"THE BRETHREN":
A CURRENT SOCIOLOGICAL APPRAISAL

By

Bryan R. Wilson
(All Souls College, Oxford.)

THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRETHREN MOVEMENT

The first of those who came to call themselves Brethren began meeting in the late 1820s in Dublin in the conviction that the condition of the established Church (to which many of them belonged) was no longer adequate to their spiritual needs. The early Brethren met to re-examine the Scriptures, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to give due emphasis to what they regarded as the truths of the Bible. They were men who had come to doubt the legitimacy of the churches, and in particular they came to reject the association of church and state, and the warrant for clerical orders. These early members were far from being ignorant men. Twelve of the earliest Brethren were, or were training to be, Anglican Clergymen (in England and Ireland), and five were ministers in Nonconformist churches. A number of them were men of private means, including five titled gentry; and eight of them were, or had been, commissioned officers. They sought to establish congregational arrangements which they believed restored the form of organization for Christians depicted in the New Testament. The Brethren regarded it as necessary to obey fully the Scriptures, and so to keep themselves apart from the existing churches. The principle of separation was a central feature of their position. They were not, of course, the first Christians to adopt this position, and it could easily be shown that the desire to be separate from the world was part of the original motivation of movements as different from each other as Baptists, Mennonites, Congregationalists and Quakers.

The early Brethren believed that, by separating from what they regarded as the unwarranted system represented by the organization of the churches, they possessed an adequate basis for the unity of all properly motivated Christians. Initially, they saw no need for any but the simplest pattern of organization. Separation was not conceived as a negative option; rather, it was regarded as the only basis on which the unity of true Christians could be established. Like many other movements which are generally regarded as sectarian, the Brethren began with a profound and deeply anti-sectarian sentiment, and they still reject the designation "sect". They opposed the various arrangements adopted by different denominations, many of which were designated by the names of their founders (as in the names Mennonite or Wesleyan). The Brethren believed that if they restored the biblical pattern of order, they would then live in conformity to the will of God, and that such an arrangement would provide common ground for all Christians who were prepared to abandon the corrupt ecclesiastical system that operated in their contemporary society.

The early conception of Christian fellowship, based on minimal organization, proved to be inadequate for the maintenance of an integrated separate community in the longer run. It became apparent, within a few years, that some Brethren attached more importance to different bases of conformity than those endorsed by J. N. Darby, who had come to be regarded as the leading member of the movement. The question of who should be admitted to the breaking of bread ceremony became important, as Darby taught that true Christians must separate not only from the churches, but also from those who were impure in faith or morals.

The principle of separating from evil as the essential basis for true Christian unity was taken to apply to separation from all forms of human association which did not have Christ as their head, and also from those who were at all involved in worldly practices, and who were therefore considered to "dishonour God". Only those who acted together and who separated from evil were able to join in common fellowship. Thus, the principle of separation became acknowledged as the basis for fellowship, as Darby frequently reiterated. As early as 1836, Hargrove, one of the early Brethren, had emphasized that separation from evil was the primary duty of a Christian. When evil was detected among any who were themselves members of the fellowship, it followed that it was the duty of the rest to withdraw from him.

Differences of doctrine led to divisions within an assembly, and some of these divisions ramified through the fellowship during the nineteenth century, since withdrawal from iniquity entailed withdrawal even from those who, not initially sinful themselves, became tainted by failing to dissociate themselves from unrepentant evil-doers. The pattern of scrupulous regard for purity began relatively early in the history of the movement. The Brethren came to expect that there would be need to assert their purity by separation. Darby wrote in 1880, "The assembly purges itself." The need to judge unrighteousness had been strongly affirmed by Darby in 1845, and the judgement had to be made in the assembly. Those who were "put out" of a meeting might repent their iniquity, and upon true repentance be restored if the conscience of the assembly so determined. Darby wrote, "the discipline of putting away is always done with the view of restoring the person who has been subjected to it, and never to get rid of him". This discipline was itself essential to the fellowship; it was the bond which it could not do without, for apart from the possibility of restoring the evil individual, discipline secured and maintained the purity of the fellowship.

Even though the Brethren experienced several divisions during the course of their history, which brought into being several different fellowships of people who called themselves Brethren, the followers of Mr. Darby and his successors in the leadership lived for decades during the first half of the twentieth century without attracting public notice. In 1959 and in the early 60s, and again in 1970, differences arose among the Brethren. At a time when the wider society was rapidly becoming more permissive, the exercise of moral constraint among the Brethren has appeared to become relatively more pronounced as they have sought to reinforce the protection of their community from worldly influences which without such measures, might have affected their way of life. Several issues have arisen as the leading brethren have sought to clarify the application of their principles to new social exigencies – as, for example, the need to define an attitude to radio and television. Other matters became the subject of discipline as leading brethren drew attention to the range of moral constraints in accordance with the light from the Holy Spirit. In general, although there were dissentients at these times, the majority recognized that the reinforcement of moral rigour was necessary to believers in Christ. Its reassertion served to intensify the group life of the Brethren, to reduce the occasions on which they might be tempted into worldly associations, and to emphasize the sanctity of family life.

THE PRINCIPLE OF SEPARATION

It has already been mentioned above, that the obligation to separate from evil, is a cardinal principle of the Brethren’s religion and way of life. Those who accept what Brethren regard as the truth and whose lives manifest the moral dispositions which the Brethren take to be required are seen as members of Christ. Those who fail to meet these requirements are withdrawn from. The community of the Brethren in each place maintain responsibility for their own local members, and seek to ensure that those who err are brought to repentance. If the fact that a member is behaving badly comes to the notice of another brother, he will seek, in an informal way, to make that individual aware of the error of his ways. Such an act is seen by the whole community as an act of love – one brother, as a priest, ministering to another. If a matter is less clear and if some investigation has to take place, an individual who is believed to have erred and who does not repent, will, for a time, in the terminology of the Brethren be "shut-up", that is temporarily not admitted to the religious life of the community until the situation is clarified and the conscience of the assembly is expressed. If it is established that the individual has indeed been guilty of misdemeanor, and if he fails to repent, he will be "put out" (withdrawn from). It is the rigour with which the Brethren maintain this position which, has led on certain occasions, in themselves not numerous except at the time of schisms, to divisions within families, since the act of putting out a former member implies not only that he will no longer be admitted to participate in the movement’s religious activities, but that he will also cease to enjoy normal everyday intercourse with those who remain within the movement. For the Brethren there is a strong continuity between the religious life of the community and ordinary everyday family life. The assembly becomes a model for the individual household, and the purity which is to be maintained in the one is to be reflected in the other. It follows that when an individual is put out, it becomes the obligation of his or her spouse, parents and kinsfolk to implement in domestic life the implications of the decision to put him or her out of the assembly.

The idea and practice of the separation of the sacred from the profane is generally accepted as being a fundamental feature of all religion, and it is explicitly enjoined in the Judeo—Christian tradition. Sacred places, occasions, and acts are hedged about with interdictions and restrictions in the interest of maintaining purity. When an entire community conceived itself as sacred or especially blessed, the principle of separation from whatever might defile its purity is extended to all aspects of everyday life. This principle is most trenchantly espoused by religious minorities. It could easily be shown that this idea of separation informs the distinctive way of life of orthodox Jews, among whom vigorously enforced and categorically stated prohibitions affect commensality and conjugality. The early Christians were exhorted to separate from all iniquity and from all evil-doers, and to maintain the highest standards of an undefiled life, and it is of course these scriptural injunctions that form the basis of the Brethren’s teaching and practice. Like other minorities, the early Christians in the first centuries after Christ claimed a special status as a chosen people. The demand for separation from unbelievers, and the maintenance of a higher code of moral practice constituted the tangible demonstration of this state of blessedness. Once Christians came to form the majority in western society, these injunctions came to have less pertinence for them, although the demands for a more rigorous Christianity were subsequently and recurrently reasserted by reform and revivalist groups. Since such reform movements arose within societies that were almost totally Christian, those from whom they saw themselves as enjoined by the Scriptures to separate were, therefore, the general, nominally Christian, majority within which they lived. It was what these sects regarded as the pretence of Christianity which offended them most, and the evil and uncleanness from which they saw it necessary to keep themselves apart became identified with the laxness of the Church and all its scripturally unauthorized institutions and practices.

It will already be clear from the foregoing that the principle of separation is far from being confined to the Brethren movement. Whilst the issues on which separation has turned have differed, the idea of religious separation can be found in a number of movements in the Judeo—Christian tradition. "Separatists" was a term widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for those movements which rejected the association of church and state, and so it was applied to the major nonconformist bodies, such as the Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians in England, and also to several smaller movements at different times – Quakers, Mennonites, Evangelical Brethren and Adventists.

Nor has the practice of withdrawing from, or putting out, those who differ in doctrine or whose lives failed to manifest appropriate moral demeanour, been uncommon among Christian movements. Excommunication has been practised by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries, and for a long time with consequences more severe than those that prevail for someone from whom the Brethren withdraw. The practice is known by other names, "disowning" and "disfellowshipping", among them. The Quakers have such a practice, most recently invoked against those who have enrolled, contrary to the injunctions of the sect, in the armed services, but in the past exercised over a much wider moral domain. For a long time in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the Quakers carefully watched over their members, requiring them to seek the meeting’s permission before marrying and before changing their place of residence. One authority has said that "the congregation’s control of each member was almost absolute". Those of "disorderly walk" were disowned. The Mennonites, who today exist in several distinct bodies, some of which have hundreds of thousands of adherents, exercised a ban (Meidung) on those who became involved in worldly associations, and this ban operated within families in much the same way as that practiced by the Brethren. A Mennonite would not eat a meal with anyone who had been banned, and if one of two spouses was thus excommunicated, then normal relations between them were discontinued. The practice of shunning excommunicated members was included in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, and again in the Dortrect Confession of 1632. Menno Simons himself reiterated this role in the words of 1 Cor. 5:11 "not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber – not even to eat with such a one" (Revised Version). Although the General Conference of Mennonites has today relaxed its moral austerity, the idea of the ban is still well known, and its practice continues among other groups of Mennonites.

The desire to maintain purity of community be expelling the iniquitous has been practiced among other Christian movements including those that were not formed explicitly on the principle of separating from evil as the basis of community life. The Methodists developed a set of stringent moral requirements for their members, and in the nineteenth century wayward Methodists were refused admission tickets to the band meeting. Members were closely catechized about their sins in such meetings, and were disowned for such things as disorderly walk, frivolous conversation, whistling, and improper dress. Among other Christian fellowships that arose more or less contemporaneously with the Brethren, similar moral requirements were exacted, and similar sanctions of "disfellowshiping" were practiced. The Christadelphians, whose beginnings in Britain were in the 1840s, and whose fellowship was similar in both polity and ethos to that of the Brethren, maintained very similar canons of moral discipline, disfellowshipping wayward members very frequently. Both the Christadelphians and Jehovah’s Witnesses continue the practice of disfellowshipping those members who are guilty of misdemeanors or who persist in wrong teaching.

The demand among the Brethren for morality so much more rigorous that that prevailing in the wider society derives from the movement’s strong sense of separateness, which gives relevance and urgency to the maintenance of discipline in the community.

THE FUNCTIONS OF EXCLUSIVISM

The Brethren do not accept the designation "sect", but that is a term which is widely applied to them by outsiders. It is often used in a pejorative sense. Sociologists use this term as a neutral descriptive term, however, and from the sociological point of view the Brethren would be classified as a sect. A religious sect is a separated, voluntary association following a distinctive pattern of worship, morality and organization, characteristically preoccupied with maintaining those teachings and practices through which its special claims to historical significance is expressed. A sect tends to see itself as a gathered remnant, a specially chosen people, a community emerging at the culmination of a long historical process in which the special truths that God has sought to bring to mankind are inherited (or recovered) by its own founders, leaders, or members. This is the position of the Brethren. Human history is regarded as little more than a preamble leading to the emergence of the movement in which God’s final purpose will be worked out and made manifest. Distorted as such a view may appear from a purely external perspective, there can be no doubt about the earnestness with which it is held by sect members. They regard themselves as being in receipt of a very precious heritage, and for them everything worthwhile in life is focused on the prospect of salvation through the truth that they have received.

It follows that the community regards itself as having a sacred trust to maintain its truth and practices, and to continue to do what is conceived to be the will of God. When a sect considers that God’s will is being progressively made known to them, then new applications of their teachings may occur, and these must be followed with the same characteristic fidelity. This is the case with the Brethren. Since the sect is a voluntary body, with members of which are self-selected, and the leaders of which may exercise only very limited sanctions (i.e. discipline to which members themselves consent) there are always limits to the measure of "coercion" that can obtain within a movement. The popular press disseminates many misleading impressions concerning the power wielded within sects, and these, unfortunately, are often the only information available to the public, giving rise to general misunderstanding of the nature of sectarianism. So long as a movement operates within the framework of the law, it must be acknowledged that members voluntarily commit themselves to sect discipline.

At the same time, it must also be recognized that for the committed member, the prospect of discipline is always serious and even alarming, and nowhere more so than in a movement in which members are closely drawn together and to some extent separated from outsiders. Such is the case with the Brethren. That anguish has been occasioned when individuals have been disciplined and "put out" is entirely understandable. Expulsion from the community is a severe sentence, even considered in purely social terms. When, to this is added the spiritual seriousness with which membership is regarded, one sees why passion is so readily engendered. Yet, given their interpretation of evil and the need to separate from it, such procedures, harrowing as they must be for all concerned, appear to the Brethren to be unavoidable.

Obedience to God and commitment to the way of life which reflects that obedience are the first obligations of Brethren, transcending all social obligations, including even those of the family. Divisions within families, deeply regretted as these are, are recognized as, at times, inevitable, if the community is to remain pure. Brethren recall such texts as Luke 14: 26 "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life, also, he cannot be my disciple" and Luke 12: 52-3, "...there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father, and mother against the daughter and the daughter against the mother..."

THE BRETHREN WAY OF LIFE

The Brethren seek to lead exemplary moral lives. The roles which govern their comportment may be likened to those that are maintained in a Roman Catholic religious order. In general, a sect may be likened to such a religious order (allowing always for the important difference that an order comprises persons of only one sex, and that, in consequence, the moral problems peculiar to family life do not emerge there). Just as in a religious order, many activities are proscribed, and just as monks seek to keep themselves from the corrupting influences of the wider society, and to live a social life that is completely consonant with elevated spiritual precepts, so a similar concern characterizes the members of a sect like that of the Brethren. Like a religious order, the Brethren also constitute a moral community in which each member is committed to the others, and for the sake of which each has the obligation to lead a life of religious dedication. There is a much more pronounced consistency and continuity between what is preached and the individual member’s comportment in everyday life than obtains within the often relaxed life practices of the members of the majority churches and denominations.

The moral rigour to which the Brethren are committed puts into perspective the practice of "putting out", but our concern in the foregoing pages to explain the basis of separation among the Brethren, should not obscure the very important fact that, in normal circumstances, family life among the members of this movement is characterized by bonds of the strongest affection. Sects generally attach the greatest importance to the sanctity and quality of family relationships, and of no sect may this point be made more emphatically than of the Brethren. Family life is seen by the Brethren as a most precious spiritual possession and it is the arena in which the individual manifests the moral and spiritual qualities enjoined by his religion. The Brethren conceive of their assembly as a model for the individual household, and see their entire community as an extended family. The individual is thus supported within an actual biological family in which life is lived to a coherent pattern and consistent standards, and this family life is itself supported by the bonds of affection that are cultivated throughout the entire sect. The anguish which is occasioned when the assembly feels in conscience that it must withdraw from an individual is itself testimony to the fact that a well conducted family life is of vital importance for Brethren. It is this anguish which is seized on by the press on the relatively rare occasions when (periods of schism apart) a breakdown occurs in a Brethren family. Such a breakdown, given the integration among the Brethren of religious beliefs and moral practice, is always a religious matter, and can always be represented by the press as a case of some sort of religious persecution, and because this makes dramatic news the media can sensationalize the relatively rare instance of domestic breakdown among the Brethren, whilst they ignore the multitude of cases (far higher in percentage terms) among the general population.

The Brethren make their family life their central concern. Since they eschew other social involvements, the family, and the reinforcing involvements of the community, constitute their social world. Harmonious family life is the norm for which all Brethren strive. Because they do not participate in outside activities, there is a heightened concentration on sharing within the family, and family members are much more closely bound together than is usually the case in other families. Relationships at work and school are kept to the minimum of what is necessary, and whilst Brethren conduct themselves with integrity, responsibility, and courtesy, they do not look to these external involvements to provide them with any social life.

It is a religious obligation for Brethren to be diligent and conscientious parents, providing consistent love and security for their children. In the consistency of their performance, in the integrity of their dealings, and in the closeness of their family life, there can be no doubt at all that Brethren families maintain standards far higher than those of the general population. Children are well nourished, given a great deal of attention, encouraged to enjoy themselves in play, and to be conscientious in their schoolwork. Cases of child neglect, brutality, truancy, delinquency, and bad home management, simply do not occur among the Brethren. Children are protected from the deleterious influences of the mass media, and learn to make their enjoyment from creative activities of their own, as well as in the cultivation of wholesome interests which are common to other well brought up youngsters. A wide range of children’s playthings will be found in the homes of Brethren families – dolls, children’s books, stamp collections, photographs, musical instruments and toys. Seen in their own homes, the children give the impression of being just as happy, active and impish as other children, whilst they are in general more positive and polite than the average for children in other households. The Brethren do not take their children on holidays at popular holiday resorts and this reflects their wish to avoid what they see as baleful influences, many of which are promoted by the entertainment industry. Children do travel frequently with their parents to stay with other Brethren families, and there is lively association among children in their own localities and throughout the country.

At school, Brethren children are hard-working, ready to learn, and easily taught. They have a sense of personal responsibility at an early age, and they rarely present disciplinary problems. School teachers have informed me of the pleasure that they have taken in teaching the children of Brethren because of both their responsiveness and the general encouragement that they receive from home to take schoolwork seriously. The school reports that I have seen in Brethren homes indicate that their children are certainly as bright as others and generally more co-operative than average. Brethren children participate in normal school life and get to know other children there, although they do not expect to make close friends of children who are not of the same religion. They do not take part in extra-curricular activities or sports which they are led to regard as worldly. They are encouraged to pursue practical knowledge, and such things as typing, sewing, cooking, woodworking, mechanical and engineering skills.

The Brethren pride themselves in maintaining high standards of honesty in business, in promptitude in paying bills, and in good standards of service. They do not encourage tertiary education for their children except in technical knowledge, since they are disposed to see university education as unconducive to their life of faith and as an agency in the dissemination of alien and secular values. The student unrest of recent years and the recurrent evidences of dissidence among student populations have perhaps served to reinforce their convictions on this subject. Today, the Brethren tend to follow occupations in various types of practical activities. Since they do not join associations such as trade unions or professional bodies, many occupations are closed to them, increasingly so as the "closed shop" principle has extended to western societies. There are today fewer members of the Brethren in professions than there were, but there are many people with small businesses and in various technical occupations.

Only on the basis of a thorough study of the history and teachings of the movement, and of their sociological significance, is it possible to understand the nature of family life in a sect like the Brethren, and to form any properly informed judgement about such matters as the psychological maturity or emotional stability of members of the movement, including the children. Without such knowledge, psychological and psychiatric appraisal of individual sect members must be subject to very severe distortion. It is well established among sociologists that individual behaviour can be assessed only once the norms of the community are understood. Psychological development is very much affected by the norms, mores, and values of the community in which the individual is brought up and it must be apparent that the tenor of life among the Brethren differs in significant respects from that of the wider community in western societies. Just as it is well established that the assumption of psychiatric and psychological analysis must be considerably modified in application to peoples of non-western societies, and just as it is now widely recognized that Freud’s psychoanalytic principles were distorted because they were based so largely on the specific problems of middle-class, middle-aged, Viennese women who were Jewish, so it is increasingly apparent that the psychology of the members of small somewhat isolated sects (such as the Hutterites, Amish Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Brethren) cannot be understood without sociological analysis of those communities. It is a cause for concern that not infrequently in cases of the disputed custody of children courts have placed considerable reliance on the evidence of psychologists and psychiatrists who are ignorant of the religious and sociological character of the sectarian communities in which their subjects have been brought up. In some cases, psychiatrists have formed their opinions after brief interviews of only a few hours duration conducted in the alien atmosphere of consulting rooms and clinics, and have themselves never had the opportunity of watching the normal everyday life of those about whom they are expected to provide diagnosis.

Popular opinion concerning the way of life of sectarian groups is moulded in considerable part by journalists who have themselves often only a very tenuous grasp of sectarian religion (and sometimes of any sort of religious knowledge). Clinical experts themselves often draw their background assumptions about sects from newspaper reports which are misinformed and sensationalist. It is not difficult to present a strongly negative picture of sectarian life, and particularly so by taking the most libertarian perspective. The sect can then be represented as a coercive community, the leaders of which oppress the ordinary members who are said (in what amounts to a very serious misuse of the term) to be "brainwashed". Two processes appear to be involved. The first is to present a sect, specifically the Brethren, as a type of conspiracy in restraint of the normal liberties of citizens. The second is to imply guilt by association of one sect with other movements about which the public has received highly sensational accounts.

There can be no doubt that the Brethren refrain from a wide variety of activities and associations which the majority of people regard as normal. Their social norms can be presented in negative terms when the wider society is used as the criterion of normality. The Brethren would themselves readily accede to the charge that they keep themselves away from the everyday world to a very considerable extent. They do so, however, from the force of voluntary conviction, and whilst more experienced members will caution and advise other members about their behaviour, that behaviour is sustained by the general consensus of the members of the movement. Certainly, it is not easy for an individual to leave the group, but the difficulty arises from his own conscientious awareness of group standards, of his concern for salvation, and from the fact that he is unlikely to have many, if any, friends outside the community. Departure from the group occasions the gravest disturbance for him and for his relatives, and indeed for the whole community of Brethren. But people do leave, and the fact that they do must make apparent the fact that there is no coercion, in the normal sense in which that word is used. Indeed, the community would sooner a potentially wayward and unrepentant individual left than that they should retain a member against his or her secret preference to leave.

Because in recent years there have been numerous problems arising among a wide variety of religious movements, the press have presented material about sects in which they have frequently written of them without much discrimination. Many press statements are factually in error, but such comments, coming in such profusion, lead to serious misinformation about individual movements which have nothing in common except that they severally subscribe to religious tenets which diverge from those of the wider society. It has become particularly fashionable to lump sects together and to play upon the anxieties created by the mass suicide of the members of the People’s Temple in Guyana in 1978, and to recall such remote and bizarre episodes as the Anabaptist rule at Münster in 1534. It may be said without reservation that these dramatic instances bear no relevance to the issues arising from the operation of a contemporary sect like the Brethren. The Brethren order their affairs by reference to guidance which is explicitly and exclusively biblical in origin. Unlike those movements which depend on charismatic leaders and self-styled messiahs, the Brethren maintain their affairs by a considerable measure of democratic procedure. Whilst they have leading brethren among them, whose instruction they accept as inspired, those leaders are not charismatic leaders, and the framework within which their influence extends is circumscribed by the extensive knowledge of Scripture among the membership. The Brethren are a settled religious movement, which has existed in various parts of the English-speaking world and on the continent of Europe for over 160 years. Over most of that time, the members of the movement, many of them in families which have remained Brethren from one generation to another, have attracted little public attention, but have led lives of exemplary moral demeanour. Like several other well established sects, they have convictions which lead them to separate themselves from the wider community and to dissociate themselves from many activities which are now current in contemporary society. In some respects, their moral standards are closer to those that were normative more widely in society some decades ago. They are clearly not one of the "new religions" issuing a radical challenge and adopting self-consciously a new "alternative life style". They must rather be represented as an established sect preserving values to which a much wider public has subscribed in the past. Like many other sects, the Brethren dissent on a variety of issues on grounds of conscience. The general history of religious freedom in western societies over the last three centuries has been a steady course of acknowledgment of the rights of minorities to act in accordance with conscience, and a large number of established Christian minorities have increasingly been accorded the right to pursue their own way of life. The rights of sects to order their own way of life have been steadily extended in English-speaking countries and on the continent of Europe, and these rights include the possibility of practising a code of morality that is more stringent than that followed by the majority.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

During the past thirty years, Bryan Wilson has become well-known in academic circles for his research into religious minorities both in Britain and overseas. He has written extensively on such movements as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Christadelphians, Pentecostalists, Hutterites, and some African and Japanese movements, and he supplied the entries in the current edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on both Mormonism and Christian Science. At different times, he has held appointments as Commonwealth Fund Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A.; Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies and Research Associate at the University of California, Berkeley, U.S.S.; Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto, Canada; Visiting Fellow at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, Australia; Research Consultant for the Sociology of Religion to the University of Padua, Italy. For the years 1971-75, he was President of the Conference Internationale de Sociologie Religieuse, which is the world-wide organisation for the discipline. He has been European editor of the Journal for Scientific Study of Religion, and he is presently an editor of the Annual Review of the Social Sciences of Religion. He has lectured extensively on sectarian movements in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Belgium and Japan and on occasion, in Sweden and West Germany. Among the books he has published are six which are devoted to minority religious movements.

Sects and Society: The Sociology of Three Religious Groups in Britain (London: Heinemann, 1961; reprinted Westport, Conn: The Greenwood Press, 1978);

Patterns of Sectarianism (edited) (London; Heinemann, 1967);

Religious Sects (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York: McGraw Hill, 1970; also published in French, German, Swedish, Spanish and Japanese translations);

Magic and the Millennium, (London: Heinemann, and New York, Harper and Row, 1973);

Contemporary Transformations of Religion (London: Oxford University Press, 1976; also published in Japanese and Italian translations);

The Social Impact of the New Religious Movements, (edited) (New York: Rose of Sharon Press, 1981).

Bryan Wilson has also contributed more than twenty papers on this subject to learned journals in Britain, the United States, France, Belgium and Japan. Among the minority religious movements on which Bryan Wilson has undertaken research, is the Brethren movement. As far as is known, he is the only scholar to have engaged in a sociological study of this movement.


One copy of the article includes this note:

Among the movements to which I have devoted attention is that known as "The Brethren", and as far as I am aware, there is no other established scholar working in Britain or elsewhere who has undertaken such research in recent times. The perspective of my study is sociological, and I do not regard myself as an expert in either the interpretation of the Bible or in the Christian doctrine of the Brethren.

Bryan Wilson, July 1981


 

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