Bruce argued that the development of religious pluralism in societies undermines the dominance of the church type of religious organization. To him, total institution in the form of church is a historical phenomena that cannot continue to exist in modern societies as the fragmentation of religion makes it more difficult for a single set of religious beliefs to be exclusive supported by the state and reinforced by all groups.
For bruce, denominations are religious organizations lacking the claim to a monopoly of religious truth, whereas sects were originally a product of Reformation, but some of them developed into denominations that tolerated religious diversity. In modern societies sects can prosper as people have more chances to form their own subcultures, however some sects with radical ideology (e.g. the People’s Temple) may still come into serious conflict with the society’s values. Cults are much more individualistic and lack a fixed doctrine, varying with personal experiences and interpretations. Bruce defined it as a ‘loosely knit group organised around some common themes and interests but lacking any sharply defined and exclusive belief system.’ Members have relatively little involvement, hence cults are becoming more popular in a more secular world people are less likely to hole strong commitments.
Most of the existing sects and cults originated in the 20th century, 1960s in particular saw the appearance of many new religious organisations. Hence, Bruce attributes the development of many types of religious institutions to a general process of modernization and secularization. He believes the weakness of conventional institutionalized religions has encouraged some people to consider less traditional alternatives, and sees world-affirming new religious movements as a response to rationalization of the modern world, where the fragmentations made many people feel increasingly difficult to draw on to their public roles for satisfying and fulfilling sense of identity.
Bruce argued that most could not survive beyond a single generation, because there is a certain intrinsic tendency for radical movements of divert themselves, the rising living standards and the bureaucratization can lead to sects watering down their ideology living in greater harmony with mainstream society - hence becoming denominations. Yet Bruce believe that few sects do manage to survive by isolating themselves from the secular influences of society.
The New Age can best be explained by Bruce as a product of modernity, rather than postmodernity, it is a result form the latest stage in the development of modernity in Western societies. It is a symptom of the extreme relativism of knowledge - what you believe comes to depend simply on your subjective point of view. It is also a symptom of the decline of traditional religion as people have little faith in neither science nor religion.
He claimed that New Age appeals to well-educated middle classes working in the “expressive professions”, causing them to have articulate interest and beliefs of individualism; traditional authorities are regarded with more skepticism. Individuals has the right to decide what is and what is not true.
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