Sociology and Anthropology


Observers of the new religions in Japan and America have often argued that these religions attract followers who want a supportive and authoritative group to which they can belong. People unable to find fulfillment in mainstream religious or secular life, the argument goes, may turn to new religions as compensation. In them, they gain social ties and a coherent view of the world they previously lacked. This study, based on ethnographic research at the San Francisco mission of Sekai Kyusei-kyo (Church of World Mes-sianity) in the mid-1970s, argues that the situation is much more complex. Members reported being attracted to the church not primarily by social ties and ideology, but by their experience of the group's main religious practice: a form of spiritual healing called johrei. A specific experience seems to have been a key part of their religious motivation. This experience is not the whole story, though. While members regarded johrei as central, their interpretations of it varied with their cultural backgrounds. Second-generation Japanese Americans, older white spiritualists and young "counter-cultural" whites each incorporated johrei and church teachings into the cultural/ideological frameworks that they brought to the church on conversion. While experience was not apprehended "raw", the church cannot be said to have given them a coherent view they lacked; nor were inadequacies in their prior socio-cultural situations key to their choices. Religious as well as social factors played a role.

Document Type


Publication Title

Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion

Publication Date






Document Version