CESNUR and "Sociology"  

by Miguel Martinez


In his replies to the first version of this text, Introvigne told me that I was "free to think" whatever I pleased about his credentials. 

I do not think that credentials are something one can be "free to think about" as one pleases. They either exist or they do not. I do not wish here to go into the disputed issue of who is legally a "sociologist". While I do not deny that Mr Introvigne may well have convinced - as he claims - "scholarly associations, universities and courts of justice" otherwise (in May 1998, half of Italy heard him explicitly call himself a "sociologist" on Italy's Canale Cinque TV channel), I believe that a good sociologist is a person who writes about what makes societies tick; and a bad sociologist at least has a degree in sociology. 

I have read most of Introvigne's writings on "new religious movements" (I have not however read any of his many publications on merchandising and international patent law). I find them to be generally quite reliable and well-written sources on something one might call "history of theology". I find very little one could recognize as sociology in them.  

There is a good example of this. Le sette cristiane is a small book, written for the general public, so it should contain the essence of what Introvigne wants to communicate to readers. Let us take the part on Jehovah's Witnesses, which is supposed to give a quite average reader an overall picture of the organization. The part on the JW's is divided into three neat chapters, covering ten pages each, so it is easy to make a statistical analysis of the topics treated in it. 

A sociologist studying this movement would certainly talk of its history and of its ideas; but he would mainly focus on how several million JW's actually live. On how power, money and authority flow inside the organization. On the effects of total ideological detachment from the rest of society. On the social classes attracted by the message. On the impact on hundreds of thousands of young men of living in an organization which says that one should go to gaol instead of joining the army in countries where military duty is obligatory. On the change of language inside an organization where every word is decided on beforehand by a small group of individuals about whom average members know very little. On the effect that expecting Armageddon to be around the corner has on people's careers, marriages, child-raising. On the rhythm of daily life when this centres around meetings and door-to-door preaching. On the psychological implications of life-and-death choices about blood transfusion. On living in a time-frame without birthdays or Christmas. On the identity of people who feel closer to other JW's in Hong Kong or in Rwanda than they do to the people they work or go to school with. On the positive aspects of living in an environment where smoking is forbidden and drinking discouraged. Unlike other groups where specific information may be lacking, a tremendous amount of documentation exists on all these matters. 

What does the "sociologist" Introvigne actually do in his book? One chapter, i.e. one third of the whole relevant text, is devoted to a very thorough analysis of the genealogy of the doctrines of the leadership of the JW's. Another third to changes in JW doctrine between 1914 and the present day. The last third is explicitly titled "The doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses". Three thirds makes one hundred percent devoted to theology. The last chapter however includes a few lines (about 1 or 2% of the total text) which list certain JW laws, without any mention of their impact on the people who obey them. The heading is entitled "Morals" and follows other headings such as "The fate of Man" and "Jesus Christ". 

This is a typical example of Introvigne's method. This kind of non-sociology has a societal impact: if the JW's are entirely a "theology", then only theologians are authorized to discuss the movement. This is a form of expropriation towards all other human beings involved, whether these are within or outside the organization. This attitude mirrors the TFP belief system, which rules out the notion that Brazilian farmers may have anything to say: all that exists is a conflict between the Virgin Mary and Satan in heaven, and between Thomas Aquinas and Karl Marx on earth.  

Cardinal Bernardino Echeverría Ruiz, writing - of course - in Alleanza Cattolica's magazine Cristianità ("Un'opera che ci invita a riflettere seriamente", January 1996, p. 17), sums up Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira's theology: 

"There have always been wise and ignorant men, classes that rule and classes that obey, the rich and the poor. Christ himself left us this teaching: the poor will always be with you [ Corrêa de Oliveira] upholds the need for rediscovering the social values of the privileged classes, of families belonging to noble strains, of families of good birth, thanks to their titles and their traditions" 
 


It will probably take the average reader a minute to realize that the Cardinal is actually approving Plinio's thinking, as is the magazine of the organization Introvigne is proud to be a "militant" of.

Summing up, I believe the most one can say is that Introvigne is probably a very good, very busy patent lawyer with a private hobby for history of theology, which happens to combine with his organisation's war against the "anti-cult movement".

e-mail