Date of Award

2-1978

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Religious Sciences

Supervisor

Hans Mol

Abstract

The dissertation serves the twofold purpose of contributing theoretically to the sociology of religion, by examining the utility of the identity theory of religion, and analysing the dynamics of a specific religious movement, a task sometimes distinguished as "religious sociology". To achieve both ends the study hypothesizes the viability of sectarianism and examines the components of continuity and change of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren from 1925 to 1975. Ernst Troeltsch's well-worn church-sect typology is found to be aptly applicable to Mennonite Brethren, and Hans Mol's integration/differentiation dialectic, religiously defined in terms of sacralization and secularization, is another heuristic device which suitably explains the dynamic interaction of these components. For its empirical findings, the thesis relies heavily upon a secondary analysis of the Mennonite Brethren data of a 1972 survey retrieved from the larger Church Member Profile of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches. To interpret the empirical evidence, the thesis further examines the denominational periodicals, official documents, and theological writings of Canadian Mennonite Brethren to discover how its own spokesmen think.

After exploring sectarian research; particularly the church-sect critique, and establishing the theoretical framework in which sacralization is explained as the stabilizing quality of religion and secularization as religious decline and/or conformity to the world, the thesis traces the emergence of the believers church from the parish church setting, together with the subsequent struggle to retain a separatist stance, both in the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement from 1525 to 1860, and more specifically of the Mennonite Brethren church from 1860 to 1925.

A major part of the thesis analyses the sacralizing components of Mennonite Brethren religiosity. Its system of beliefs and ethics are shown to provide its cognitive and normative boundaries. Its family solidarity and ethnic seclusion enhance the cohesion of the movement. Its emphasis upon conversion and its charismatic leadership consolidate its identities on a personal and group level, respectively. The weekly workship and nurture activities and the formal instruction through parochial schools facilitate integration. So also the structural networks and service agencies are religiously legitimated as they help to retain old members and recruit new ones. Despite the countervailing forces within each component, the overall impact is generally integrating and explains Mennonite Brethren continuity from 1925 to 1975.

Another major part examines the components of change which tend to fragment the movement and gradually bring about its accommodation to the host society. There is ample evidence that education produces relativizing effects, that urbanization has its own fragility hazards, that occupational change demands reorientation, that economic ascendancy results in vertical mobility, and that assimilation leads to identity crisis. Together these forces of change have a decidedly secularizing effect upon the movement, yet its continued viability can be explained in the dialectic of these countervailing forces of sacralization and secularization, the one guarding against excessive adaptability and the other against overly restrictive rigidity. Thus some 450 years after the birth of Anabaptism, some 115 years after the renewal which spawned the Mennonite Brethren church, and some fifty years after a major immigration of the core group in Canada today, Mennonite Brethren show signs of vitality despite outward conformity to society. The thesis supports the hypothesis that sectarianism is viable in today's society. The viability is explained in the dialectic between the synthetic forces of sacralization or integration and the adaptive forces of secularization or differentiation.

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