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The Typologies of Weber and Troeltsch / Les Typologies de Weber et de Troeltsch. - article ; n°1 ; vol.50, pg 111-127


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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1980 - Volume 50 - Numéro 1 - Pages 111-127
17 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Published 01 January 1980
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Helen Ralston
The Typologies of Weber and Troeltsch / Les Typologies de
Weber et de Troeltsch.
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 50/1, 1980. pp. 111-127.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Ralston Helen. The Typologies of Weber and Troeltsch / Les Typologies de Weber et de Troeltsch. In: Archives des sciences
sociales des religions. N. 50/1, 1980. pp. 111-127.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1980.2207
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0335-5985_1980_num_50_1_2207Are/i Sc soc des Rel. 1980 50/1 juillet-septembre) 111-127
Case Study of Catholic Religious Group in Atlantic Canada
Cette étude tend prouver que les typologies Eglise-secte de
Weber et de Troeltsch continuent de jouer un rôle important dans
la compréhension des groupes religieux chrétiens contemporains
Cette thèse est démontrée partir du cas une communauté
de base qui est constituée en 1972-1973 au sein un diocèse
catholique traditionnel du Canada atlantique et qui se veut expres
sion de la théologie et de la doctrine sociale de Vatican II
constate que le groupe présente des caractéristiques prédomi
nantes de type secte tout en demeurant intégré un diocèse catho
lique de type Eglise
Sociological studies of religious organizations in the Catholic Church of
English Canada have been surprisingly few in number with the result that
Catholicism in this country is often regarded as French-Canadian pheno
menon Moreover there seems to be little awareness among sociologists at
least in this country of the impact of the Second Vatican Council and of the
ideology of post-Vatican II theology on among other things the structure and
processes of interaction of English Catholic religious groups and the relationship
of these religious groups to the larger society
This observation does not imply that sociology of religion has not concerned
itself with the study of religious organizations The large body of literature in
the church-sect frame of reference demonstrates quite the contrary Indeed one
hesitates with some trepidation to add few more pages that might presume
to say anything new Virtually all the work that has been done has taken as
its starting-point Ernst seminal work The Social Teaching of the
Westhues 1976 makes this point in his analysis of the adaptation of the Catholic
Church to Canadian society Millet 1969 noted the failure to use religious data in the
Canadian census as basis for research in the sociology of religion and the lack of refinement
analysis of religious organizations he proposes the concept of minority church
to describe religious groups that might be expected to become sects but maintain church-like
characteristics through links with an international community Crysdale Montminy Wheat-
croft and Urbano 1974 bear witness in their bibliography to the lack of study of the
English Catholic Church in Canada
Christian Churches and the classic distinction he made between the church the
sect and mysticism 1931 pp 331-343 993-994 Troeltsch 1931 433)
however disclaims originality for the and points to the work of Max
Weber and others such as Georg Simmel Although church-sect theory has
come under heavy criticism recent literature in the sociology of religion demons
trates continuing and even growing interest in the perspectives of Weber and
Troeltsch for an understanding of the relationship between religion and society 3)
It is my argument in this paper that both Troeltsch and Weber in their
conceptualization of the nature and basis of religious organization and
analysis of the relationship of religious groups to the larger society still have
significant contributions to make to our understanding of the relationship betweeïi
contemporary Christian religion and society 4)
As noted already church-sect theorizing has generally taken
perspective as its starting-point with much less attention being given to According to Swatos 1976) therein lies the major source of many
of the difficulties that have beset attempts to understand religious groups Swatos
makes the point that Troeltsch is theologian with theological question
namely the problem of relating types of religious experience to the varieties
of social teachings with which they might be correlated 1976 133 Weber
on the other hand is sociologist attempting to solve sociological problem
SWATOS 1976 134 primary focus is upon the historical development
of modern secular European society and upon the general rationalization of life
Troeltsch sees Christianity as first and foremost matter of practice he
is concerned with the significance of Christian thought and life for solving the
problems of practical life 1931 pp 19-20 1010 In terms of this theological
project Troeltsch has developed triple typology of religious organizations the
Church the sect and mysticism as the three main types of the sociological
development of Christian thought 1931 993 Church and sect he sees as
logical result of the Gospel and notes that only conjointly do they exhaust
the whole range of its sociological influence and thus also indirectly of its social
results which are always connected with the religious organization 1931
Most noteworthy has been the work of Niebuhr 1929 and Pope 1942 in
American society Clark 1948 in Canadian society Many attempts have been made to
develop more refined typologies than simple dichotomy of church and sect for example
Becker 1932) Mann 1955) Johnson 1963) Gustafson 1967) and Yinger 1970)
In general the critics suggest that the church-sect typologies are meaningless
orientation or an inadequate tool that is no longer applicable to the analysis of modern
religious organizations cf. for example Johnson 1957 1963 Eister 1949 1967 1973
Goode 1967a 1967b Gustafson 1967 Yinger 1970 Dittes 1971 Snook 1974 trans
lation of further comments by Weber 1973 on church sect and mysticism however
elicited whole issue of Sociological Analysis 1975 devoted to consideration of the Weberian
and Troeltschian perspectives More recently Swatos 1976 has presented brief but
succinct summary of early elaborations of church-sect theory and of some current positive
developments since the for example Martin 1962 Wilson 1966 1967 1971
Robertson 1970 Johnson 1971 Wallis 1975 Swatos 1975 Swatos 1977b makes the
point that church-sect theorizing must always be within historical context
Swatos 1977a 202 raises the question of the usefulness of the concepts church-
sect for empirical research Robertson 1977 199) in his debate with Swatos concedes
that church-sect typologizing can contribute to an understanding of the relationship between
contemporary religion and society
pp 340-341 Mysticism as type of religious organization is seen as later
development where groups are formed on purely personal basis ... for
example] around spiritual directors and deeply experienced leaders and where
stress is laid upon the mutual fellowship of hearts such groups are formed
and reformed naturally and easily according the situation in any given place
1931 746 993 Until recently when several writers cf STEEMAN 1975
GARRETT 1975 GUSTAFSON 1975 addressed themselves to triple
typology the concept of mysticism has been largely neglected in the sociology
of religious organizations or congregations Attention has been focused almost
exclusively on his distinction between church and sect as dyadic framework
for the analysis of religious groups
In conceptual framework the Church is universalistic it is able
to receive the masses and to adjust itself to the world 1931 993) its
members are born into it its priesthood and hierarchy hold the keys to the
tradition of the Church to sacramental grace and ecclesiastical jurisdiction and
represent the objective treasury of grace 338 The sect on the other hand
is voluntary society composed of strict and definite Christian believers bound
to each other by the fact that all have experienced the new 993)
the group is usually small in the numbers and these aim at direct personal
fellowship between the members of each group 993) their attitude toward
the world may be indifferent tolerant or hostile 331) the office of the
ministry is not based upon ecclesiastical ordination and tradition but upon
religious service and power ... and therefore can devolve entirely upon laymen
According to Troeltsch the three types of religious groups are identified
with different social classes Although the church is directed towards compelling
all the members of society to come under its sphere and influence 1931 338)
the fully developed church utilizes the state and the ruling classes and ...
becomes dependent upon the upper classes 331 The sects on the other
hand are connected with the lower ... they work upwards from below
and not downwards from above 331 Finally mysticism forms refuge
for the religious life of the cultured masses 994)
definition of the church and sect appear in the context of his
discussion of voluntary and compulsory associations and of hierocratic orga
nizations as organizations which enforce order through psychic coercion 1968
pp 52-54 and in his further discussion of the sociology of domination where
he is concerned with the forms of hierocracy and the relationship between them
1968 pp 1204-1210 For him church sect and mysticism are not simply
categories of religious groups as they are for Troeltsch but rather sociological
constructs methodologically relevant to the study of certain aspects of religion
as he addresses himself to the processes of rationalization and secularization in
modem society 1973 Weber is always determinedly scientific his effort to
formulate concepts that can be used irrespective of time and place in the study
of society He is concerned with the analysis of particular historical phenomenon
with the help of methodological tool typology His primary focus is upon the
general rationalization of life
Weber defines church and sect as polar types in the religious sphere
compulsory and voluntary associations respectively and by no means exhaustive
of all conceivable types of organizations 1968 53 For him mode of
membership is the most significant characteristic distinguishing church and sect
The church is rational compulsory hierocratic organization of which one
becomes member by birth and of which the administrative staff claims
monopoly of the legitimate distribution or denial of religious benefits 56
The church dispenses benefits as an institution completely independent of the
worthiness of the individual minister 1973 pp 141-142) it is the bearer and
trustee of an office charisma 1968 1164 The sect on the other hand is
voluntary association that admits only persons with specific religious quali
fications 1968 56 For Weber the sect is not necessarily small group
it is an association of persons with full religious qualifications community of
personally charismatic individuals 1164) who form individual local congre
gations 456 The sect opposes the charisma of office the individual minister
should fully embody his religious qualifications in his personality and mode
of life 1973 141) and he can exercise hierocratic powers only by virtue
of his personal charisma just as he can become member only by virtue of
publicly established qualification The sect subscribes to the principle of the
absolute sovereignty of the congregation since only those who know each other
personally and in everyday life can judge each personal qualification
it insists upon direct democratic administration by the congregation and upon
the treatment of clerical officials as servants of the 1968
pp 1204-1208 Whereas the church tends to strive for monopolistic authority
on territorial basis and to set up corresponding territorial and parochial
organization 1968 56 as the administrative unit delimiting the jurisdiction
of priest the sect as community of the religiously qualified is congre
gational community in which the laity has been permanently organized in such
manner that they can actively participate In genuine congregational religion
the relationship between priesthood and laity within the community becomes
of crucial significance for the practical effect of the religion ... and the very
powerful position of the priest is increasingly confronted with the necessity of
keeping in mind the needs of the laity in the interest of maintaining and enlarging
the membership of the community 1968 pp 455-456)
The purpose of the present paper is to examine the usefulness of church-
sect typologies for empirical research directed towards an understanding of
contemporary Christian religious groups and religious movements It is my
argument that perspective as religious historian and theologian in
his conceptualization of church and sect as distinctive religious groups that
emerge as practical expressions of Christian social teaching and metho
dological perspective as sociologist his preoccupation with the relationship
of religious groups to the larger society have significant contributions to make
to fruitful analysis By means of case study of religious group shall
endeavour to demonstrate empirically the validity of this thesis
The paper describes an experimental project in religious organization in
the Catholic Church in rapidly growing residential community on the fringe of
metropolitan centre in Atlantic Canada Atlantis is the fictitious name have
chosen for the religious group in virtue of its appropriateness to signify local
Christian congregation that is attempting to create new type of religious
organization with the goals structures patterns of authority and social relationships
that characterize group which sees itself as community of People of GodM
freely committed to building more humanized world The paper examines
the historical origin of the group within traditional Catholic diocese its mode
of membership the relationship between the priesthood and the laity the
patterns of authority in the group and to limited extent the relationship of
the group to other religious organizations and to the secular community of which
it is part Atlantis it is argued is specific type of religious group that has
emerged as practical expression of the development of Catholic thinking in
the Second Vatican Council sect-like group in conceptualization
it manifests moreover sect-like characteristics as conceived by Weber in tas
methodological perspective while still being integrated within large traditionally
structured diocese with predominantly church-type characteristics
Atlantis was proposed to the Catholic diocesan bodies of authority as
three-year experimental project in shared or team ministry where the team of
ministers would form core community to respond to the needs of new
people in an emerging larger with burgeoning population of young
families This larger community shall call HomevilleM for it is essentially
residential community created on the edge of an expanding metropolis
Homeville dates back more than two centuries to the mid-eighteenth century
although settlement of families began only some fifty or sixty years later By 1832
when the first census was taken there was population of 400 persons composed
of sixty-two families The 1966 census gave population of 11380 persons
by 1971 this population had jumped to 16846 persons in the next five years
it almost doubled to give total of 19089 in the 1976 census the
most recent estimate is that the population now approximates 29000 In other
words Homeville has seen more rapid growth in population in the past ten
to twelve years than in the previous two hundred years This rapid growth is
directly attributable to the planned development of the area through the purchase
of sizeable tracts of land by the provincial Housing Commission in 1967 and
the implementation of co-operative housing programme around two lakes
Homeville has young population with 92 of the population under 44 years
in the 1971 census The families belong predominantly to the low and middle
income bracket There is little opportunity for employment in Homeville workers
commute to the urban centre for employment and return to predominantly
single-family homes rather than apartments or to mobile homes for residence 7)
Among diocesan priests and religious sisters living and working in several
Atlantis an idyllic land in the Atlantic Ocean is said to have disappeared into
the sea in the tenth century B.C The story comes from Solon and later Plato of this
legendary fertile land with its large population and advanced civilization whose people
practised gentleness and wisdom prized fellowship and friendship and held their land in
common One contemporary writer fascinated by the stories of this legendary land and its
people entitles her work Christians Before Christ RUSPOLI 1980)
Estimate provided by the local Councillor for Homeville
Homeville is reported to have the highest concentration of mobile homes the
new and emerging communities such as Homeville there had been growing
awareness that old models and structures of authority and ministry were not
adequate to meet the religious and social needs of new people Ibis led to action the formation of joint committee composed of
representatives of the Senate of Priests the formal organization of priests in
the diocese and of the Sisters Council corresponding body for religious
sisters to consider new ways of meeting these needs
In November 1972 at of priests and religious sisters sponsored
by the Joint Committee on Pastoral Ministry as the special committee was
named) the idea of Atlantis was conceived The model of ministry proposed
for Atlantis emerged out of the Latin American experience of priest attending
the meeting who later took the initiative and the leadership in establishing the
group He vividly described the pastoral structure in tus former mission as
having many of the characteristics of communidad de base basic community
in which priests and sisters formed team ministry to respond to the needs
expressed by the people who actively participated in the life of the post-
Vatican II type of mission The dynamic exposition provoked from one
member of the assembled group the comments Why we do exactly the
same kind of thing over here Why priests and sisters work together as
unit as team of ministers? The model was proposed not as general model
for all parishes but rather as the model to be tried in the emerging communities
such as Homeville that were composed of new people whose needs were not
being met by the traditional parish structures
By 1972 it was abundantly clear that these parish structures were inadequate
for the Catholic population of Homeville Moreover few families in the new
government-sponsored co-operative housing were active church members Of the
total population of Homeville it is estimated that approximately half is Catholic
separate Catholic parish under the jurisdiction of one priest was established
at Homeville in 1962 Two priests described by one lay informant as traditional
and conservative had charge of the parish in turn until 1971 when new
In the post-Vatican II era the Catholic Church in Latin America was faced with
urgent and critical issues to respond to in terms of building more just and humane society
The regional episcopal conference held at Medellin Colombia in 1968 was landmark
in Latin American Church history The Conference identified the need for radical
changes in pastoral structures for new types of religious group formation It described the
fundamental unit of religious organization in Latin America as the basic Christian
community communidad de base The base community is the primary group within the
larger religious organization As stated in the Medellin documents the members of the base form Christian community local or environmental which corresponds to the
reality of homogeneous group and whose size allows for personal and fraternal contact
among its members COLONNESE Medellin II 1970 226 referred to hereafter conven
tionally as Medellin II and article number Medellin articulated radical shift in
organization structure by the explicit recognition of leadership attributed with legitimate
authority being exercised by any of the members of the base community no matter what
their status in the Church as whole (leaders can be priests deacons men or women
religious or laymen The most important criterion for leaders is that they belong to the
community which they animate At the same time base communities are never envisaged
as autonomous religious groups but rather as network of primary groups in the larger
territorially-based parish community Medellin II 15 13-15 Moreover leaders are to be
selected and trained and this selection is to be matter of highest priority for parish
priests and bishops Medellin II 15 11)
pnest was appointed and introduced what my informant called radical ideas
such as the creation of parish council of lay persons that suggested to members
of the congregation that new kind of parish was starting
It was at this point in time November 1972 that the provincial Housing
Commission advertised its intention of forming an interfaith Church Campus
in the new Land Assembly Area All churches denominations and organized
religious groups were thus obliged to define their situation in the larger community
of Homeville Atlantis must be seen in the context of these other religious
organizations The Anglican Church is the oldest organized religious group
in An historic parish dates back to the early days of settlement
new parish was recently established in the co-operative housing development
area The Baptist Church and the Presbyterian Church have served the area
since the last century Other religious organizations include the United Church
of Canada which has combined into single pastoral zone) the Disciples of
Christ the Lutheran Church and the Pentecostal Church
This brief sketch of Homeville indicates why the people have been referred
to as new people The majority have put their roots down recently in
Homeville they are young new generation that looks towards new future forms new community still searching for its own identity and its
own destiny In that new sociological grouping of people the Church as
renewing Church in the ideological perspective of post-Vatican II theology has
need of new structures new patterns of authority new ways of organizing its
ministry new ways of relating to other religious organizations so that it can
respond to new people as it identifies its needs and build new church
not of bricks and mortar but of people Such is the framework in which
the Atlantis experiment was conceived and in which it has developed
Data for this research have been gathered on an ongoing basis since the
initial proposal was made in November 1972 through content analysis of official
and semi-official documents participant observation interviews and interaction
with members of the religious group and with the larger community participation
meetings of the community and of the local Catholic diocese as well as
through other non-religious research in the community in which the religious
organization is located
Atlantis was proposed explicity as an alternative to the creation in Homeville
of new territorially-based parish under the jurisdiction of second parish priest
The proposal was presented in May 1973 to the religious bodies in the diocese
with authority for approving the experiment namely the Senate of Priests and
the Diocesan Pastoral Council by the above-mentioned priest with Latin American
experience It explicitly cited the 1968 Medell documents and was entitled
Towards Basic Christian Community Rather than dividing new geographical
area from the existing parish area the experimental project envisioned forming
small community groups most probably corresponding to each sub-division of
the housing co-operative area The stated goal of the Atlantis Pastoral Project
Development of Christian communities which will create their own
structures as they grow this is admittedly vague to keep it open to
development The final outcome might well be the formation of new parish
along the lines of the traditional parish or it might be something else We do
not want to begin thinking we have the answers You make the road by
walking Project Draft May 1973.
The means proposed to achieve this goal were people-centered pastoral
approach with two major aspects
Core community of ministers priests and sisters sharing in the
ministry in full co-responsibility and striving to give Christian witness in
simplicity of life fellowship concern for people commitment to total community
by sharing their preoccupation
Action on basic level Rationale Do not build structure and ask
people to fit it but build people i.e. help people to come to realization
of themselves and the people will build the structure necessary to meet their
needs Project Draft May 1973.
The key factor defining Atlantis as new forni of religious grouping in the
larger church organization is the form of ministry core community of ministers
priests and sisters sharing in the in lull co-responsibility emphasis
mine) Such form of ministry implied innovations terms of membership
living arrangements and financial operation
The composition of the pastoral team initially included four sisters of two
different religious congregations and two priests the current pastor of the parish
and the priest who initiated the proposal Since the implementation of the project
September 1973 there have been some changes in membership so that now
there are only two sisters one of them founding member the same two priests
continue to be members of the pastoral team married lay deacon has become
member of the team
The living arrangements included the purchase by the diocese of two Home-
ville houses which were then rented by the parish The financial operation of the
project required the provision of two full-time salaries by the diocese during
the experimental period for the members of the team not receiving any salary
virtue of their actual employment
The project was approved by the Senate of Priests and tum by the
Pastoral Council on three-year basis as an experiment The new religious
grouping was thus formally constituted as an integral part of the larger Catholic
diocesan structures Moreover some of the members of the pastoral team were
executive members of traditional diocesan organizations namely the Senate of
Priests and the Sisters Council At the same time the evidence suggests that
some members of both the Senate of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council
had low level of understanding of the kinds of changes structure and patterns
of authority and ministry that were being proposed and initiated in Septem
ber 1973
For three years Atlantis continued and developed as an experimental project
in religious organization within the structure of the diocese Each year formal
report of the project was presented to the diocesan bodies each diocesan
funds were allocated for its continuation and as has already been indicated
each year there were some minor changes personnel and in living arrangements
with the approval of the bishop In September 1976 an evaluation report of the
three-year experiment was presented by the members of the Atlantis pastoral
team to the Senate of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council The experimental
project was acknowledged to have been successful and having completed its
three-year period of approval it was now considered terminated In practical
terms this meant that it would no longer be financially supported by the diocese
but rather by the members of Atlantis The pastoral team remained with Atlantis
and the religious group continued to develop along the lines that had been
initiated during the three years of experimentation
Atlantis as an experiment was always considered by the organs of authority
in the hierarchical structure of the diocese as an integral part of the diocese
Now that the experiment was terminated informal comments by several priests
and lay persons indicated that it was now perceived as being just like any other
parish It is my contention that Atlantis is not just like any other parish
at least in terms of definition of parish as mere administrative unit
which delimits the jurisdiction of priests 1968 455 Nor is it just like any
other parish terms of the Vatican II documents where parish is defined
as territorially determined unit governed by priest under the authority of
the bishop) who may or may not be assisted by other priests and religious
cf Vatican Council II LG 28 CD 30 further submit that
conceptualization of the emergence of different types of religious groupings
response to the need for expressing in practical living the understanding of the
Gospel and Christian teaching and methodological perspective in
distinguishing between the polar types of religious organization church and sect
are useful for an understanding of this contemporary religious group and of its
relationship to the larger society It may be contended that both Troeltsch and
Weber focused upon religious movements within Christendom and/or upon
local churches and that Atlantis is neither movement nor local church
but rather group within local church Such may be the case Nevertheless
submit that although the models may not fit perfectly they offer important
insights to an understanding of contemporary religious groups in society and
facilitate comparative study of such groups
All English translations of the Vatican Council II documents are taken from
Walter ABBOT The Documents of Vatican II New York Guild Press 1966 In accordance
with convention each document is referred to by the first two words of the Latin text
which are abbreviated and the exact citation is given by the number of the article in the
text The following abbreviations are used in this paper
LG Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium)
CD II Decree on the Bishops Pastoral Office in the Church
Christus Dominus)
GS Vatican Council II Pastoral on the Church in the Modern World
Gaudium et Spes)