciousness, a preferencefor organizational openness, has been amply addressed already in thediscussion of the organizational transformation of SGI from the mid-1970sonward.CONCLUDING REMARKSHow are we to assess the cultural significance of NRMs? Regrettably there isno clear answer as yet in the literature. Discussions are dominated, though,by two conceptual options. First, the significance of any movement is oftengauged, explicitly or implicitly, in terms of how it relates to theconditions of modernity, and hence factors into the theory ofsecularization. Second, the significance of a movement is often gauged interms of an assessment of the factors affecting its success. Within thefirst framework, the interpretive options are all negative. NRMs are eitherthe products, and unwitting agents of, secularization, or they are engagedin a futile resistance to modernity and destined to be pushed to the marginsof society. Within the second conceptual framework, a logical and empiricalcorrelation is drawn between the success of a NRM and its probable culturalsignificance. But success cannot simply be equated with significance, andthe assessment of success itself often invokes rather sweepinggeneralizations about the conformity (or resistance) of NRMs to the featuresof modern social life. These limitations, in conjunction with rising doubtsabout the inevitability of secularization, and growing recognition of thecomplexity of the relationship between NRMs and "modernity," led me topropose a third, less pessimistic, and more specific option. This optionentails assessing the cultural significance of at least some NRMs by theirdegree of congruence with the features of an emergent new religiousconsciousness in the advanced capitalist societies of the West, and perhapselsewhere.The influence of the first two options can be detected in the detailedstudies of the success and significance of SGI. Synthesizing insights, Ihave argued that this success is rooted in the strategic adaptions of themovement to its new Western social context with regard to the group's' dailypractices, methods of recruitment, and organizational structure. Thesechanges make it easier for Westerners to participate in SGI, helping themovement to secure a strong core membership. The true roots of success liedeeper, however, in an elective affinity postulated between the ethos of SGI(especially as adapted to the West) and the consumer ethos of advancedcapitalist societies. The movement provides its members with a metaphysicalframework well suited to motivating continued engagement in the economicenterprise at the heart of modernity, while freeing them from thepsychological and behavioral limitations imposed by the asceticism of theProtestant work ethic. Reversing Weber's famous lament at the end of TheProtestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (1958:182), SGI allows itsmembers to be "specialists with spirit, and sensualists with heart," withinthe context of a political economy of consumption.In the end, though, the evidence provided in support of this fascinatingsupposition is speculative-and indirect at best. So I have tried to accountfor the success and significance of SGI in an alternative manner,demonstrating some strong correlations between the specific doctrines,practices, and attitudes of practitioners in the West and the new emphasisgiven to individualism, personal experience, pragmatism, tolerance andrelativism, and organizational diffuseness in the religious sensibilities ofa growing segment of the populations of North America and Western Europe.Everything said so far, however, is like opening a window within a window ona computer screen. Two or three windows are opened by this study (and whichwindow is more important is open to interpretation). There are other windowsthat could be opened as well. Moving in an expansive direction, the entireanalysis of SGI could be repeated, for example, with an eye to the impact ofglobalization on the future of religion (e.g., Beyer 1994; Dawson 1998b).Likewise, the success of SGI could be assessed in the light of some of theother attempts made to sense the currents of religious change around us(e.g., Beaudoin 1998; Heelas 1998; Roof 1999). These interpretations areinfluenced in turn by meta-theoretical interpretations of the socialconditions of late modernity, dealing with transformations of ourconceptions of self and community in particular, that sociologists ofreligion are only beginning to consider (e.g., Gergen 1991; Giddens 1990 and1991; Thompson 1990; Bauman 1992, 1995 ). 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