In sacred, and independent of social commitments

In a complex and highly differentiated society individual are
rarely dominated by single groups such as families, clans, and tribes. A mature
member of such a society will develop numerous limited commitments to diverse
groups and organizations, no one of which will be sufficient to meet all of his
expressive needs and provide a foundation for self-definition. Such a person
will define himself not primarily as a member of this or that group but as an
individual possessing an essence detached from roles and group involvements.
From a Durkheimian standpoint, however, conceptions of sacred individuality,
like other spiritual conceptions, require a group context for reification.
Francis Westley (1978a) has argued that many of today’s human potential, yoga,
and meditation groups correspond rather well to the “cult of the
individual” identified by Durkheim as the integrative mystique of a highly
modernized society. Such groups venerate a power within indi viduals, immanent,
sacred, and independent of social commitments (Westley 1978a). Westley’s
argument thus provides a counterpoint of Bryan Wilson’s (1976) argument
regarding the triviality of “cults” in a largely “secular”
society. Westley argues that guru-therapy groups may be viewed collectively as
derivatives of a single religious formation. As such they are symbolic
representations of man’s relation to modern social organization, and perform
integrative functions in the traditional Durkheimian manner. Westley’s argu
ment converges with the thesis of Campbell (1978), who argues that today’s new
religiosity corresponds to the “third form” of Christian religiosity
which, according to Troeltsch, has historically co-existed with ecclesiastical
and sectarian forms. The radical individualism, syncretism, tolerance, and
nondualism of mystical religiosity heighten its appeal to the intelli gentsia
and render it more compatible than traditional forms with today’s relativistic,
pluralistic, and cosmopolitan culture. What may appear to be secularization may
thus be an overshadowing of traditional religiosity by individualistic
mysticism.3 3For survey data on the present spread of “mystical”
orientations and experiences see (Greeley 1975; Wuthnow 1976b, 1978a; Gallup
1976; Bourque & Back 1970). The fragmentation of personal identity in a
highly differentiated and pluralistic society may confer a premium on groups
whose social processes provide a basis for holistic self-conceptions. Such
groups compensate for the growing inability of both vocational and kinship
groups to support stable personal identities. Consequently, modern reformist
social movements that make economic or political demands on public authority
tend to be over shadowed by “ideological primary groups” in which
intensive interaction transforms the identities of participants and anchors new
self-concepts in spiritual or therapeutic mystiques (Marx & Holzner 1975).
Identity trans formation in such groups often entails ritual manipulation of
feelings through structured rites of passage (Halloman 1974; Bird 1978a, b).4