Religious Specialists

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Religious Specialists

I. Anthropological StudyVictor W. Turner


II. Sociological StudyIvan A. Vallier



A religious specialist is one who devotes himself to a particular branch of religion or, viewed organizationally, of a religious system. “Religion” is a multivocal term whose range of meanings varies in different social and historical contexts. Never theless, most definitions of religion refer to the recognition of a transhuman controlling power that may be either personal or impersonal. A religious specialist has a culturally defined status relevant to this recognition. In societies or contexts where such power is regarded as impersonal, anthropologists customarily describe it as magic, and those who manipulate the power are magicians. Wherever power is personalized, as deity, gods, spirits, daemons, genii, ancestral shades, ghosts, or the like, anthropologists speak of religion. In reality, religious systems contain both magical and religious beliefs and procedures: in many of them the impersonal transhuman (or mystical, or nonem-pirical, or supernatural) power is considered to be a devolution of personal power, as in the case of the mystical efficacy or rites established in Mo tempore by a deity or divinized ancestor.

Priest and prophet

Scholars have tended to distinguish between two polarities of religious specialization. Max Weber, for example, although well aware of numerous historical instances of their overlap and interpenetration, contrasts the roles of priest and prophet. He begins by making a preliminary distinction between priest and magician. A priest, he writes, is always associated with “the functioning of a regularly organized and permanent enterprise concerned with influencing the gods—in contrast with the individual and occasional efforts of magicians.” Accordingly, the crucial feature of priesthood is that it represents the “specialization of a particular group of persons in the continuous operation of a cultic enterprise, permanently associated with particular norms, places and times, and related to specific social groups.” In Weber’s view, the prophet is distinguished from the priest by “personal call.” The priest’s claim to religious authority derives from his service in a sacred tradition; the authority of the prophet is founded on revelation and personal “charisma.” This latter term has been variously defined by Weber (in some contexts it seems almost to represent the Führerprinzip), but it may broadly be held to designate extraordinary powers. These include, according to Weber, “the capacity to achieve the ecstatic states which are viewed, in accordance with primitive experience, as the preconditions for producing certain effects in meteorology, healing, divination and telepathy.” But charisma may be either ascribed or achieved. It may be an inherent faculty (“primary charisma”) or it may be “produced artificially in an object or person through some extraordinary means.” Charisma may thus be “merited” by fastings, austerities, or other ordeals. Even in such cases, Weber asserts, there must be some dormant capacity in the persons or objects, some “germ” of extraordinary power, already vested in them. The prophet, then, is a “purely individual bearer of charisma,” rather than the representative of a sacred tradition. He produces discontinuity in that cultic enterprise which it is the priest’s major role to keep “in continuous operation.” Weber’s prophet feels that he has a “mission” by virtue of which he “proclaims a religious doctrine or divine commandment.” Weber refuses to distinguish sharply between a “renewer of religion” who preaches “an older revelation, actual or suppositious” and a “founder of religion” who claims to bring completely new “deliverances,” for, he says, “the two types merge into one another.” In Weber’s view, the charisma of a prophet appears to contain, in addition to ecstatic and visionary components, a rational component, for he proclaims “a systematic and distinctively religious ethic based upon a consistent and stable doctrine which purports to be a revelation” [(1922); see alsoCharismaandWeber, Max].

Weber’s distinction between priest and prophet has its main relevance in an analytical frame of reference constructed to consider the relationship between religion as “a force for dynamic social change” and religion as “a reinforcement of the stability of societies” (Parsons 1963). It has been found effective by such anthropologists as Evans-Pritchard (1949; 1956) and Worsley (1957a; 1957b) who are dealing directly with social transitions and “the prophetic break,” or what Parsons calls “the primary decision point [between] a direction which makes for a source of evolutionary change in the …established or traditional order, and a direction which tends either to reinforce the established order or at least not to change it drastically” (1963, p. xxix in 1964 edition).

Priest and shaman

Anthropologists who are less concerned than Weber with the genesis of religions and with internal developments in complex societies or their impact on the “primitive” world are inclined to contrast priest not with prophet but with shaman or spirit medium and to examine the relationship between these statuses as part of the normal working of the religious system in the simpler societies. In their excellently representative Reader in Comparative Religion (1958), the editors W. A. Lessa and E. Z. Vogt devote a whole section to this distinction.

Often, where there is a priest the shaman is absent, and vice versa, although both these roles may be found in the same religion, as among the Plains Indians. According to Lowie (1954), a Plains Indian shaman is a ritual practitioner whose status is acquired through a personal communication from a supernatural being, whereas a priest does not necessarily have a face-to-face relationship with the spirit world but must have competence in conducting ritual. Lessa and Vogt ([1958] 1965, p. 410) expand these differences: a shaman’s powers come by “divine stroke,” a priest’s power is inherited or is derived from the body of codified and standardized ritual knowledge that he learns from older priests and later transmits to successors. They find that shamanism tends to predominate in food-gathering cultures, where the shaman most frequently performs a curing rite for the benefit of one or more patients and within the context of an extended family group. Shamanistic rites are “noncalendrical,” or contingent upon occasions of mishap and illness. The priest and priestly cult organization are characteristically found in the more structurally elaborated food-producing—usually agricultural—societies, where the more common ceremonial is a public rite performed for the benefit of a whole village or community. Such rites are often calendrical, or performed at critical points in the ecological cycle.

Shaman and medium

Raymond Firth (1964a, p. 638) regards shamanism as itself “that particular form of spirit mediumship in which a specialist (the shaman) normally himself a medium, is deemed to exercise developed techniques of control over spirits, sometimes including mastery of spirits believed to be possessing another medium.” This definition, like that of Howells (1948), stresses the control exercised over spirits. Howells describes the shaman as “bullyragging” gods or spirits and emphasizes his intellectual qualities as a leader. This element of mastery makes the shaman a distinctive type of spirit medium, one who is believed to be “possessed by a spirit (or closely controlled by a spirit) [‘and who’] can serve as a means of communication between other human beings and the spirit world” (Firth 19646, p. 689). The spirit medium per se need not exert mastery; he is rather the vessel or vehicle of the transhuman entity.

Thus, although we sometimes find the two functions of priest and shaman combined in the same individual (Piddington 1950), mediums, shamans, and prophets clearly constitute subtypes of a single type of religious functionary. The priest communicates with transhuman entities through ritual that involves cultural objects and activities. The medium, shaman, and prophet communicate in a person-to-person manner: they are in what Buber (1936) would describe as an I-thou relationship with the deities or spirits. The priest, on the other hand, is in what may be called an I-it relationship with the transhuman. Between the priest and the deity intervenes the institution. Priests may therefore be classified as institutional functionaries in the religious domain, while medium, shaman, and prophet may be regarded as subtypes of inspirational functionaries. This distinction is reflected in characteristically different modes of operation. The priest presides over a rite; the shaman or medium conducts a seance. Symbolic forms associated with these occasions differ correlatively: the symbols of a rite are sensorily perceptible to a congregation and have permanence in that they are culturally transmissible, while those of a seance are mostly in the mind of the entranced functionary as elements of his visions or fantasies and are often generated by and limited to the unique occasion. The inspirational functionary may describe what he has clair-voyantly perceived (or “been shown” as he might put it), but the institutional functionary manipulates symbolic objects with prescribed gestures in full view of this congregation.

Sociocultural correlates

Since the priest is an actor in a culturally “scripted” drama, it is but rarely that priests become innovators, or “dramatists.” If they do assume this role it is mainly as legislative reformers—by altering the details of liturgical procedure—that they do so. If a priest becomes a radical innovator in religion, he is likely to become a prophet to his followers and a heretic to his former superiors. From the priestly viewpoint it is the office, role, and script that are sacred and “charismatic” and not the incumbent of priestly office. The priest is concerned with the conservation and maintenance of a deposit of beliefs and practices handed down as a sacred trust from the founders of the social or religious system. Since its symbols at the semantic level tend to condense the critical values, norms, and principles of the total cultural system into a few sensorily perceptible representations, the sanctification of these symbols is tantamount to a preservative of the entire culture. What the priest is and does keeps cultural change and individual deviation within narrow limits. But the energy and time of the inspirational functionary is less bound up with the maintenance of the total cultural system. His practice has more of an ad hoc flavor; he is more sensitive and responsive than the priest to the private and personal, to the mutable and idiosyncratic. This type of functionary thrives in loosely structured food-gathering cultures, where he deals individually with specific occasions of trouble, or during periods of social turbulence and change, when societal consensus about values is sharply declining and numerically significant classes of persons and social groups are becoming alienated from the orthodox social order. The shaman subtype is completely a part of the cultural system of the food-gatherers; the prophet may well stand outside the cultural system during such a period of decomposition and propose new doctrines, ethics, and even economic values.

The shaman is not a radical or a reformer, since the society he services is traditionally flexible and mobile; the prophet is an innovator and reformer, for he confronts a tightly structured order that is moribund and points the way to religious forms that will either provide an intensified cognitive dynamic for sociocultural change or codify the new moral, ideational, and social structures that have been inarticulately developing.

There are of course significant differences in the scale of the societies in which shaman and prophet operate. The shaman enacts his roles in small-scale, multifunctional communities whose religious life incorporates beliefs in a multitude of deities, daemons, nature spirits, or ancestral shades—societies that Durkheim might have described as possessing mechanical solidarity, low moral density, and segmental organization. The prophet tends to come into his own when the division of labor is critically replacing “mechanical” by “organic” solidarity, when class antagonisms are sharpened, or when small-scale societies are decisively invaded by the powerful personnel, ideas, techniques, and cultural apparatus (including military skills and armaments) of large-scale societies. The shaman deals in a personal and specific way with spirits and lesser deities; the prophet enters into dialogue, on behalf of his whole community, with the Supreme Being or with the major deities of a traditional pantheon, whose tutelary scope embraces large numbers of persons and groups, transcending and transecting their traditional divisions and animosities. Alternatively he communicates with the generalized ancestors or genii loci, conceived to be a single anonymous and homogeneous collectivity rather than a structure of known and named shades, each representing a specific segment of society. Whereas the shaman’s function is associated with looseness of structure in small-scale societies, the prophet’s is linked with loosening of structure in large-scale societies or with incompatibilities of scale in culture-contact situations.

Divination and religious specialists

In its strict etymological sense the term “divination” denotes inquiry about future events or matters, hidden or obscure, directed to a deity who, it is believed, will reply through significant tokens. It usually refers to the process of obtaining knowledge of secret or future things by mechanical means or manipulative techniques—a process which may or may not include invoking the aid of nonempirical (trans-human) persons or powers but does not include the empirical methods of science.

In the analysis of preliterate societies divination often is concerned with the immediate problems and interests of individuals and subgroups and but seldom with the destinies of tribes and nations. It is this specificity and narrowness of reference that primarily distinguishes divination from prophecy. Nadel (1954, p. 64) has called the kind of guidance it offers “mechanical and of a case-to-case kind.” The diviner “can discover and disentangle some of the hidden influences which are at work always and everywhere ... he cannot uncover any more embracing design…. Yet within the limits set to it divination has a part to play, providing some of the certainty and guidance required for provident action.” Thus, although its range and scope are more circumscribed than those of prophecy, divination is believed to reveal what is hidden and in many cases to forecast events, auspicious and inauspicious.

Divination further refers to the analysis of past events, especially untoward events; this analysis often includes the detection and ascription of guilt with regard to their perpetrators, real or alleged. Where such untoward events are attributed to sorcerers and witches the diviner has great freedom of judgment in detecting and determining guilt. Diviners are frequently consulted by victims’ relatives and show intuitive and deductive virtuosity in discovering quarrels and grudges in their clients’ kin groups and local communities. Social anthropologists find important clues to areas and sources of social strain and to the character and strength of supportive social norms and values in the diviners’ diagnoses.

There is evidence that mediums, shamans, and priests in various cultures have practiced divination. The medium and shaman often divine without mechanical means but with the assistance of a tutelary spirit. In the work of Lessa and Vogt there is a translation of a vivid first-person account by a Zulu informant of a diviner’s seance. This mediumistic female diviner

dramatically utilizes some standard procedures of her art—ventriloquism, prior knowledge of the clients, the overhearing of the client’s unguarded conversation, and shrewd common sense—to enable her spirits to provide the clients with advice. In this example, ... a boy is suffering from a convulsive ailment. The spirits discover that an ancestral spirit is spitefully causing the boy’s illness: the spirits decree that the location of the family’s village must be moved; a goat must be sacrificed to the ancestor and the goat’s bile poured over the boy; the boy must drink Itongo medicine. The treatment thus ranges from physical to social actions —from propitiation of wrathful ancestors to prescription of a medicinal potion. (Lessa & Vogt [1958] 1965, p. 340)

Similar accounts of shamanistic divinatory seances have been recorded by anthropologists working among North and South American Indians, Eskimos, and Siberian tribes, in many parts of Africa, and among Afro-Americans.

Divination was a function of members of the priesthood in many of the complex religious systems of Polynesia, west Africa, and ancient Mexico; in the religions of Israel, Greece, Etruria, and Rome; in Babylonia, India, China, Japan, and among the Celts. According to Wach,

The Etruscans made these practices so much a part of their culture that the discipline has been named after them (disciplina Etrusca or auguralis). Different phenomena and objects were used as media to ascertain the desires of the gods (regular and irregular celestial events, lightning, fire, and earthquakes, the shape or utterances of animals, flights of birds, movements of serpents, barking of dogs, forms of liver or entrails). Both in Etruria and Rome a numerous and well-organized hierarchy of functionaries existed for the practice of the sacred arts. (1958, p. Ill in 1961 edition)

Indeed, diffused through the Roman world, many of these techniques passed into medieval and modern culture.

Diviner and doctor

Callaway’s account (1868–1870) of the combined divinatory and curative seance in Zululand emphasizes the close relationship believed to hold in many preliterate societies between the functions of divination and therapy. Sometimes, as in the case cited, the diviner and “doctor” are the same person, but more often the roles are specialized and performed by different individuals. Modern therapy is taking increasingly into account the psychosomatic character of many maladies and the importance of sociological factors in their etiology. In most preliterate societies bodily symptoms are regarded as signs that the soul or life principle of the patient is under attack or has been abstracted by spiritual forces or beings. Furthermore, it is widely held that these attacks are motivated by animosities provoked by breaches of cultural, mainly religious, prescriptions and/or by breaches of social norms regarded as binding on members of kin groups or local communities. Thus, to acquire a comprehensive understanding of why and how a patient was afflicted with certain symptoms by a spirit or witch, primitives seek out a diviner who will disclose the secret antagonisms in social relations or the perhaps unconscious neglect of ritual rules (always a threat to the cultural order) that incited mystical retribution or malice. The diviner is a “diagnostician” who refers his clients to his colleague, the doctor or “therapist.” The doctor in question has both shamanistic and priestly attributes. The division of labor which in more complex societies segregates and institutionalizes the functions of priest and medical man has hardly begun to make its influence felt. The diviner-doctor dichotomy does not depend, as does the priest-shaman dichotomy, upon contrasting roles in regard to the transhuman realm but upon different phases in a social process which involves total human phenomena—integral personalities, many psychosomatic complexes, multiple social relationships, and multiform communities.

Modes of religious specialization

As the scale and complexity of society increase and the division of labor develops, so too does the degree of religious specialization. This process accompanies a contraction in the domain of religion in social life. As Durkheim stated with typical creative exaggeration in his Division of Labor in Society ([1893] 1960, p. 169): “Originally [religion] pervades everything; everything social is religious; the two words are synonymous. Then, little by little, political, economic, scientific functions free themselves from the religious function, constitute themselves apart and take on a more and more acknowledged temporal character.”

Simple societies

In the simplest societies every adult has some religious functions and the elders have most; as their capacity to hunt or garden wanes, their priestlike role comes into ever greater prominence. Women tend to receive more recognition and scope as religious functionaries than in more developed societies. There is some tendency toward religious specialization in such societies, based on a variety of attributes, such as knowledge of herbalistic lore, skill in leechcraft, the capacity to enter a state of trance or dissociation, and sometimes physical handicap that compels a man or woman to find an alternative means of support to subsistence activities. (I have met several diviners in central Africa with maimed hands or amputated limbs.) But such specialization can hardly be defined, in the majority of cases, as more than part-time or even spare-time specialization. Michael Gelfand’s description of the Shona nganga, variously translated in the ethnographic literature as “medicine man,” “doctor,” or “witch doctor,” exemplifies the sociocultural situation of similar practitioners in very many preliterate societies (1964). The Shona nganga is at once a herbalist, a medium, and also a diviner who, possessed by a spirit of a dead relative, diagnoses both the cause of illness and of death. Yet, reports Gelfand,

when he is not engaged in his medical practice he leads exactly the same life as the other men of his village. He cultivates his land, looks after his cattle, repairs his huts, makes blankets or other equipment needed by his family. And the same applies to a woman nganga, who busies herself with the tasks expected of every Shona woman…. The amount the nganga does in his village depends, of course, on the demands of his patients, but on the average he has a fair amount of spare time ... a fair guess would be [that there is a nganga] to every 800 to 1,000 persons…. The nganga is given no special status in his village, his chances of being appointed headman are the same as anyone else’s. (1964, pp. 22–23)

Complex societies

To bring out best the effects of increase in scale and the division of labor it is necessary to examine religious systems at the opposite end of the gradient of complexity. Religion no longer pervades all social domains; it is limited to its own domain. Furthermore, it has acquired a contractual and associational character; people may choose both the form and extent of their religious participation or may opt out of any affiliation. On the other hand, within each religious group a considerable amount of specialization has taken place. Much of this has been on the organizational level. Processes of bureaucratization, involving rationality in decision making, relative impersonality in social relations, routinization of tasks, and a hierarchy of authority and function, have produced a large number of types, grades, and ranks of religious specialists in all the major religious systems.

For example, the Catholic clerical hierarchy may be considered as (1) the hierarchy of order, whose powers are exercised in worship and in the administration of the sacraments, and (2) as the hierarchy of jurisdiction, whose power is over the members of the church. Within the hierarchy of jurisdiction alone we find such manifold statuses as pope and bishop (which are held to be of divine institution); cardinal, patriarch, exarch, and primate (whose powers are derived by delegation expressed or implied from the holy see); metropolitan and archbishop (who derive their powers from their patriarch, exarch, or primate); archdeacon, vicar general, vicar forane, rural dean, pastor, and rector (who derive their powers from their diocesan bishop).

In addition to the clerical hierarchy there are in the Catholic church numerous institutes of the religious, that is, societies of men and women approved by ecclesiastical superiors, in which the members in conformity with the special laws of their association take vows, perpetual or temporary, and by this means aspire to religious perfection. This is defined as “the heroic exercise of the virtue of supernatural charity” and is pursued by voluntary maintenance of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, by ascetical practices, through charitable works, such as care of the poor, sick, aged, and mentally handicapped, and by contemplative techniques, such as prayer. Within each religious institution or congregation there is a marked division of function and gradation of office.

Thus there are many differences of religious status, rank, and function in a developed religious system such as the Catholic church. Differences in charismata are also recognized in such terms as “contemplative,” “ascetic,” “mystic,” “preacher,” “teacher,” “administrator.” These gifts may appear in any of the major divisions of the church: among clergy or laity, among hermits, monks, or friars, among female as well as male religious. Certain of these charismata are institutionalized and constitute the devotional pattern particular to certain religious institutions: thus there are “contemplative orders,” “friars preachers,” and the like.

Medium-scale societies

Other developed religions, churches, sects, cults, and religious movements exhibit degrees of bureaucratic organization and specialization of role and function. Between the situational specialization of religious activities found in small-scale societies and the full-time and manifold specialization in large-scale societies falls a wide variety of intermediate types. A characteristic religious dichotomy is found in many of the larger, politically centralized societies of west and east Africa, Asia, Polynesia, and pre-Columbian Central and South America. National and tribal gods are worshiped in the larger towns, and minor deities, daemons, and ancestral shades are venerated in the villages. At the village level we find once more the multifunctional religious practitioner. But where there are national gods there are usually national priests, their official servants, and worship tends to take place in temples or at fixed and elaborate shrines. Parrinder writes:

In the cults of the West African gods [for example, in Dahomey, Yoruba, and Ashanti] there are priests who are highly trained to do their work. These priests are often set aside from birth, or they may be called to the service of the god by being possessed by his spirit. They will then retire from their families and public life, and submit to the training of an older priest. The training normally lasts several years, during which time the novice has to apply himself to learn all the secrets of consulting and serving the god. The training of a priest is an arduous matter…. [He] has to observe chastity and strict taboos of food and actions. He frequently has to sleep on a hard floor, have insufficient food, and learn to bear hardship. He is regarded as married to the god, though later he may take a wife. Like an Indian devotee, he seeks by self-discipline to train himself to hear the voice of his god. He learns the ritual and dances appropriate to the cult, receives instruction in the laws and taboos of the god, and gains some knowledge of magical medicines. (1954, pp. 100–101)

In these west African cults of deities there is a formal division of function between priests and mediums. In general, priests control mediums and carefully regulate their experience of possession. This situation is one solution to the perennial problem posed for priesthoods by what Ronald Knox (1950) has termed “enthusiasm,” that is, the notion that one can become possessed by or identified with a god or God and that one’s consequent acts and words are divinely inspired, even if they transgress religious or secular laws. In Dahomey, for example (Herskovits 1938), there are communal training centers, called cult houses or “convents,” for mediums and assistants to priests. Here the novices are secluded for considerable periods of time. Part of their training involves the attempt to induce the return of the initial spirit possession that marked their calling. They learn later to produce coherent messages in a state of trance. During this period they are under the surveillance of priests. The Catholic church has similarly brought under its control as members of contemplative orders mystics and visionaries who claim “experiential knowledge of God’s presence.”

Religious and political specialization

In many primitive societies an intimate connection exists between religion and politics. If by politics we denote those behavioral processes of resolution of conflict between the common good and the interests of groups by the use of or struggle for power, then religion in such societies is pragmatically connected with the maintenance of those values and norms expressing the common good and preventing the undue exercise of power. In centralized political systems that have kings and chiefs, these dignitaries themselves have priestly functions; in many parts of Africa, for example, they take charge of observances which safeguard many of the basic needs of existence, such as rain making, sowing, and harvest rites, ritual to promote the fertility of men, domestic and wild animals, and so on. On the other hand, even where this is the case, there are frequently other specialized religious functionaries whose duties are bound up with the office of kingship. An illustration of this occurs among the Bemba of Zambia, where the Bakabilo are in charge of ceremonies at the sacred relic shrines and take possession of the babenye when the chief dies. They alone can purify the chief from the defilement of sex intercourse so that he is able to enter his relic shrine and perform the necessary rites there. They are in complete charge of the accession ceremonies of the paramount and the bigger territorial chiefs, and some of their number are described as bafingo, or hereditary buriers of the chief. Besides this, each individual mukabilo has his own small ritual duty or privilege, such as lighting the sacred fire, or forging the blade of the hoe that is to dig the foundations of the new capital. (Richards 1940, p. 109 in 1955 edition)

The Bakabilo constitute a council that exerts a check on the paramount’s power, since the members are hereditary officials and cannot be removed at will. They are immune to the paramount’s anger and can block the implementation of decisions that they consider to be detrimental to the interests of the Bemba people by refusing to perform the ritual functions that are necessary to the exercise of his office. A priesthood of this type thus forms a constituent part of the interior structure of the government of a primitive state.

In stateless societies in Africa and elsewhere, incumbents of certain ritual positions have similar functions in the maintenance of order and the resolution of conflict. The “leopard-skin chief or “priest of the earth” (as this specialist has been variously called) among the Nuer of the Nilotic Sudan is a person whose ritual relationship with the earth gives him power to bless or curse, to cleanse a killer from the pollution of bloodshed, and, most important, to perform the rites of reconciliation between persons who are ready to terminate a blood feud. A similar role is performed by the “masters of the fishing spear” among the Dinka and the tendaanas, or earth priests, among the Tallensi and their congeners in the northern territories of Ghana. Similar religious functionaries are found in many other regions of Africa. They serve to reduce, if not to resolve, conflict within the society. As against sectional and factional interests they posit the commonweal. In these contexts, moreover, the commonweal is regarded as part of the cosmic order; breach, therefore, is mystically punished. The religious specialists are accorded the function of restoring the right relation that should obtain between society, the cosmos, and the deities or ancestral shades.

Victor W. Turner


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Weber, Max (1922) 1963 The Sociology of Religion. Boston: Beacon. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1964. Worsley, P. M. 1957a Millenarian Movements in Melanesia. Rhodes-Livingstone Journal 21:18–31.

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A religious specialist is a person in possession of ritual authority, esoteric knowledge, or spiritual gifts who is recognized as competent in the solution of religious needs. These needs may emerge from a demand for services on the part of a local group, from the exigencies of an organized cult, or from the political requirements of a ruling elite. The shaman witch doctor among the Ostyaks, the Brazilian Bororos, or the early American tribesmen is, from this perspective, as much a religious specialist as the Brahman priest or the Jewish rabbi.

Modern industrial societies, distinguished by cultural pluralism, status mobility, and rigorous performance standards, generate a wide range of religious needs and, thereby, divergent lines of religious specialization. Yet, in broad terms, religious specialization takes place within two spheres: within the professional clergy, who constitute the specialists for the organized religious bodies; and within the residual category of the grass-roots, client-oriented practitioners. Members of this latter category, including faith healers, clairvoyants, mediums, and self-styled prophets, acquire leadership and influence by their capacities to identify, articulate, and relieve spiritual problems. These practitioners, with local followings and ad hoc ritual techniques, occupy a distinct place in the realm of religious leadership today and wield considerable influence among the dispossessed who live outside the central orbit of middle-class life.

The professional clergy constitute an important subcategory of modern religious specialization. In turn, the term “clergy” bears two connotations— one technical and limited, the other descriptive and sociological. In the first sense, “clergy” (derived from the Greek term kleros, meaning “lot” or “portion“) refers to the ordained ministers of the Christian religion. Inherent in this definition is the ritually conferred status of authority and responsibility in relation to a body of believers, or the laity. Within Roman Catholicism the clergy make up the major orders, with three canonically defined ranks: bishop, priest, and deacon. Priests, in turn, are either religious or diocesan (secular): the former live in a community under rule, whereas the latter work under the diocesan bishop as parish priests, attending to the care of souls. Protestant groups equate “clergy” with “minister,” emphasizing the role of servitor, as opposed to the Roman Catholics, who place emphasis on sacramental function (Knox 1956, pp. 1–3). In the churches of the Anglican Communion, however, the Roman Catholic terminology is generally applied (Hardy 1956, pp. 150–155). Hence, the connotation of a consecrated full-time professional leader is applicable throughout Christianity, even though differences are recognized according to tradition and theological position. Informal terms are also used to identify levels and types of Christian clergy: “higher” and “lower” clergy, terms used in the Eastern Orthodox church in prerevolutionary Russia; the “foreign” and the “indigenous” clergy, terms developing out of the missionary situation over the past century; “established” and “free” clergy, terms frequently used in countries like England and Sweden, where a state religion with a salaried clergy coincides with a nonconformist tradition. Characteristic divisions are made in terms of sexual status or family involvement—the celibate versus the married—and in terms of function—the curate, the priest, the preacher, the evangelist, the administrator, the therapist.

The second, more general use of the term “clergy” is increasingly employed by social scientists, journalists, and comparative historians to refer to all types of sacred experts. In this sense, the term identifies any full-time functionary connected with one of the major world religions. On this level, “the clergy” indicates a professional stratum or occupational group in society. “The American clergy” is a social category that automatically includes Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish leaders.

Variations in the directions and types of specialization by function provide crosscutting bases for classification that cover both the professional clergy and folk experts. The roles of rabbi, the Islamic ulema, and the Roman Catholic canon jurist are specialties developed in connection with the interpretation of religious codes, holy laws, and ecclesiastical rules. Roles dealing with problems of illness within a religious framework include that of the exorcist, the pastoral counselor, and the Christian Science practitioner. Denominational officials, district superintendents, and seminary presidents hold key administrative-supervisory positions. Whether or not these same distinctions warrant inferences about elite status depends on the particular sociopolitical context.

Classic studies of religion

Certain substantive issues, including priestly division of labor, sequential developments of religious types, and the functions of religious specialists in group life, have taken on special importance in scholarly interests over the past hundred years. The discipline of comparative religion, launched in the mid-nineteenth century by philologists, historians, and students of mythology, produced a rich deposit of descriptive materials on the religions of ancient civilizations, including Babylonia, Egypt, Israel, China, Greece, and India. Although these scholars concentrated primarily on beliefs, attributes of deities, and ritual practices, they also contributed abundant information on priesthoods and other types of religious specialties, as well as the dynamics of priestly power and political change. However, this phase of early research, while still valuable, did not yield analytical arguments or explanatory theories regarding religious specialization.

The social evolutionists went to the other extreme. All types of religious and social phenomena were scrutinized and ordered into developmental phases, and speculative theory took precedence over comprehensive description. This enterprise made three contributions to the topic of religious leadership: the correlation of religious leadership forms with stages of cultural growth; the analysis of the role of psychological factors in the achievement of superior religious status; and the description of evolutionary development of specific religious types, with particular attention to the transition from the magician to the priest. Comte’s work, although infused with the subjective optimism of the nineteenth-century positivists, connects evolutionary theory with the conditions for the rise of priesthood and its role in stabilizing the so-called theological stage of civilization.

The originators of the functional approach to religion and society—Robertson Smith, Emile Durk-heim, Bronislaw Malinowski—did not identify religious leadership as a distinct theoretical problem, although a series of new concepts and generalizations on this category of specialization emerged indirectly from their work. Centering their primary attention on the universal properties of religion as a social phenomenon and its role in fastening group needs to the moral order, the functionalists considered ceremonial leaders and priestly activities secondary to religion as a key subsystem. In their dissatisfaction with earlier rationalistic and psychological views, these functionalists tried to demonstrate that religion is a distinct category of social experience; that it develops significant inter-dependencies with other institutional realms; and that it plays an undisputed function in society’s operation and development. The combination of this broad theoretical polemic with their reliance on materials from early and preliterate societies thereby led them to de-emphasize questions having to do with the internal differentiation of religious systems and the specifics of varying lines of ritual activity.

Freud’s work holds a particular place in the intellectual development of this field. His theory of religion had three emphases: the origins of religion, centering around totemism; the psychological and cultural determinants of religious leadership; and the functions of religious action and beliefs for the personality system. Freud defined religion as a group neurosis—a fixation stemming from unresolved infantile conflicts that originate in early relationships with the parents, especially the father. The priest or religious leader serves as a surrogate parent, allowing for the neurotic expression of adult dependency needs but at the same time creating an unconscious ambivalence controlled through the observance of taboos. Furthermore, the presence of the religious leader re-creates the bonds of pseudo familism between member and member, as well as between member and leader. Although Freud provided a theoretical explanation for the emergence and persistence of religious leadership as a universal, he made no attempt to account for the development of special types of religious roles or to explain differences and variations from one society to another.

Max Weber provided the necessary breakthrough from historical-descriptive investigation and evolutionary theory. His comparative study of world religions, which focused on a theory of religious ideas and economic change, brought attention directly to religious functionaries as agents of social transformation or as conservators of tradition (Weber 1922). Priestly activity, historically combining with prophetic developments, produces a progressive “rationalization” of religious ideas. Weber saw these systematic orderings of supernatural conceptions as critical for levering men away from traditional, magical, and undifferentiated religious world views; hence he viewed the priesthood as a powerful educating force, which mediates between a world of magic and a world of ethical rationality. Utilizing the evolutionary technique, Weber delineated the development of various forms of religious specialization in sequences representing magician, mysta-gogue, and priest. Moreover, he compared the conditions under which different types emerge— prophet, lawgiver, teacher, or contemplative mystic —and went on to trace the economic, intellectual and political consequences of these various types of leadership and authority.

Contemporary research

Since 1920 studies of religious specialists have moved away from the classic preoccupations with typologies and evolutionary sequences to one or another of the following problem areas: the clergy’s personal and social characteristics, with emphasis on origins, recruitment factors, theological and political attitudes, and conceptions of their status (for example, Donovan 1958; Smith & Sjoberg 1961); the institutional context of clergy behavior and performance built around concepts derived from role theory and occupational issues, thus stressing status dilemmas, role strains, career lines, and the clergy’s mode of integration with other professionals and clients in special settings, such as therapy networks and chaplaincies (Fichter 1954; Blizzard 1956; Cumming & Harrington 1963); broad diagnostic analyses of the clergy as a modern profession, with particular attention to the declining role of the sacred in industrial-urban life, the special criteria underlying the clergy’s claim to professional status, and the sources of the clergy’s alienation in the contemporary world (Hagstrom 1957; Fichter 1961; Gustafson 1963); and finally, comparative investigations of the clergy as members of local and national elite power structures, including their place among community influentials and as agents of change or tradition in the developing countries (Form & D’Antonio 1959; Underwood 1957; Pope 1942).

Recruitment of religious specialists

Clerical recruitment receives special attention from researchers because of the traditional religious leader’s strategic role in communal life and his association with privilege, prestige, and even wealth. Criteria of eligibility for these elite positions are usually distinctive. Cross-culturally, the prerequisites range from physical fitness and extraordinary psychic capacities to hereditary status, sex, age, and spiritual experience. In the modern societies of the West, first attention is given to qualifications based on formal training, to the candidate’s conviction of having received a “call,” or to the seminary professors’ judgments about the future clergyman’s social skills, his psychological stability, his strength of professional commitment and, if he is Protestant or Jew and married, to the suitability of his wife for the pastoral situation. Contrasts in recruitment criteria are frequently overemphasized, to the neglect of examining the criteria’s implications for other issues, such as the relationship between supply and demand.

Determination of eligibility by birth, which provides candidates without reference to need, may lead to oversupply. In the interest of making use of these resources, the division of labor involved in ritual is sometimes elaborated, allowing for the participation of greater numbers; such appears to be the case in Hinduism, where sacrifice requires the attendance of six or seven Brahman priests. Hereditary rights to sacred privilege thereby create vested interests in achieving and maintaining full ritual employment. However, different factors work to curtail this kind of elaboration. For example, believers can refuse to support additional religious leaders or turn to less costly substitute functionaries. The establishment of a centrally controlled ritual altar also reduces opportunities for leadership; thus members of the local hereditary priestly groups in ancient Israel lost their positions when sacrifice was limited to the temple in Jerusalem. In contemporary India, priestly Lingayat lineages solve the problem of oversupply by dividing the ritual role among the eligible by a process of rotation, each man holding the position of priest for one year in eight or ten.

Shortage, however, is a more serious problem than oversupply. As established sources decline or as emerging needs require additional recruits, religious bodies are forced to devise new recruitment strategies. Shortage problems of this kind are more characteristic of universalistic, missionary religions of the West, where the religious professions are of relatively low prestige, while the core spiritual functions remain the prerogative of an ordained elite. Roman Catholicism is often confronted with a particularly difficult dilemma in this respect: since salvation is dependent on the sacraments, and their administration is largely confined to the priest, large memberships in strategic regions are often without adequate pastoral care. This pattern is today particularly conspicuous in Latin America, where shortages of clergy reach crisis proportions. Not only is it common to have one priest for eight to ten thousand members, but the laity may be so distributed geographically as to make regular services impossible (Alonso et al. 1962; Perez & Wust 1961). In order to mitigate the shortage, priests are being transferred from other nations, laity roles have been heightened, and the diaconate is being reestablished as a part of the orders. Protestant bodies in Great Britain and the United States today also face problems of shortage. Particular concern is shown in the United States for recruiting clergy who know and understand urban issues. Most ministers are drawn from towns and small cities; yet the crux of contemporary Protestantism’s problem lies in developing influence in urban areas. Hence, the issue of a shortage of clergy is complicated by the issue of cultural background. Furthermore, while the need for clerical strength increases, the secular professions steadily offer wider opportunities and higher material rewards for college graduates. This intersection of rising demands and lowered supply places the churches in a double bind, with no immediate amelioration in sight.

Training of religious specialists

The variations found in procedures for training the clergy and other religious specialists are striking and may be viewed in terms of structural context, content, and duration. The principal differences in structural context are made plain by contrasting the father-son pattern that is found among traditional priestly family groups with the autonomous, interdenominational, university-affiliated seminaries that provide training for future ministers in the major American Protestant denominations. Between these two poles fall the teacher-disciple relationship, the work of seminaries sponsored and controlled by particular religious bodies, and the special schooling required for candidates to the religious orders and religious congregations. In the early Roman Catholic church, priests were trained in cathedral schools, which generally gave way to the universities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century established the requirement of seminary training. Prior to the 1917 revolution, Russian clergy of the Eastern Orthodox church were trained in seminaries, but there were only one or two of these, and most of the lower clergy were not trained at all. The center of scholarly training for the Islamic ulema is al-Azhar in Cairo; however, throughout most of the world, training in the Koran is carried out by local teachers, who pass the tradition on to students. In the United States the need for additional Protestant preachers and ministers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the founding of numerous religious colleges. Moreover, an increase in the demand for licensed clergy in modern times has created a flock of diploma mills and pseudo seminaries.

Training does not always prepare religious specialists for their work. Because this holds true for the major Christian bodies today, a critical evaluation of the seminary and its curriculum is taking place. The clergy are disciplined in church history, theology, and dogma only to find that the pastoral role demands administrative capabilities, human relations skills, practical techniques in the programming of secular activities, and the ability to evaluate and act in relation to community needs. This confusion between professional expectations and professional realities is held to be the key source of low morale and insecurity among the clergy (Nie-buhr 1956).

Career mobility

Religious specialists are career men in that their commitment to the sacred office is usually for life. Thus, patterns of placement and tenure are understandably important. Many Anglican clergymen, for example, hold beneficed positions from the time of their ordination until their death. This tenure system has many drawbacks, not the least being the episcopate’s loss of control over the lower clergy. The Roman Catholic secular priest is usually assigned in the diocese within which he has received seminary training. In the congregationally centered Protestant denominations, the ordained minister is contracted for by the local church, though frequently on the basis of recommendations from denominational officials. This same policy holds in Conservative Judaism. Procedures of appointment, whether from above or below, affect the clergyman’s mobility and his conceptions of success. In the congregational churches, ministers move frequently and widely. Competition is keen for the best churches.

Barriers to advancement are of many types, including particularistic preferences for manner or speech as well as slow turnover at the top levels. The growth of administrative positions and the opening of special ministries in the big cities are helping to relieve some of these mobility pressures. When openings do exist, the criteria for promotion are often unclear. The close involvement of the clergy in ritual duties, symbolic acts, and ministries of love complicates the whole process of evaluation. Lacking explicit criteria for judging clerical performance, many religions fall back on the seniority principle. The clustering of the older men at the top tends, of course, to increase the inflexibility and conservatism that are often associated with religious organizations. Although the clergyman’s position in society is a secure one, the internal pattern of his professional success often depends on skillful maneuvering and patience rather than on accomplished performance. In particular cases success is not anticipated, at least not in terms of moving up. The lower clergy in the Russian church before the Revolution were prohibited from receiving appointments to vacant sees, both because they were married and because they were socially inferior. This barrier between the church’s higher offices and the local clergy has been maintained throughout most of the past four hundred years in Latin America.

Political position of the religious elite

The potential conflict between priests and rulers, or between religious and secular elites, erupts from various causes, revealing itself in at least three situations: when sacred principles are used to challenge the legitimacy of political authority, as most clearly exemplified in the contest between regnum and sacerdotium in western Europe from the eleventh to the fourteenth century (Parker 1955); when religious leaders gain a monopoly over a sector of public life that is deemed essential to the development of society, as was the case in the conflict that emerged in France during the 1880s over the secularization of the schools (Moody et al. 1953); and when religious leaders or sacred authorities initiate programs that violate moral sensibilities or secular law, for example, the Mormons’ practice of polygamy in the United States after their move to Utah. Conflict is least likely when the religious cult is controlled by the government, with the priests serving as official bureaucrats, and when, as in classical China, the state officials perform the ritual ceremonies. The complete separation of church and state is an equally stable solution, demonstrated by the history of the United States over the past 180 years.

The social strata from which the clergy are drawn is another relevant factor. If they are identified with a single class, as in prerevolutionary France, hostilities toward the clergy may polarize, drawing power from general social antagonisms. When, on the other hand, clergy are drawn from ail classes, class hatred is potentially reduced, since every family or status group has a clerical representative. Religious elites gain adaptive advantages from other sources, including their capacity to draw personnel and finances from other countries —as in present-day Roman Catholicism—their possession of publishing houses and parochial schools, and the extent to which the religious system is centralized, allowing control over the movement and allocation of religious specialists.

Over a period of time, the position a religious elite holds in the political sphere may change because of changes in the elite’s function and its relationship to levels of social structure. In the United States the power of the clergy on the community level is changing from that of decision maker to that of an agency for mobilizing support on issues already decided. Among the clergy in France, emphasis has moved away from competing for formal power on the national level toward the promoting of value change in local settings. In all modern industrial societies, the trend of the clergy is away from open political struggle and toward a reliance on their religious authority to influence issues that are held to be of moral and social importance. In broad terms, the change is from open, direct maneuvers to indirect persuasion and suggestion, frequently backed up by joint statements that crosscut denominational and faith lines.

Internal conflict

Although overtly symbolizing solidarity and stability, religious elites are frequently divided by internal strife and competition. In the present era new factors are emerging to foment such differences. Developments in Protestant groups at the level of central administration, with their attendant changes in authority and power, infringe on the autonomy of the local pastors. Ecumenical moves and cross-denominational cooperation are stimulating reactions among clergy who take historical differences seriously. In another dimension, the problem of defining the mission of the church in society provides room for varied concepts and sharply defined differences of opinion: some groups see the church as an agency of social reform, whereas others view the congregational unit as a center of religious fellowship, ritual worship, and inwardly focused spirituality. Roman Catholic divisions today center less on matters of belief and dogma than on conceptions of the church in relation to society and on the nature of authority and its appropriate means of institutionalization. The major issues in these debates center on the opposition between the ascetic view of the church and the view emphasizing the church incarnate; between the conservative view of priestly authority and the view favoring lay-clergy cooperation; between bishops favoring the supremacy of the pope and those holding for increased decentralization; and finally, between those regarding religious orders as fortresses of spiritual contemplation and those desiring their increased role in the active apostolate.

Religious leaders and the laity

Many of the vital issues underlying the problems and dilemmas of religious leaders emerge in the relationship of the clergy to laymen. In the past, conflicts between laymen and clergy were embodied in the laity’s rebellion against sacred privilege, lax morality among priests, the economic burden of church taxes, and the methods of clerical appointment. Different problems have emerged in the modern period to foster clergylaity tensions. The enormous rise in educational level of church members in Europe and the United States robs the religious leader of his earlier position as a man of learning; at the same time, the laity demand more from him as minister, social leader, and administrator. Matters of control over ecclesiastical property and appointment prerogatives are now less central, in most instances, than that of the social relationship between the pastor and his charges. Although the norms governing this basic relationship are in a process of change, they tend to give priority to expectations of warmth, personalism, and service. The full-time religious leader is expected to live up to these norms and to be accessible and available at all times. The core problem that emerges from this typical situation has its source in the religious leader’s struggle to maintain effective distance from the demands and invitations that laymen consider appropriate. Various arrangements help to offset these difficulties: closed residence for priests; location of the minister’s home at a distance from the house of worship; segregated religious assemblies, such as special retreats for religious leaders; distinctions in dress; and limitation of contact to ritual occasions or to special appointment hours. Centralized religions often follow a policy of periodically reassigning their local leaders, thereby indirectly reducing patterns of long-term involvement between leader and membership.

A distinctive and growing source of clergy-laity conflict is in evidence in the contemporary Roman Catholic church. The movement toward increased lay participation, initiated by Leo xni in the last decades of the nineteenth century, has gradually taken root in France, Belgium, the United States, Brazil, and Chile. For the past seventy years the church has tried to reach alienated membership groups, ranging from the French urban proletariat to the Chilean rural peasantry. This ambitious undertaking places an enormous strain on church labor reserves, and local clergy are inadequate to carry out this new responsibility. The laity has therefore become a potential auxiliary work force, assuming organizational assignments such as teaching the catechism, actively proselytizing, organizing youth groups, and assisting with the administration of the sacraments (Marie Joseph 1953). These changes provoke tensions between the diocesan clergy and the laity, since the clergy’s power and prestige tend to decline, while the status of the layman rises. Thus, the membership both expect and demand greater voice in local church administration and policy decisions. It is clear that the priest’s “charisma” of office is no longer an adequate basis for his authority. He must be knowledgeable as well as schooled, and the power of his leadership increasingly rests on his spiritual-social qualities rather than on the symbolic duties of the sacramental role.

Religious elites and the social order. A view of the broader role the clergy play in society underlines other aspects of religious leadership’s complex nature. Except for some monastic communities and certain types of professional mystic, sacred men are always intimately bound up with the wider social order. The over-all trend of the clergy’s place in society is that of narrowed functional importance, while the trend within the religious unit is toward increased scope of functional responsibility. A recognition of this dual change helps explain many of the current findings relative to the clergyman’s confusion and insecurity. The interpretation that some sociologists give to the “minister’s dilemma” holds that added administrative and social responsibilities in the local church have created strains in carrying out the roles of pastor, preacher, and ritual agent. Hence, multiple roles are taken as the cause of the clergyman’s distress (Blizzard 1956; Fichter 1954).

This explanation is unsatisfactory, since it fails to take account of the changing place of the religious leader in society. The clergyman has often filled multiple roles. In seventeenth-century England, for example, the local clergyman served as lawyer, teacher, counselor, doctor, and community social leader, as well as preacher and administrator of the sacraments; his time and energies were more in demand than those of his modern counterpart. However, the important fact is that these multiple roles brought status and respect from society: he was visible, needed, and rewarded. Today the clergyman still finds himself with multiple roles, but they are bound up with the internal activities of the religious unit. The organized religions are now confronted with the painful problem of reestablishing a position of usefulness and influence in society. Organizational activities thereby assume strategic importance, as a means of attracting people and as a way of increasing leadership effectiveness. In this situation the local clergyman is pushed to become planner, strategist, organizer, and action leader. These demands, however, arise from within the religious system, not from society. He is thereby separated in his work from the eye of the public, the major spheres of social reward, and the growing prestige of the secular professions; yet he is expected to meet the requirements of a demanding position.

The clergy and social change

Controversy continues to surround the clergy’s relationship to social change. Priestly professions and conservatism often go hand in hand. At least three factors play a decisive role in building this conservatism: high priests and religious officials are often recruited from society’s upper strata; religious beliefs characteristically stress otherworldly rewards, thus devaluating secular progress and accomplishment; and ritual exactness and adherence to form are assumed to hold a central role in maintaining the benefits and favors of supernatural entities. Thus, tampering with time-honored techniques may disturb an established positive balance. Certain conceptual refinements, as well as changing social conditions, serve to qualify this static picture. For example, typologies applicable to religious roles—such as “priest” versus “prophet,” “pastor” versus “administrator,” or “local” versus “cosmopolitan“—provide useful distinctions between specialists who focus on religion’s conserving functions and those who attempt to create new breakthroughs in religious meaning, action, and organization (Wach 1944). Modern theologians symbolize this innovative side.

Moreover, within a given type of religious specialty or within a historical period, the institutional context of the specialist’s work must be taken into account. Clergymen who are assigned duties outside the denominational-parish context are often more committed to innovation and change than their secular counterparts. With the proliferation of special ministries, including factory programs, university and hospital chaplaincies, and innercity missions, a growing number of clergy are partly freed from traditional authority and conformity-based parish pressures. However, these new men are vulnerable to other pressures, which emerge in the outside settings, as the “worker priest” experiment showed (Edwards 1961; Poulat 1965). Ministers who lead local congregations, on the other hand, are tied directly to a traditionally defined religious unit, from which they draw their rewards. Their stand on a moral or sociopolitical issue—whether civil rights, ecumenicism, or federal aid to education—depends on the values of the dominant lay groups. Conservatism or its opposite therefore tends to be built into the situation. Present-day critics of the Southern clergy’s reluctance to lead out for racial integration overlook this intimate relationship between context and behavior (Campbell & Pettigrew 1959).

Recent empirical studies suggest that the clergyman’s effectiveness as a counselor, or as an agent of personality change, is also limited by this tie-in with a concrete religious group (Cumming & Harrington 1963). Although he is accessible, shares key values with his parishioners, and is often well prepared to understand the depth factors that produce personal stress, he lacks the professional distance of the psychiatrist or caseworker. Two consequences flow from this situation. First, though the clergyman is frequently consulted before any other professional by members of his congregation with personal problems, the relationship with the “patient” is usually weak or easily interrupted. Members tend to withhold information, fearing that it may get “loose in the system,” or they withdraw from the relationship altogether. Second, the clergy’s identification with a religious tradition leads other professionals who give counsel or therapy (psychiatrist, social worker, doctor) to overlook the local clergyman as a member of the broader deviance-control system. Even when a patient’s problem appears to warrant “religious counseling,” referral to a minister is seldom made; yet the clergy steadily refer members of their congregation to secular professionals. Thus, the clergyman in his role as therapist gives more than he gets, not simply because he is less qualified but also because he is viewed by his secular colleagues in the community as an agent of a particular belief system, and more broadly, as a man with a “moral outlook.”

The overseas missionary, also, is a distinct type of religious specialist. This fact calls for some extension of these qualifications about the clergy’s role in social change. The clergy’s fostering of schools, hospitals, agricultural technology, and programs of community development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America represents a major type of directed change (Maddox 1956). In fact, the missionary led the way in various types of socioeco-nomic reform throughout these areas, between the late nineteenth century and the end of World War Ii. Since 1945 government technical missions, United Nations teams, and special overseas programs, such as the Peace Corps, have largely eclipsed the missionary’s frontier role in promoting change. Moreover, the implicit association often made between foreign missions and colonial interests has further reduced missionary opportunities. Paralleling these developments, leaders of the organized religions increasingly recognize that church survival and growth depend not only on overseas work but also on new types of entrepreneurship on the domestic front, especially in the metropolitan areas and among workers and racial and ethnic minorities. In those remaining areas where proselyting is permitted, foreign missionaries also confront growing pressures to turn their work over to an indigenous clergy. The Catholics appear to be more successful in this grass-roots endeavor than the Protestants, partly, of course, because of differences in administrative and financial policies.

The role of religious leadership in social change is further clarified by taking account of the religious system’s authority structure. Centralized, hierarchically organized priesthoods frequently breed divisions of a “higher” and “lower” order, the latter stratum being held in subservience by the superiors. Tensions that emerge from this castelike pattern are available for displacement into political directions during periods of social unrest, the lower clergy uniting with other oppressed groups as supporters of the liberal cause. This happened in Latin America from 1810 to 1830, and in Russia following the 1917 revolution. Hence, both tensions within religious leadership groups and conflict among religious elites may help foment social change and liberal activity, depending on how these antagonisms become fused with broader political and economic forces. In contemporary Latin America, especially in Chile and Brazil, the Roman Catholic clergy are demonstrating an unusually progressive position on social change (Vallier 1965). This is a surprise, considering the historical position of the church in these areas. Further examination reveals, however, that in both Chile and Brazil secular and religious threats are very real, one source being the radical political doctrines of the socialist and communist left, and the other the successes of the Protestant sects. Liberal steps, such as the distribution of church lands to peasants, the establishment of technical-training schools, and trade-union activity, are seen as new ways of capturing religious loyalties. Hence, to understand the position that priests or ministers take in fomenting or restricting social change, a whole range of referents need to be specified.

New patterns of religious specialization

Viewed from within the broader context of the modern professions, religious specialization in Christianity exhibits several noteworthy patterns. As in medicine, law, and university teaching, growing lines of differentiation (therapy, social research, ecumenicism, liturgy, and domestic missions) create pressures for integrative-coordinative roles. Thus, experts in administration, communication, and planning gain visibility and influence. In American Protestant denominations these coordinative problems loom very large, and internal power struggles increasingly emerge around these units. American Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, is well-developed as an administrative and policy-making body but lacks effective lines of specialization with respect to problems of the laity, interfaith cooperation, and the linking of group worship to communal forms other than those resulting from traditional ethnic bonds. In Europe the dominant line of specialization is the theologian’s role within the realm of Judaeo-Christian ideas as a culture; theo logical activity is heavily linked to Biblical studies —a combination that is producing a major creative thrust. The core problems for European Christianity emerge at the level of meaning and ideology rather than in the spheres of organization and action. Thus, possibilities for the development of Christianity hinge on the theologians’ capacities to establish competitive systems of faith vis-a-vis Marxism, existentialism, and secular totalitarian mystiques. In broad terms, lines of religious specialization differ not only by Protestant and Catholic traditions but also by continents.

Directions of research

From the foregoing considerations, it is clear that the subject of modern religious specialists comprises diverse substantive problems and important analytical issues. Religious specialists not only continue to hold a distinctive place in the contemporary world but also make up a key category in the study of occupations, social movements, culture, and organization. Yet this field presently lacks vitality and direction within the social sciences. New evaluations are needed to restore to it some of the contributory capacity it earlier possessed. Several suggestions are in order.

One possibility is to connect the study of religious specialization more fully to the problem of the churches’ ambitions to retain and extend forms of religious influence in modern society. Both Christian and non-Christian groups seek to maximize their spheres of dominance, and in these endeavors traditional strategies and former linkages with the social order lose importance. Consequently, innovation, entrepreneurship, and institution building, as instruments of religious influence, are highly significant and thus become points of structural growth and change. Comparisons are possible between major religious traditions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—and within distinct faiths (Vallier 1962). The three great modern adaptations of Roman Catholicism— in western Europe, the United States, and Latin America—constitute only one subspecies within which religious specialization and the problem of achieving new lines of religious control could be studied. The point, of course, is that religious specialists should be viewed as more than members of an isolated occupational category or local leaders frustrated by new pressures. An approach that focuses on patterns of specialization in relation to the evolution and change of total religious systems would be more fruitful.

A second possibility involves the comparative study of religious specialists as factions within a religion’s “political” subsystem. Although conflicts and power struggles are endemic to all religions, these divisions are too often examined within the limited “liberal” and “conservative” categories. This is a risky oversimplification. The liberal Roman Catholic development in modern Europe or in Latin America is actually made up of diverse interests, orientations, and ideologies, each with its own elite and identity. In this same sense the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the United States is often labeled “conservative” relative to the liberal groups in Europe. However, no one would seriously argue that the conservative elite in the American hierarchy hold the same views and positions as the Italian prelates who control the Curia. Liberal Protestant clergy are often lumped together by such flimsy criteria as their attitudes toward the Bible or their reading of the Christian Century, but again the spectrum is very wide. Moreover, to identify a segment that holds similar attitudes does not allow any inference about the role these individuals play in the internal political arena. In addition to the need for work on intrareligious conflicts and factions, further extensions are appropriate for systematically relating religious elites to nonreligious elites in the wider context of modern society. Studies of community power structures provide suggestive leads for this problem.

Other possibilities are open for developing the subject of religious leadership. The traditional emphasis on typological diversity tends to obscure the central question as to what sacred positions have in common. Distinctions by rank, function, and training are often taken to be more important than the characteristics that religious specialists share as a distinct category of social structure. The simple fact that all religious specialists are focused primarily on the realm of the nonempirical and religioethical absolutes sets them apart from statesmen, business executives, and doctors. The clergyman lacks a technical body of knowledge that can be applied to the solution of empirical problems. In that sense he cannot practice his profession; instead he must live it. For the most part, his base of knowledge is normative and closed rather than scientific and open. He interprets, while his colleagues in the secular professions prescribe; he tries to give meaning to the event, since he cannot control it. Thus, to place the clergy along with lawyers, academicians, social workers, and engineers into one broad category marked “professionals” is to violate several distinctives of singular theoretical importance. As the special properties of sacred elites become clarified, knowledge of religious dynamics and of the nature of the professions will be advanced.

Ivan A. Vallier

[See alsoPsychiatry, article onthe religio-psychiatric movement; Religious organization; Sects and cults. Other relevant material may be found in the biographies ofComte; Freud; Weber, Max.]


Statistics on the modern clergy can be found in Bilan du monde 1964; U.S. Bureau of the Census 1964; the yearbook of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America; The Catholic Directory 1960; Estudios socio-religiosos latinoamericanos. For bibliographies on religious specialists, including historical trends and special groups, consult Wach 1944; Niebuhr & Williams 1956; Salisbury 1964. On the clergy’s training and its professional codes, see Fichter 1961. For the problems of the modern clergy, consult Vatican Council 1966; Po-blete Barth 1965; Edwards 1961. Empirical studies of the modern clergy’s political and social views are Lenski 1961 and Campbell & Pettigrew 1959.

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Smith, James O.; and Sjoberg, Gideon 1961 Origins and Career Patterns of Leading Protestant Clergymen. Social Forces 39:290–296.

Underwood, Kenneth W. 1957 Protestant and Catholic: Religious and Social Interaction in an Industrial Community. Boston: Beacon.

U.S. Bureau Of The Census 1964 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Vallier, Ivan 1962 Church, Society, and Labor Resources: An Intra-denominational Comparison. American Journal of Sociology 68:21–33.

Vallier, Ivan 1965 Religious Elites in Latin America: Catholicism, Leadership and Social Change. Unpublished manuscript.

Vatican Council, Second, 1962–1965 1966 The Documents of Vatican 11. New York: America Press. → A paperback edition was published in the same year. See especially pages 396–429 on “Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church“; pages 437–457 on “Decree on Priestly Formation” pages 466–482 on “Decree on the Appropriate Jlei.ewui of the Religio Life“; and pages 532–576 on “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.”

Wach, Joachim (1944) 1958 Sociology of Religiovus Univ. of Chicago Press. → See especially pages 331–374 on “Types of Religious Authority.”

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