Cultural Genetics

by William Sims Bainbridge

Given in a conference in May 1982 and published pp. 157-198 in
Religious Movements, edited by Rodney Stark. New York: Paragon, 1985.

Cult is culture writ small. When I made this point four years ago (Bainbridge 1978b), I suggested thereby that we can learn much about the generation of culture by studying religious cults. Now I would like to go further. Cults are the drosophila melanogaster and escherichia coli which will permit us to develop cultural genetics.

When biological geneticists employ fruit flies or bacteria for their studies, rather than elephants or redwoods, they exploit the brevity of these organisms' lives, the efficiency of collecting great quantities of cheap data on these modest species, and in the case of e. coli the ease of intervening in the processes of inheritance. Cults have all these advantages in comparison to larger and more stable social institutions. Another advantage is that cults display simple phenomena in coherent, individual organisms, which typically is not the case for the cultures of whole societies. Thus, cults also have the advantage of the viruses which contemporary geneticists have studied, in that it is possible to sequence the entire genetic structure, to chart the whole culture and determine the mode and source of inheritance of every part.

Certainly, it may turn out that cults operate according to a somewhat different set of principles from other aspects of culture. By employing a few examples from music in this essay, I shall show that the concepts which appear to explain cult genetics do so as well for other phenomena. I believe cults well represent a range of other human creations, and that very different phenomena can be identified and understood more easily if we already have analyzed cults. Homo sapiens is vastly more complex than the phiX174 virus, yet complete sequencing of the genome of the latter was an important step toward understanding the genetics of the former.

In any case, this essay explores the possibility of a cultural genetics based on research and theory about cults. Even if this field should turn out to be limited to the sphere of novel religions, extensive research along the lines I propose would be justifiable. The great world religions, including some not yet born, emerge as cults, and religion remains one of the most important and most distinctively human objects of study for social scientists.

In order for a cultural genetics to be possible, three things are necessary: First, there must be some process of reproduction and inheritance, in which cultural structures and elements are transmitted from one "generation" to the next. Second, there must be a significant measure of stability in the transmission process, in which the replicators show sufficient copying-fidelity to transmit recognizable patterns. Third, there must be some process such as sexuality or mutation which introduces change and variety into the process of inheritance yet is sufficiently coherent itself to permit scientific analysis. In fact these conditions are met by religious cults and by at least some other phenomena such as stylistic schools in the various arts. If other parts of the wider culture fail to exhibit these features, still there will be an "inorganic chemistry" of culture if not the full richness of an organic genetics, and the rules of one can illuminate the rules of the other.

Do cults reproduce? And, if so, can we discern regularities in the processes by which parent cults give rise to novel offspring? Surely, we should not expect to find the equivalent of sexual reproduction in the cultural sphere. To say that necessity is the mother of invention is not to suggest a real counterpart to males and females among the factors which generate innovations. The idea of two deviant religious groups engaging in sexual intercourse, resulting in the birth of a third, is a bizarre image, although some rare cases might fit this metaphor.

However complex it may seem, culture reproduces through processes more analogous to those used by the most simple sexual forms of life. Therefore, in the end we may draw more inspiration from contemporary research on viruses and bacteria than from the more classical studies of fruit flies and sweet peas. Yet, at this very early point in the development of cultural genetics, we cannot limit our search for metaphors, and should hunt widely for biological principles which might have their parallels in culture. I suggest we should read as deeply in the history of genetics as in the most recent reports of laboratory experiments (Sturtevant 1965; Whitehouse 1965; Stubbe 1972). This essay does not draw heavily upon the growing body of literature which seeks to apply sociobiology and population genetics to culture, but much future work should do so (Lumsden and Wilson 1981; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981).

In modern society, cults are born out of older cults, and most of them are known to cluster in family lineages. The very fact that Melton (1978) could organize his great encyclopedia around the family concept shows this. In an earlier paper. Stark and I delineated three compatible models of cult innovation, which represented a step toward cultural genetics. All three models could be found in the literature, although two were relatively dormant in sociology at the time we wrote. And all three have considerable empirical support. We suggested, but did not then show in detail, that the three were compatible, rather than competing, although one or another might apply particularly well in explaining a given case of cultic innovation. All three showed how people might create novel systems of compensators, but one placed the locus of innovation in an individual beset by psychopathology, the second in a religion-business entrepreneur, and the third in a small, cohesive social group undergoing subculture evolution.

In our discussion of the entrepreneur model, although with no presumption that the two other models fail to follow the same rules of heredity, we suggested a parallel between cult innovation and the intentional evolution currently practiced in the laboratory:

Future research can determine the most common processes through which entrepreneurial cult founders actually invent their novel ideas. We suspect the main techniques involve the cultural equivalent of recombinant DNA genetic engineering. Essentially, the innovator takes the cultural configuration of an existing cult, removes some components, and replaces them with other components taken from other sources. Often, the innovator may simply splice pieces of two earlier cults together. In some cases, the innovator preserves the supporting skeleton of practices and basic assumptions of a cult he admires, and merely grafts on new symbolic flesh (Bainbridge and Stark 1979, 290).

De-emphasizing the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" genetics, we can expand greatly on these ideas now, first suggesting the chief modes of reproduction, which while they do not involve sexuality nonetheless can be effective means for producing new religious organisms.

Fission and Sporulation

While sects come into being through the process of schism, cults are born in what appears to be an unlimited variety of ways. However, many of the stories put out by the cults themselves to explain their origins are false, and I think most cases - and all those of interest for cultural genetics - are born through two processes I shall call.fission and sporulation. Certainly, many cults may emerge through a series of events which falls between these two clear extremes, but if we define and explore these two concepts, we shall easily be able to interpolate between them and understand the range of mechanisms by which cults reproduce themselves.

Fission involves the splitting of the social group which is a cult into two or more pieces, each of which is a viable religious organization from the start, even without the recruitment of new members. Of course, fission is the common term for reproduction by splitting among micro-organisms. The sociologist of religion might immediately complain that a perfectly good term already exists: schism. Why should I urge a "genetics" term when we already have a good "religion" name for this process? First of all, I do not propose new terms lightly, but always have, what seems to me, a compelling reason. I am not prepared to suggest we call this process mitosis, for example, because I see no analogy here to that very special kind of genetic splitting.

The problem with the term schism is that it has taken on very definite connotations within the sociology of religion and might therefore mislead us by the theoretical assumptions which attach to it. For one thing, it generally describes the splitting process which gives birth to a new sect, a process in which there is a definite regularity which often will not be found in cult reproduction. Disputes within an existing religious organization over the proper degree of tension with the sociocultural environment prompt the emergence of sect movements and church movements (cf. Stark and Bainbridge 1979). Within a given religious body, a sect movement will want more tension, while a church movement will want less. The desire for greater tension flows from the need for more efficacious specific compensators for scarce rewards. If our conceptualization is in future accepted by the field, the term schism may thereafter imply a battle over the proper level of tension which leads to a split. Certainly it has that connotation in our own minds.

The term fission, in contrast, implies nothing about the cause of a split. Indeed, I am convinced that a number of causes - a finite number which I hope we can count - may prompt fission within cults. Certainly, the need for more efficacious specific compensators may often be the driving force, but this need not imply a dispute over the proper level of tension. Two factions in a cult may disagree over the best magical means to achieve a certain valued reward, and emphasize competing compensators even at the same level of tension. While this may happen in any religious group, I think it is more common in cults, especially in those which retain a significant degree of magic.

Geographic separation between two outposts of a cult can facilitate fission, especially when there is no peripatetic strong leader or an organizational structure capable of holding separate social cliques together. Of particular interest to cultural genetics are cases in which a cult is innovating rapidly, and in which the innovation is diffused widely throughout the membership, as described in the subculture-evolution model. Geographically separated branches of a cult may innovate separately, moving their cultures in different directions and thus increasing the effective social separation. Each clique will be excited by its own innovations, and perhaps ignorant of the innovations of the other clique. At some point, the growing cultural difference causes a break along the social cleavage established by the geographic separation, even if the cultural divergence was a case of pure genetic drift.

And I would not like to exclude many other possible factors which encourage fission, certainly not this early in my theorizing. Since fission is an ordinary word immediately intelligible to us, I suggest we use it as the general term for reproduction by splitting into two or more immediately viable parts, and only consider later whether to use schism instead.

The other discernable method of cult reproduction is sporulation. This term may be less familiar than fission, but it is used in biology to name the process by which organisms of certain species (the mosses, for example) reproduce by throwing off spores - tiny seeds. Stark and I have already described this process, but without giving it a name. Especially in the entrepreneur model of cult formation, but perhaps also in the psychopathology model as well, a single individual founds a new cult on the basis of prior apprenticeship in an existing cult. Because the entrepreneur model clearly points the way toward cultural genetics, I shall quote its outline here:

1. Cults are businesses which provide a product for their customers and receive payment in return.

2. Cults are mainly in the business of selling novel compensators, or at least freshly packaged compensators that appear new.

3. Therefore, a supply of novel compensators must be manufactured.

4. Both manufacture and sales are accomplished by entrepreneurs.

5. These entrepreneurs, like those in other businesses, are motivated by the desire for profit, which they can gain by exchanging compensators for rewards.

6. Motivation to enter the cult business is stimulated by the perception that such businesses can be profitable, an impression likely to be acquired through prior involvement with a successful cult.

7. Successful entrepreneurs require skills and experience, which are most easily gained through a prior career as the employee of an earlier successful cult.

8. The manufacture of salable new compensators (or compensator-packages) is most easily accomplished by assembling components of pre-existing compensator systems into new configurations, or by the further development of successful compensator systems.

9. Therefore, cults tend to cluster in lineages. They are linked by individual entrepreneurs who begin their careers in one cult and then leave to found their own. They bear strong "family resemblances" because they share many cultural features.

10. Ideas for completely new compensators can come from any cultural source or personal experience whatsoever, but the skillful entrepreneur experiments carefully in the development of new products and incorporates them permanently in his cult only if the market response is favorable (Bainbridge and Stark 1979, 288).

The entrepreneur who leaves one cult to found his own is the spore in sporulation. Unlike fission, sporulation does not immediately produce a viable new cult, but only the potential for a successful new religion. Before the new cult can come into full existence, the entrepreneur must find followers, and the cult goes through a process of social, institutional and even cultural germination. As we noted in presenting the entrepreneur model, some cults, like Scientology, are especially prolific in casting off such human spores who plant new successful cults, so the idea of sporulation is appropriate in describing a process in which the parent cult plays an important role in addition to the role of the entrepreneur. It is not uncommon, of course, for the spore to consist of a couple, often married, rather than a single individual. Couples were common in the family of cults which sprang from I Am, founded by Guy and Edna Ballard. In 1954 Thomas Printz founded a cult called The Bridge to Freedom by sporulation from I Am. Then two couples left The Bridge as spores. In 1958 Mark and Elizabeth Clare Prophet founded The Summit Lighthouse. And in the mid-1960s, Garman and Evangeline Van Polen founded The Ruby Focus of Magnificent Consummation (Melton 1978).

There may be cases which fall between fission and sporulation, but they should be intelligible in terms of the same processes which operate at the extremes. The utility of the lineage concept, and the richness of cult heredity can be illustrated by turning briefly to a single family, the one which includes Scientology at its center.

The Scientology Genus

Among the largest and most fertile cults of the past few decades is Scientology, founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Figure 1 summarizes the main derivations of which I am aware, including seven descendants, three ancestors, and a cult with which Scientology exchanged some genetic material. I studied Scientology ethnographically (Bainbridge and Stark 1980) and carried out an even more extensive ethnographic study of one of its offspring, the Process (Bainbridge 1978b). Briefer research contact with Dianology, General Semantics, various Rosicrucian groups, and several cults in the Psychoanalytic tradition also contributed to figure 1. The other groups I know only through the publications of journalists and social scientists.

Figure 1: The Scientology Genus of Cults

Scientology exemplifies the close link between magical personal-growth cults and fully religious cults. Hubbard first offered the world a supposedly scientific psychotherapy named Dianetics, announced in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. A variety of difficulties and developments caused Hubbard to establish Scientology as a new religion, two years later.

No cult founder could have been better prepared than Hubbard to create a richly eclectic pseudo-scientific cult. Science fiction literature is strewn with the bones of ancient superstitions and the half-formed embryos of deviant sciences. One of the most prolific authors in the genre, Hubbard counted the leading editor and two of the most imaginative authors among his close friends. Much of Scientology's culture consists of standard science fiction ideas, such as interstellar civilizations, asserted as fact rather than as fiction.

In the earliest Dianetics publications Hubbard gives some credit to Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics cult. For a while in 1950, Hubbard lectured on General Dianetics, and one of his closest co-workers A. E. van Vogt wrote an influential novel based on General Semantics (van Vogt 1945). The General Semantics movement still exists, more than thirty years after the death of its founder, claiming to be a scholarly discipline complete with its own scientific journal. However, Korzybski's main writings combine moralism with much pseudo-scientific quackery (Korzybski 1948, 1950), and the cult for a time boasted the ability to cure alcoholism, homosexuality, kleptomania, stuttering, impotence and other psychological problems (Gardner 1957).

Hubbard also admits much kinship with the psychoanalysis cult, although he disagrees with Freud on several issues (Hubbard 1956). I am sure many readers will disagree with my statement that psychoanalysis is a magical cult, but the sweeping, unproven claims of this practice certainly place it among the chief forms of modern magic (Eysenck 1965; Rachman 1971; Salter 1972; cf. Freud 1964, 86). There is some disagreement how much of Freud's cult was derived from the Jewish mystical tradition (Bakan 1965; Berkower 1969), but much of Freud's early work sprang from the tradition of Mesmerism, which gave the world Christian Science and innumerable other cults (Zweig 1962; Darnton 1970). Freud counted the founder of the Biorhythm cult among his closest friends (Bainbridge 1978a). Even if Freud's own work was indeed legitimate scientific exploration, the tendency to turn psychoanalysis into magic or religion has been irresistible for many of his followers (Fodor 1971; Rieff 1966). Psychoanalysis promised rewards of mental health and personal effectiveness which were never delivered to most patients. In the hands of various practitioners, forms of treatment multiplied, each new technique and theory constituting a novel compensator. In the case of Scientology, the therapy service evolved all the way into an incorporated church. Other derivations from Freud's cult have struggled to feign respectable scientific status, remain somewhat modest in their claims, and therefore qualify more as magic than as religion.

The thick arrow representing the psychoanalytic tradition, at the top of figure 1, is meant to include all the offshoots and immediate competitors of psychoanalysis, except for Gestalt Therapy which is diagrammed separately. One of Hubbard's closest associates in 1950, Dr. J. A. Winter, acted as a bridge between Scientology and the Gestalt cult (Winter 1951, 1962; Perls et al. 1951). Many psychological exercises in both Gestalt Therapy and Scientology train the patient's attention and awareness in abnormal ways. Both use techniques projecting the patient's consciousness into inanimate objects. Both use Freud's technique of getting patients to recall past traumatic experiences, but both demand extreme emotional involvement and made the patient imagine that the experience is happening now in present time. Through Dr. J. A. Winter and other channels, Scientology and Gestalt borrowed from each other.

The thick arrow at the bottom of figure 1, representing the Rosicrucian Tradition, is a highly simplified way of indicating influences from a whole galaxy of cults descended from European Theosophical and more-or-less "Rosicrucian" groups, including the Order of the Golden Dawn that flared briefly in England at the end of the last century. Some cultural material from these sources flows throughout science fiction, but Hubbard was also directly involved during 1945 in one Rosicrucian cult, the Ordo Templi Orientis (Melton 1978, 257).

Hubbard had such a rich cultic and pseudo-scientific background that I cannot always specify which idea came from which source. From the psychoanalytic tradition he apparently took the idea of individual treatment sessions aimed at cure through exploration of subconscious residues from past experiences. The Rosicrucian doctrine of reincarnation and the science fiction concept of time travel encouraged him to explore patients' memories of past lives. From both General Semantics and science fiction he took the idea that treatments could transform ordinary humans into godlike supermen. From Rosicrucianism he may have taken the model of many levels of initiation (little rebirths), each attained through a different technique of spiritual development. Like the various Rosicrucian groups, Scientology is divided into a hierarchical series of membership grades or ranks. Of course, Hubbard also recalled the grades in school and ranks in the United States Navy, two institutions of great significance to him. The history of Scientology's first three decades is one of constant cultural growth with proliferation of levels of membership and spiritual techniques. It has become a multi-million-dollar operation with tens of thousands of followers. No wonder it has many descendents.

The short arrow in figure 1 labeled "Saucer" represents the anonymous flying saucer cult described by social psychologist Leon Festinger and his associates in their famous study, When Prophecy Fails (1956). This was a small group whose leader and some followers had been treated under Dianetics and which used early Scientology techniques to communicate with space brothers. The cult expected a natural disaster to eradicate their neighbors, but not before the saucers had come to rescue the cultists and raise them up to celestial realms.

The forking arrow in figure 1 labeled "The Process" represents the complex cult I have described at length in my book, Satan's Power (1978b). Two students at the London headquarters of Scientology, Robert and Mary Ann de Grimston, established their own therapy business in 1963, calling it Compulsions Analysis. Using Hubbard's techniques and the goal theory of psychoanalyst Alfred Adler (1954, 1968), they initially sought merely to improve the personal effectiveness of their clients by helping them uncover and master subconscious compulsions. But by 1966, the group of therapists and clients became a tiny isolated subculture of two dozen persons dedicated to achieving superhuman, surreal transcendence of the mundane world through a program of unlimited development called The Process.

The group left London and wound up on a beach in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, living out their perfervid dreams in a ruined coconut plantation. They discovered a pantheon of four gods: Lucifer, Jehovah, Christ, and Satan. They devised wild uniforms, vivid rituals, dramatic scriptures, and a scintillating lifestyle of constant change, drawing on various sources including the Rosicrucian Tradition. Economic and emotional exhaustion in 1973 caused the main group to expel Robert de Grimston from his leadership position. He set up new Process communes with a score of hyper-deviant rejects from die old cult, but failed in this second attempt over the following year, winding up in Egypt after American, Canadian, and English attempts. The main remnant of The Process renamed itself The Foundation, staggered through a series of problems and magical pseudosolutions, and on the last day of 1978 abandoned its $900,000 headquarters in New York, withdrawing to an Arizona canyon to seek a fresh start.

In the mid-1960s at least three other cults were sporulated off from Scientology: Harry Thompson's Amprinistics, Jack Homer's Dianology and Eductivism, and Charles Berner's Abilitism (Maiko 1970;

Cooper 1971; Wallis 1977; Melton 1978). Werner Erhard's highly successful est cult is partly derived from Scientology. Erhard had some experience with Scientology in 1969. Then he worked for a while in Mind Dynamics, itself an offshoot of Jose Silva's Mind Control (Kornbluth 1976). I assume that many other groups came out of Scientology or were greatly influenced by L. Ron Hubbard. If only we had better information, figure 1 would be a vast chart with dozens of cultic arrows.

This brief survey of the Scientology genus has given just a hint of the rich cultures of the groups named. We have little space for more than the observation that each grew out of one or more earlier cults, then acquired some further culture from others after its birth. With this background, we can begin to consider the genes of cultural genetics and the ways they mutate.

Cultural Genes

What shall we call the cultural units which may be inherited by one cult from another? Originally, I wanted to call them cultural elements, until I realized that usually they were compounds, not elements. Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981, 70) prefer cultural traits. Lumsden and Wilson (1981, 7) suggest the neologism culturgen, which seems unnecessarily ornate and sounds like a nasal response to an allergen, but they list eight competing terms which have been seriously proposed. I vote for the obvious short word taken from biology: gene.

Some popularity has been achieved by meme, suggested by Richard Dawkins (1976, 203). Aside from the fact that meme is cloyingly euphonious, it carries too much theoretical baggage. As a contraction meaning unit of imitation, meme conjures up images of Gabriel Tarde's theories or of Symbolic Interactionism, so it is best to avoid the word and the assumptions it implies.

A compelling reason for preferring gene over the other terms is that the word is familiar and probably says well what we want to express. No one will be foolish enough to confuse the use of the word in biology and in cultural genetics. And gene has always been a very general word in biology, anyway, with continuing debates over what exactly a gene is, and still really no firm definition beyond the rather unencumbered "unit of heredity." Is gene the same thing as cistron? Or is gene the same thing as codon? And is an operon a gene? Part of any such debate is the question of whether one should use gene only for the most simple units of heredity, or whether one can sometimes loosely employ the term to name anything which ever functions as a unit of heredity, however complex it might be and however it might sometimes separate into subunits.

And, while the four bases which attach to the DNA double helix define a substratum of simplicity upon which all more complex genetic structures can rest, we have no reason to assume that in culture there is a most-simple unit. Any "element" of culture is a composite of ideas. Therefore, in cultural genetics the term gene will refer to any assemblage of ideas which functions as a unit in the cases under examination.

In a paper about "meaning systems," Stark and I showed that the ideas of religion often do fit together into cultural units (Bainbridge and Stark 198 la). A cultural system is a set of explanations about some aspect of life connected by an overarching general explanation giving the system its coherence. Any organized subset of cultural elements can function as a single gene, if the general explanation which binds them together is inherited unchanged through the processes of reproduction. If a general explanation is discredited, then the gene to which it gave cohesiveness may dissolve into two or more smaller genes. Thus, cultural genetics should avoid defining gene in terms of any particular level of complexity of cultural organization, and use it for any assemblage which functions as a unit, with full awareness that a gene could become subdivided into smaller genes or combined with other cultural elements to form a larger gene.

We have seen that new cults born out of old ones replicate much of the original genetic material of the parent. This fits our ordinary notions of biological heredity. But what about the observation that cults may acquire new genes after they have been born? Surely, only latter-day Lemarckists like Lysenko could believe humans acquire new genes in mid-life, display them in their own phenotypes, and transmit them to their offspring (Medvedev 1969). Yet, we have said that cults are more similar to the simplest forms of life, and strange things happen to bacteria.

Consider the remarkable phenomenon of transduction. A viral infection can take genetic material out of the DNA of one bacterium and introduce it into the DNA of another bacterium. If the second bacterium survives the infection, it can then transmit the stolen genes to generation after generation of offspring.

Transduction occurs in cults, as well. An individual may join one cult, learn some useful new culture, then defect to a second cult taking this cultural material with him. If the second cult adopts some of the culture carried by the defector, then transduction has taken place. The defector plays the role of the virus. Above we mentioned the example of Dr. J. A. Winter who carried genetic material between Scientology and Gestalt. Studies of diffusion of technology often show that new ideas travel from corporation to corporation in the minds of people who migrate, rather than through disembodied media (Gruber and Marquis 1969). Consequently, we might want to define transduction this narrowly, using other terms for other means by which an existing cult can appropriate culture from external sources.

While we are all taught in school that genes are carried in the nucleus of the cell in what are called chromosomes, biologists have long suspected that some genes might be carried outside in the cytoplasm. Genes giving bacteria resistance to antibiotics appear often to be carried in little clumps of genetic material outside the nucleus, called plasmids. This is of great consequence, because plasmid genetic material can be transferred more easily than nuclear material from one species to another. This fact presents mankind with a serious medical-social problem. Wholesale, indiscriminate use of antibiotics has encouraged the evolution of resistant strains of pneumonia and gonorrhea bacteria, and through plasmid exchange this resistance may soon spread to other disease-causing bacteria.

The analogous question for cults is more benign. I suggest the nucleus of the cell is like the leadership of the cult, whether there be one leader or a formal structure of leadership. And the cytoplasm is like the mass of cult followers who cluster around the leadership. Plasmids, then, would be small competing sources of influence and innovation outside the formal leadership nucleus. While this essay, and my other essays on cult innovation stress the role of the leadership, we should be alert to processes which might take place among even peripheral cult members who might also perform important innovation and reproduction functions.

In our quotation above from the cult formation paper, we saw a strong analogy between innovation carried out consciously by the leadership and recombinant DNA genetic engineering. Stepping back for the moment from our biological metaphors and terminology, we should consider some of the processes of cultural gene splicing, then return to biological genetics for analogies to permit closer examination of the mechanisms involved.

Recombinant Cultural Genetic Engineering

Invention usually does not require the discovery of wholly new facts or concepts. Far more often, it is accomplished through assembly of existing components into new configurations. Technological invention sometimes rests on real scientific discoveries, on completely new elements of culture. Religious innovation sometimes rests on new secular cultural fads. In our times many of the most influential fads stem from scientific and technological innovation, so it is not surprising that many cults, like Scientology, pretend to be scientific technologies. Others, like Christian Science, Divine Science, and Religious Science, take at least a name from science. Innovative cults offer new configurations of familiar elements taken piecemeal from other religious organizations, from secular institutions, and from the petty details of modern daily life.

Cult invention involves finding attractive elements in the cultural environment, adding them to an existing cultic core, subtracting parts that interfere with more valuable parts, and transforming elements to make them fit their loci in the compensator package. Founders enter the cult business in search of honor and wealth, so the test they apply to evaluate new culture is: Does it sell? If one wishes to see a Darwinian principle of selection here, I have no objection. And the selection may be natural, as well as artificial, as bad choices lead to the extinction of cults, and good, if even accidental, choices produce viable new religions which can flourish in the competitive marketplace.

Addition (or insertion) is the simplest mechanism for creating a new culture. Throughout their working lives, cult founders cannot resist appropriating new ideas and activities from their competitors. We do not think it strange that ordinary manufacturers continually monitor their competition and adopt any innovations that seem good for business. Perhaps the otherworldly rhetoric of religion impedes our ability to see the same processes at work in sacred affairs. Religions are supposed to be God-given, and God is no tinkerer. But hardly a modern religion can be named that did not add elements from other sources as it grew. Of course, cults often want to hide their borrowings.

The E-Meter, for which Scientology is famous, is a minimal lie detector developed by Volney Mathison, an independent inventor. It was added to the Dianetic process only after the movement had become popular (Malko 1970, 57). Indeed, the Scientology movement itself says the E-Meter did not come into widespread use until after the first seven years. Dianology, est, and The Process all received the E-Meter gene from their parent, Scientology.

Another example of addition is the "Satanism" of The Process. Satan appeared in Process doctrine in 1967, four years after the beginning of the cult and just after its leaders had seen the successes of Anton La Vey's Church of Satan in San Francisco. Yet another example is the interest of Dianology and Eductivism in the concept of birth trauma, apparently stimulated by the popular successes of Janov's Primal Therapy.

Often a cult leader prospects for new additions, just as one might prospect for gold across a wild terrain. In June 1972, the leaders of The Process went prospecting for "the healing power." They left their home in Toronto and flew across to Vancouver, then went down to Seattle to hear the famous faith healer, Kathryn Kuhlman. Later, in Florida, they visited many local faith healers and designed new rituals to incorporate healing into the cult. The modifications required to adapt healing prayers and the laying on of hands were slight - invoking the power of four gods rather than just one.

The Process adapted many other traditional practices with only such transformations as absolutely required by existing cult doctrines. Some conventionally religious persons try to find guidance or prognostication in bibliomancy - opening the Bible at random, selecting a passage unseen, then reading personal meaning into the verses. The Process adopted bibliomancy and merely substituted its own holy book for the Bible. Later, this cult consorted with independent psychics and occult lecturers, taking from them such practices as aura reading and astrology, which seemed very popular at the time.

The extreme form of addition is amalgamation, in which a new cult is created in a flash by adding two previous cults or other religious bodies together. It might be an oversimplification to say that Werner Erhard's est cult is just an amalgam of Mind Dynamics and Scientology, but the 3HO cult (Healthy-Happy-Holy Organization) of Yogi Bhajan is a simplified amalgam of Yoga and Sikhism (Tobey 1976).

Addition implies subtraction (or deletion). Cults, like the more established religions, have a tendency to preserve whatever culture was every part of their repertoire, even if it may languish unused for many years. Yet when a dormant element of culture interferes with a new, vital element, it may be discarded. In general, costly unprofitable elements will be jettisoned most readily, as was polygamy by the Mormons. When L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology on the wreck of his earlier Dianetics, he discarded much of the earlier practice. For a dozen years, however, an independent California Dianetics organization and uncounted individual Dianetics practitioners limped along. Then, as the 1960s drew to a close, Scientology reabsorbed Dianetics, a unique case of a cult re-adding culture it had previously subtracted.

When The Process expelled its founder, Robert de Grimston, it exorcised both Satan and Christ from its communes and churches, forgot Lucifer altogether, and reduced the old pantheon of four gods down to one, Jehovah. This was a case of drastic cultural subtraction. The Process already had quit using E-Meters and applying any therapy techniques to inner members. Too much deletion will leave a cult without enough beliefs and practices to function. Often, therefore, subtraction and addition go together.

Frequently, cults add and subtract culture in order to differentiate themselves from other cults which own the original elements. Sometimes, as in the case of The Process right after its fission, they drop and add to cut themselves off from their unsuccessful pasts. This is substitution.

When the main body of The Process expelled de Grimston at a time of organizational crisis, it felt the need to kick the dust of the past from its sandals and start anew. But many of the old concepts and practices were absolutely necessary for day-to-day functioning. To balance change and stability, the cult substituted many elements by the simple expedient of renaming them - old wine in old bottles but with new labels. Some of these substitutions are shown in figure 2. A version of this table was published in my book on the Process (Bainbridge 1978b, 235), but at that time it seemed necessary to conceal the true names of the cults. If one wants to think genetically, then each of the concepts represents a locus in the genetic structure, and each pair of words (Process and Foundation, for example) is a pair of alternative genes, either of which might occupy that locus.

Figure 2: Foundation Substitutions for Process Words
Process WordFoundation WordMeanings
Ritual Terms:
AlphaSanctumthe main ritual room
AltarShrinethe ritual table
AssemblyCelebrationa group ritual
SacrifistCelebrantpresiding priest at a ritual
EvangelistHeraldpriest that gives the sermon
ServersBearersritual assistants
Membership Ranks:
MasterLuminarythe top leaders
Provisional MasterMinor Luminarylieutenant leaders
SuperiorCelebrantjunior "Mothers" and "Fathers"
ProphetMentorsenior "Sisters" and "Brothers"
IP MessengerCovenanterlowest rank of "ministers"
OP MessengerWitnessstudent ministers
DiscipleLay Founderlay member who tithes
InitiateAspirantnew member
The ProcessThe Foundationname of the cult
ChaptersFoundationsbranches of the cult
IPsElectcore members, "ministers"
DonatingFundingthe street work of begging and recruiting
BaptizeConsecrateto initiate to a new status
DJ (Dow-Jones)JF (Jehovah's Finances)financial indicator of the business done by a branch
The CavernThe Gardenthe coffee house

Substitution can occur with any type of culture, although I suspect it is most likely to happen at single genes - at low levels in a hierarchical structure of culture - unless extreme crisis besets the cult (cf. Smelser 1962). Visual symbols are likely to change when there is a real or projected shift in emphasis of a cult. The style and color of Process uniforms changed frequently, yet the more general idea of having uniforms was more stable. Figure 3 shows some changes in the most central of the cult's several symbols, the P-Sign.

Figure 3: Evolution of the Process "P-Sign" Symbol
A: The original P-Sign
B: De Grimston's Embellishment
C. The first Foundation symbol
D. The second Foundation symbol

When the cult still thought of itself as a therapy service devoted to turning normal people into supermen, the members came to a point of strong "we-feeling" and the sense that they were a new social movement with something special to say. They sat around one evening designing possible symbols for the newly named Process. The result was a pinwheel of four straight lines, shown first in figure 3. Although it is redolent of swastika Nazism, it merely represents the letter "P" for Process, superimposed on itself with 90 rotations. People coming from the four directions of the compass (different personality types and values) are thus represented as coming together in a common Process for a common purpose.

Later, as the group moved further in the direction of religion, Robert de Grimston redesigned the symbol, flaring out the lines to make shapes which some members saw as trumpets heralding the coming of the gods. He told me this embellishment was to give the P-Sign "an ecclesiastical and mathematical flavor." The shift from therapy to religion demanded a shift in the style of their symbol, but not in its underlying concept.

When The Foundation attempted to differentiate itself from The Process, it quickly designed a new symbol, but one which still retained this concept. Apparently, attached to the very notion of "a symbol" was a sense of the general features of a proper symbol for the group, an abstract sense of proper form more general than the particular shape of any particular symbol (cf. Boaz 1966). Their thinking shaped by the original P-Sign, the members of the cult designed a new symbol based on the capital letters "FJ" for Foundation and Jehovah. Notice that these letters are even similar to the squared capital "P" they had used, and a measure of symmetry is retained. As the background for this monogram, they chose the six-pointed star which they felt was a traditional symbol for their one remaining god, Jehovah.

For a time, the members of Jewish origin had disproportionate influence in The Foundation, since they were thought to understand Jehovah better. But when the cult continued to experience great difficulties, despite the new cultural start, Jewish elements were downplayed and a new move toward Jesus took place. The symbol was changed again to reflect this new start. Since the group was then calling itself The Foundation Faith, the monogram could be reinterpreted as the letter "F" drawn twice, but the Old Testament emphasis in the surrounding star had to be changed. As shown in figure 3, the underlying idea of six bilaterally symmetrical shapes reaching out from a center was retained, but the form became that of a flower - a lily, perhaps. For a while, formerly Jewish members started an offshoot group in Arizona, Jewish Crusade for Jesus, using the six-petal flower but with their own JCJ monogram in the center. Notice that the evolutions of the P-Sign communicate both radical changes in the cult's orientation and a sense of underlying continuity.

Rosicrucianism affords a sequence of many connected examples of addition, subtraction, and substitution. In creating the AMORC Rosicrucian order, H. Spencer Lewis took European occult principles of the turn of the century, including the hierarchical social structure of an initiatory secret society, and inserted symbolism taken from ancient Egypt, thus capitalizing on public enthusiasm for Egyptian civilization that was current at the time. One may still visit the pleasant city block of gardens and simulated Egyptian buildings at his headquarters in San Jose, California. Then, I suspect. Rose Dawn imitated Lewis in creating her rival Order of the Ancient Mayans. In great measure, she merely substituted equivalent Mayan symbols for Egyptian ones. Instead of Lewis' green biweekly mail-order lessons emblazoned with Egyptian architecture and Egyptian hieroglyphics, she sold red biweekly mail-order lessons decorated with Mayan architecture and Mayan hieroglyphics.

Equivalent elements of culture which may be substituted for each other in a cultural structure may be called alleles or allelomorphs, following the terminology of biological genetics. We shall consider alleles closely in the next section. Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics are members of the same class of culture objects, because each is a famous, ancient form of picture-writing with sacred connotations. Another system of exotic pictographs could be substituted to create a third cult. Many elements of culture logically imply their alleles. For example. The Process took from Scientology the idea that human life is a deadly game. But where Scientology attempted to win the game. The Process substituted the strategy of escaping the game.

Another mechanism of cultic invention, translation, is a slightly more subtle version of addition. It refers to a category of mental transformations which includes what psychologists call displacement, transference, and projection. The term translation refers to any case in which meaning is derived from one situation and applied to another situation where it would not have emerged spontaneously. In translation a meaning is not only transported from one context to another, but also transformed in whatever way necessary to make it fit the new context.

There are two common sources of material that can be translated into a cult: They are the personal experiences of cult founders and the secular institutions of society. For an example of the first source, Robert de Grimston told me he had experienced an emotionally repressed childhood and came to feel that liberation of desires was the general cure for human problems. To translate this abstract principle generalized from his own experience into religious form, de Grimston expressed it through the image of the Great God Lucifer, deity of sensual enjoyment. An example of the second kind of source is the elite paramilitary organization within Scientology, the Sea Org. This is a branch of the cult that imitates the U. S. Navy, complete with officers, uniforms, nautical caps, and even ships.

The cult formation article explained the thrust toward cultic innovation in economic terms, but the language of Darwinian evolution might be just as appropriate. Without distinguishing the different mechanisms by which a cult can acquire new genetic material, we proposed a general principle:

We suggest that cult entrepreneurs will imitate those features of other successful cults which seem to them most responsible for success. They will innovate either in non-essential areas or in areas where they believe they can increase the salability of the product. In establishing their own cult businesses they must innovate at least superficially. They cannot seize a significant part of the market unless they achieve product differentiation. Otherwise they will be at a great disadvantage in direct competition with the older, more prosperous cult on which theirs is patterned. The apparent novelty of a cult's compensator-package may be a sales advantage when the public has not yet discovered the limitations of the rewards that members actually will receive in the new cult and when older compensator-packages have been discredited to some extent (Bainbridge and Stark 1979, 290-291).

Instead of product differentiation, we can use a perfectly good genetics term for this strategy: character displacement. And in the sociology of religion, under whatever name this is not a new idea. Long ago, H. Richard Niebuhr noted that the churches of immigrants to the United States "were transplanted into a common social environment but at the same time they were set into the midst of a competitive system of denominationalism" (1929, 220). Initially, the linguistic and national divisions between them assured each of a laity to support its existence. But as the ethnic groups became more assimilated, the possibility that many denominations might die as their memberships were attracted to others prompted a defensive tactic of differentiation:

Ecclesiastical and doctrinal issues replace the cultural lines of division, and the loyalty of an English-speaking, second generation is fostered by appeal to different motives than were found effective among the immigrants themselves.

The need for continued differentiation and for the self-justification of an organism which is strongly desirous of continuing its existence, are responsible now for a new emphasis. Denominational separateness in a competitive situation finds its justification under these circumstances in the accentuation of the theological or liturgical peculiarities of the group. Resistance to assimilation continues, but the immigrant church in its battle with other sects for membership and position takes up a new strategic position.

The influence of competition on doctrinal differentiation is, of course, not confined to the foreign-language churches. Whenever rivalry has arisen between culturally similar groups the doctrinal strategy has usually been adopted (Niebuhr 1929, 229-230).

Apparently unaware of Niebuhr's analysis, John A. Hosteller drew from his study of the Amish two general principles concerning differentiation:

A sectarian movement must establish an ideology different from that of the parent group in order to break off relations with it.

A sect must establish cultural separatism, involving symbolic and often material as well as ideological differences, from those of the parent group (Hosteller 1968, 35-36).

Now, I am not entirely sure how important these principles are in explaining the behavior of sects and ordinary denominations. But they are very important in explaining cult innovation. When sects emerge through schism from lower-tension denominations, the need to stress specific compensators produces an automatic cultural shift. But if the case is one of pure sectarianism, this will mean merely stressing relatively neglected parts of the existing culture of the parent group. This does not demand innovation. But in cult formation revivalism is not enough, and conscious strategies of differentiation are much more likely.

There is good reason to believe this same process is quite common between competing artistic movements, including both religious and secular examples. As the Christian church began to consolidate its ritual practices in the fourth century, it drew heavily on Jewish traditions. But, as some historians report, this produced a problem for the Jews. "They condemned the appropriation of their own heritage and even reformulated portions of their liturgy to avoid duplication of either the spirit or the occasion for the parallel Christian use" (Scholl and White 1970, 23). And in artistic painting in recent centuries, new and shocking schools of thought may simply be trying to engage in the traditional fame-business of artists, displacing the established styles through whatever combination of imitation and innovation is necessary in order to take over the market (cf. White and White 1965).

Having described mechanisms of innovation in the terms of business, it is time to reassert the genetic metaphors which played a lesser role in this section.

Allelomorphy in Cultural Genetics

It was the existence of alleles which gave Mendelian genetics its great power. Alleles are alternative genes which play the same role and have the same place in the genetic structure but give discernibly different results. For example, consider eye color. A gene which produces blue eyes is the allele of a gene which produces brown eyes. In Mendelian experiments on crossbreeding, such matters as dominance and recessivity, linkage, multiple gene determination of continuous variables, and the like were explored. All depended on the existence of two or more alleles for each gene under scrutiny, and the result was a mathematics of allelomorphy.

To be sure, the larger process of biological evolution is not merely a process of substitution of alleles in fixed loci in an invariant genetic structure. Also, the structure itself changed. Species vary in their number of chromosomes, not merely in which of a closed set of alternative genes occupied a particular locus in each chromosome. Certainly, cultural genetics should be especially interested in the emergence of wholly new spheres of culture and utterly new ideas without precedent. But, interesting laws of some regularity may be discovered to describe and explain the more common innovative processes of combination and permutation of alleles. Indeed, I will suggest later that some old and unjustly discarded schools of thought in social science unwittingly went far in this direction.

For alleles to exist, and for substitutions of them to be possible, there must have developed a relatively coherent genetic structure. Stark and I have argued that secular culture seldom possesses such structure, but sacred culture easily can if promulgated by vigorous social movements or organizations (Bainbridge and Stark 1981a, 1981b). Religions are cultural systems composed of more-or-less hierarchically arranged explanations. As we said in an article which was the first step in our development of a deductive theory of religion: "Religion refers to systems of general compensators based on supernatural assumptions" (Stark and Bainbridge 1980, 123). Compensators are postulations of reward according to explanations that are not readily susceptible to unambiguous evaluation. And explanations are statements about how and why rewards may be obtained and costs are incurred.

Our theory began in the observation that humans seek what they perceive to be rewards and avoid what they perceive to be costs. The human nervous system evolved to permit individuals and human groups to obtain rewards and avoid costs. Culture evolved as an adaptive way of discovering and sharing explanations. But not all human desires can find ready satisfaction in this world of toil and tears. And humans devised what seemed plausible means for achieving scarce (and non-existent) rewards, even when these explanations could not be tested easily (or even conceivably) through empirical observation. These supra-empirical explanations, which had to be accepted on faith, if at all, are compensators.

Compensators vary in terms of how general or specific are the rewards they promise to provide. Compensators which substitute for very limited, specific rewards (such as cure for a headache) are specific compensators. Compensators which substitute for rewards of great scope and value (such as eternal life in heaven where there are neither headaches nor stomachaches nor heartaches) are general compensators. Magic offers specific compensators; religion offers general compensators. And the difference is one of degree. The reason for reminding the reader of our theory of religion is to lay a basis for observing that religions tend to arrange their compensators into coherent systems with relatively fixed structures capable of supporting the regularity needed for a science of cultural genetics. Indeed, religion can get away with more structure than can many secular fields because its key general explanations cannot be discredited by empirical test, being supernatural, while secular general explanations are highly vulnerable and seldom resist long the corrosive bath of human experience.

At least some of the elements of religious culture, typically including the most important and distinctive explanations, are arranged hierarchically. Consider Christianity. The most general compensator is the notion of the supernatural. This is a necessary assumption for any religion. Indeed, the supra-gene of supernatural assumptions emerged very early in human history and is found in all societies (Parsons 1964). Logically under this high-level assumption, in Christianity, is the assumption that there is but one god. Other religious traditions postulate several gods, and any logically discernable polytheistic system constitutes an allele of monotheism. For example, dualism (as in Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism) is a clear allele of monotheism, and substitutions between these two have occurred easily throughout history. Under the monotheism gene in Christianity, is the assumption that the Lord sent his only begotten son to redeem his people. Alleles of this assumption are the idea that the Lord always remains distant from the world and its problems (Deism) or the idea that he speaks through his prophets but never has sent a son among us (Judaism, Islam).

Religions are not the only complex cultural systems, even though most segments of secular culture are unable to find hardy general explanations to unite hierarchically the many specific explanations they possess. Schools of artistic expression may also be arranged into complex systems. But art and religion share the characteristic of being imaginative creations of human beings subject to relatively few empirical tests. Therefore, each is free to postulate general explanations without much fear of factual contradiction. To consider further the relationship of alleles to cultural genetic structure, and to show that this essay has implications outside the field of religion, I shall now consider examples taken from twentieth-century classical music.

The existence in a cultural system of a gene X creates a locus for it in the genetic structure. A cultural innovator who becomes conscious of X may create a new system by finding an alternative (allele) X' and substituting it for X. In Western classical music - musicologists please forgive the simplifications - there developed a general assumption that musical notes must be chosen from fixed scales. Alleles of this high-level gene, each different from the others, were developed by Indian (raga) music. Classical Greek (tetrad) music, and by American Negro (sliding tones) singing. But under the musical scale assumption are several alternatives. The West chose, first of all, septatonic scales, in contrast to the pentatonic scales of East Asia. And, as the Middle Ages consolidated the musical culture, a system of modal septatonic scales emerged. Note the three genes, in order of descending generality: scales, septatonic, modal. And each of these three genes has alleles.

The years passed, and thousands of little innovations added up to great change. The most specific of the three genes, modality, was transformed by a gradual rationalizing process into a distinctly different allele, tonality. This shift necessitated an adjustment of the septatonic scales to permit modulation from one key (tonality) to another. While no single innovator can claim credit for this gene substitution, the obvious culmination of the process is Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Over the century-and-a-half which followed Bach, the tonal system was modified further through acceptance of more and more complex harmonies until the notions of key and predictable modulations between keys became quite ambiguous while more attention was given to highly complex musical chords. Thus appeared a third allele, chromatic music. The best well-known example is Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Finally, before World War I, this evolution was taken to its logical extreme, atonal music, a fourth allele. In atonal music, the tones of the well-tempered scale became equal partners in a music which explicitly rejected the sense of a tonal home base. The tonality allele was linked (and such strong but partial linkage is well-known in biological genetics) to the original septatonic gene which was by 1910 replaced by a dodecatonic gene - twelve equally-separated tones to the octave.

By about the same year, Mendelian genetics had learned to deal with continuous variations - like the gradual historical cultural process described above - by postulating the joint contribution to single features of the phenotype by several genes, each with its own alleles. Here, too, a close examination of the history of music would reveal many tiny steps, particular minor substitutions in particular loci along with insertions and deletions, which added up to the greater genetic evolution we have but outlined. Now we shall ignore this complexity, and describe the creative reactions of two twentieth-century composers, Arnold Schoenberg and Carl Orff, who produced radically different schools of composition by making different allele substitutions in the existing structure. First we must diagram the two earlier composers we mentioned. Bach and Wagner, as can be seen in figure 4.

Figure 4: Allele Substitution in Music
key: M=modal T=tonal C=chromatic A=atonal R=romantic L=classical
A: J. S. Bach
B: Wagner & early Schoenberg
C: middle Schoenberg
D: 12-tone Schoenberg
E: Carl Orff

The vertical rectangle in each diagram of figure 4 represents a two-gene section of the genetic structure of the music. The two genes are of equal importance, rather than one being hierarchically superior to the other. The horizontal dashed rectangles represent the sets of alleles of each gene which were used in Western music. The top gene is the one we have just described, referring to the manner of using tones in the scale. It has four alleles: M = modal, T = tonal, C = chromatic, A = atonal. The other gene will be expanded upon in the following section of this essay, and represents an equally important pair of alleles: R = romanticism, L = classicism. Romanticism is a style of art which emphasizes emotional expression, while classicism emphasizes intellectual cognition. Thus the distinction is very much that between feelings and ideas.

Bach's music was tonal and classical, which we can represent by the first diagram or by the notation: [T, L]. Wagner, who wrote at the pinnacle of nineteenth-century Romanticism, can be represented by the second diagram, or notated: [C, R]. Schoenberg's early works, notably the Wagnerian Gurre-Lieder, were also chromatic and romantic: [C, R]. But in seeking to take Romanticism to its extreme, Schoenberg participated in the practically-nihilistic but highly emotional artistic movement of Expressionism, and substituted atonality for the related allele of chromaticism. The result, in such pieces as Pierrot Lunaire, is shown in the third diagram, and can be notated: [A, R]. Note that the substitution was logically available to Schoenberg, because the existence of the M/T/C gene created a locus in the genetic structure which made room for the mutation to A. But Schoenberg, at this point, made no change in the L/R gene, continuing to write highly expressive rather than intellectual music.

The result, for Schoenberg as for many listeners, was very disturbing. Perhaps the combination [A, R] has less adaptive fitness than the previous genotypes [T, L] and [C, R]. Indeed, to the sociologist [A, R] looks like an intense dose of anxiety and anomie. Many consider the greatest example of this style to be Wozzeck, by Schoenberg's student Alban Berg, an opera of madness, depravity, and death. In such music, the emotions are riled up without there being any satisfaction of the tensions thus produced.

Schoenberg's aesthetic response to this challenge was essentially religious, a quest for meaning which eventually found God's Law in this chaotic modern world of atonal music. Originally, this sense of divine order had been achieved through modality in the service of liturgical text (Gregorian chant) or tonality made especially meaningful by classic structures (Bach). But in atonality there was madness. A new set of commandments from the Lord was required to tell the composer which combinations of tones were good and which were forbidden since in atonality, all laws from previous dispensations had been lost. And thus, Schoenberg discovered the intellectual system of composition called serial dodecaphony or twelve-tone. This is a return to the values of classicism while retaining atonality, [A, L], as shown in figure 4.

The twelve-tone method of composition gained wide acceptance (if far from universal praise) in great measure because it provides coherent rules (norms) for composition, and it is attractive to composers who have rejected the older forms and who therefore may be suffering from anomie. But, seen the other way around, like the novelties of any new cult, twelve-tone achieves product differentiation. Furthermore, new composers in the [T, L] and [C, R] traditions have to compete with Bach, Beethoven and Wagner, while Schoenberg's first followers in [A, L] had no competition. It is interesting that Schoenberg's followers acted very much like those of Freud in innovating one after another in producing new "cults" of serial music. The religious nature of the twelve-tone solution for Schoenberg is shown by his biblical opera, Moses und Aron, where God's law is represented by a single twelve-tone row which provides the musical material for the entire long work.

Carl Orff went in a very different direction from that taken by Schoenberg. Orff's career began later than Schoenberg's, but in the same cultural place, the shadow of the late Wagnerians. At the beginning of the 1930s, when all Germany hungered for a new rebirth, Orff renounced his early [C, R] works and returned, as he saw it, to the beginnings of Western music. On this retrograde route, he orchestrated seventeenth-century operas by Monteverdi who had written at the point of historical transition between [M, R] and [T, L]. Orff's first great composition, among the most popular of twentieth-century vocal works, was Carmina Burana, based on an ancient text and actually incorporating hints of the music of the thirteenth century. Clearly, the style is [M, R], as shown in the last diagram of figure 4.

Orff, like Schoenberg, had found an essentially religious solution to the problems of modern life as reflected in the anomie of art music. But where Schoenberg had returned to the religion of the ancient Hebrews, Orff had returned to the Paganism of Greece and Rome. Throughout his career, however, Orff repeatedly admitted his pessimism, his lack of faith that the Greeks and Romans could save us, for example in the sensuous but bitter Catulli Carmina. Near the end of his life, Orff abandoned all hope in his last great work, De Temporum Fine Comoedia, and his attempt to return from [C, R] to [M, R] led him to that brave but maladaptive genotype which drove Schoenberg to his great effort at genetic engineering, [A, R].

I have considered alleles in serious Western music at length not merely to demonstrate the most basic techniques of qualitative genetic analysis, but also to show that cults are not the only phenomena capable of being studied in this way. However, I have not been able to resist using quasi-religious examples. Whenever there exist lineages of cultural systems, cultural genetics has an important role to play in achieving understanding. But I cannot hide my own assumption. All truly grand cultural systems either are explicitly religious, or tend closely toward religion. Serious music, like religion, reaches for the ultimate and offers compensators of the most general kind - to give not only pure pleasure, but also the sense that human existence is meaningful and that the limitations of everyday life can be transcended. Music has often been linked with religion explicitly, and only the non-verbal character of the music conceals the implicit link which always ties together these two areas of culture.

It is time to extend cultural genetics toward a third area of culture, one with strong links to religion if not so often to music: social theory. And among the brands of traditional social theory most akin to the cultural systems of religion is structuralism in sociology and anthropology.

Structuralism as an Analysis of Alleles

Since we have been discussing cults and music, I find the easiest transition to structural theory to be Nietzsche's first book. The Birth of Tragedy, a structural analysis of culture which takes its impetus from Wagner and from ancient religion. In it, Nietzsche delineated three cultural types, although people tend to forget the third: Apollonian, Dionysian, and Buddhist. In the terms of the previous section. Classicism is Apollonian, while Romanticism is Dionysian. Perhaps Nietzsche had to look outside Western culture-to find a name for the Buddhist style because it was not represented in our history. But the trichotomy runs parallel to others proposed by Westerners. For example,' Leonard Meyer (1967) proposed a typology of styles in contemporary serious music which correlates well with the Nietzschean types: Traditionalism (Dionysian), Formalism (Apollonian), and Transcendentalism (Buddhist). Karen Horney's three psychological styles are also similar: "moving toward people" (Dionysian), "moving against people" (Apollonian), and "moving away from people" (Buddhist).

The Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy is very much like the tough-minded/tender-minded distinction made by William James (1963). Abraham Maslow has noted this parallelism and suggested other, related dichotomies: anal/oral, obsessional/hysterical, controlled/impulsive, dominating/receptive, suspicious/trusting, and, most controversial of all, masculine/feminine (Maslow 1969, 93). In Nietzsche's analysis, the Apollonian is intellectual and rational (Classicism); the Dionysian is emotional and intuitive (Romanticism). But in addition to this cognition/emotion distinction, Nietzsche said each type demanded a different relationship to self and other. While the Dionysian seeks to incorporate himself in the group, the Apollonian follows the principle of individuation (Nietzsche 1872, 25-26). The Buddhist rejects both self and other, withdrawing into mystical contemplation. We can display these three types in terms of social relationships in a simple chart of a type familiar to sociologists, in figure 5.

Figure 5: Structural Analysis of Nietzsche's Types

Nietzsche's Buddhist is not, of course, the ordinary citizen of an Asian land who follows the Buddhist faith at some distance, but the monastic Buddhist virtuoso who has left the world and abjures personal pleasure, thus someone who rejects or minimizes both self and other, symbolized in figure 5 by minus signs. The Dionysian stresses the other (+), submerging self in the social group, thus minimizing self (-). The Apollonian minimizes the other (-) and stresses self (+). This chart is not only a logical structure contrasting distinct types, but may be seen as a map of persons and worlds, a chart of approaches to existence and plans for behavior. The point at the center of the chart, where the lines cross, represents an equal mixture of types, while each of the corners marks the purest example of one style.

Figure 5 lets us see that Nietzsche's typology demands a fourth type, one in which both self and other are stressed; I often sense in Nietzsche's writings a groping for this ideal type. His famous cultic testament. Also Sprach Zarathustra (1885) is the story of a messiah-philosopher who achieves the greatest wisdom and enlightenment while living for ten years on a mountain accompanied only by an eagle (power) and a serpent (passion). Zarathustra descends to humanity, seeking fellows. He fails to find any worthy of his message, and he departs. Zarathustra, like Nietzsche himself, is from one perspective immature and ridiculous - like the inhibited adolescent poet who bombards a beautiful maiden with poems and demands, but remains unwilling to share her real world and its limitations. This is the obsession with purity of the Apollonian. And Zarathustra is an Apollonian (with a Buddhist past, perhaps), like Nietzsche, despite the dark midnight passion of his message. He speaks but does not touch. The result is failure. Apollo fails to become Dionysus. A man apart fails to become a part of the whole. The synthesis of opposing styles suggested by Figure 5 is not found.

Note that what began as an analysis of a conceptual dichotomy of social theory, quickly became an analysis of Nietzsche's fruitless quest for a new religion. And many, like the composer Delius, have tried to turn Zarathustra. into a religion. So, we have returned to the topic of cults. And we should note that Nietzsche, a structuralist before his time, has chosen as his protagonist the cult founder Zarathustra (Zoroaster) who actually introduced a dualist religion which was based on a dichotomy like those we consider here.

Let us consider figure 5, therefore, in terms of our analytic approach to cults - in terms of cultural genetics. Superficial readers of Nietzsche, noting his famous Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy, would say that he described a single gene, A/D, with two alleles, A and D. My analysis of what he actually wrote suggests there were at least two genes. One had to do with relationship to the self and had two alleles, emphasizing self ([S+]) and minimizing self ([S-]). The second gene had to do with relationship to others and had two alleles, emphasizing others ([O+]) and minimizing others ([O-]). The genotypes for Nietzsche's three culture types can easily be stated: Apollonian [S+,O-], Dionysian [S-,O+], and Buddhist [S-,O-]. The fourth possible type [S+.O+] was never achieved by Nietzsche, but Maslow might identify it as the self-actualizing individual capable of love for others as well as personal achievement. While Nietzsche never found [S+,O+], perhaps Einstein did.

Ruth Benedict made much of the A/D distinction in her influential popular book, Patterns of Culture (1934). But her definitions of Apollonian and Dionysian are very different from those of Nietzsche. She agrees that the Apollonian is emotionally cool while the Dionysian is gripped by passionate frenzy. But she reverses Nietzsche's opinion of which is the group-oriented and which the individualistic type. According to her, the serene Apollonian life implies a "distrust of individualism" (Benedict 1934, 80), while the Dionysian plunges on a harried quest to break away from the normal world. And her book finds no use for the third type, Buddhist.

Neither Nietzsche nor Benedict is wrong in any objective sense. Rather, they are led in different directions by examination of different data - in great measure, data on different pagan religious traditions. I suggest the two can be made fully compatible if we merely recall the R/L gene (Romanticism/Classicism) and postulate that the A/D distinction really involves three genes, rather than just one or two. For Nietzsche, Apollonianism was [L, S+, O-] while Dionysianism was [R, S-, O+]. For Benedict, Apollonianism was [L, S-, O+] while Dionysianism was [R, S+, O-]. The history of Mendelian genetics records many cases of the discovery that what had been seen as one gene was really a composite of two or more genes which may have shown partial linkage.

Perhaps, however, there is some merit to the view that Nietzsche's real contribution was the single dichotomy A/D, as Benedict and so many others have thought. Perhaps S- is strongly (if not perfectly) linked to O+, and S+ is linked to O-. If so, it is very easy to interpret the disagreement between Nietzsche and Benedict in the terms of that arch-structuralist Talcott Parsons (1951, 67). The five "pattern-alternatives" of Parsons' system are five genes, each with two alleles. Two of the five, the two which happen to be called "dilemmas," correspond perfectly with the two genes R/L and S/O. The gratification-discipline dilemma is a cultural choice between affectivity [R] and affective neutrality [L]. The private versus collective interest dilemma is a cultural choice between self-orientation [S] and collectivity-orientation [O]. As Parsons of course recognized, two pairs of alternatives may combine in four different ways: [R, S], [L, S], [R, O], and [L, O]. Nietzsche and Benedict merely studied different sets of cultures in which a partial linkage had been made between what were in other cultures quite separate genes.

Structuralists have postulated many high-level dichotomies such as these, each of which may be interpreted as a two-allele gene, and it would take us too far afield to review more of them. But one example from anthropology will take us back to religious cults. Anthony F. C. Wallace, who uses the idiosyncratic term mazeway to refer to cultural systems, suggested a general principle which might explain the choice of [R] or [L] by the psychotherapeutic cults of a society (Wallace, 1959). If the society itself is highly organized [L], to offer compensation the cults should be [R], while if the society is poorly organized, the cults should provide compensatory rational organization [L]. In the case of the society Wallace used as his example, the Iroquois, invasion by the Europeans changed an ordered society into a chaotic society, thus making the therapy cults shift from [R] to [L]. This reminds us that the gene pool of a culture will be affected by environmental selection pressures.

A parallel example can be found in my book, Satan's Power (1978b). There I explained that the Process was founded by a man and a woman of very different temperaments. Indeed, one of the things which drew me to the cult as a research site was the fact that it offered competing, alternative culture systems (represented by the four gods) within a single religious organization. Thus, in the language of genetics. The Process was heterozygous, while most other cults appear homozygous. And, with two co-equal founders, the Process possessed distinctive genetic material from two sources, and thus was diploid. Most cults have single cultural systems created as units by single founders, and thus are haploid. Scientology is diploid despite having a single founder since it is the amalgam of two cults, Dianetics and Scientology, founded with conflicting principles by the same man. (If I had the space, I would further explain that Dianetics is [R], while Scientology, at least at levels below "clear," is [L].

The female founder of the Process, Mary Ann, favored control, while Robert favored liberation (Bainbridge 1978b, 25). And, as Wallace might predict, Mary Ann came from a chaotic background, while Robert struggled against the inhibitions instilled in him by a controlled upbringing. Each wanted the cult to compensate for their prior experiences, so Mary Ann wanted [L] while Robert wanted [R]. Which of these opposing genes prevailed? Dominance and recessivity are unstable in culture, depending upon the social power of the faction promoting either allele in a heterozygous cultural system. And the phenotype oscillated back and forth between [Rl] and [rL] over the cult's history. On the theological level, this was conceptualized by cult members themselves as a conflict between Jehovah ([L]) and Lucifer ([R]).

In Satan's Power I also made use of the Lofland-Stark (1965) concept of problem-solving perspective. Each problem-solving perspective is a different ideal-typical way of responding to difficult human problems. Lofland and Stark identified three alleles of this high-level gene: religious, psychiatric, and political. I shall notate these as: [G] for God, [F] for Freud, and [P] for politics. I suggest that the R/L gene determines problem-solving perspective in a way quite independent of the G/F/P gene. When it was founded. The Process was a psychotherapy aimed at the liberation from subconscious compulsions, and thus had the genotype [F, Rl]. Later, it became religious instead of psychotherapeutic, and control gained the upper hand, [G, rL]. When Robert and Mary Ann split, and the cult divided into two, there briefly existed two antagonistic sibling cults: Robert's Process [G, R] and Mary Ann's Foundation [G, L].

I can sympathize with any reader who feels skeptical about all this. Each writer (or cultist) who proposes a typology gives each of the types very special connotations and certainly is not thinking in terms of a pure cultural genetics. And there is no doubt that Structuralism is in disrepute within sociology - deservedly so. Stark and I have already explained the reason. Large societies are culturally diverse. They are not cultural systems logically united by over-arching shared assumptions (Bainbridge and Stark, 1981a). But this does not mean that no cultural systems exist. Within modern societies, such cultural systems as religious organizations and styles of art clearly do exist.

Structuralist analyses of cultural innovation (e.g., Merton 1968; Smelser 1962) may be very good descriptions of how innovations come into being within a cultural system. But they may have little to contribute to an understanding of change in unsystematic societies. In Satan's Power, I found it appropriate to use the Structuralism of Claude Levi-Strauss to analyze parts of the Process system. But my editor objected when I wanted to say that the reason the analysis worked was that Robert de Grimston and Claude Levi-Strauss thought in the same way. Apparently, one should not suggest that great anthropologists are cultists. But, perhaps they often are. To the extent that Structuralist thought produces cultural systems. Structuralist thought can help analyze them.

Much of the structural analysis in Levi-Strauss' books concerns the pre-literate equivalent of religious cults: the poetic products of myth-spinners as refined through generations of telling and retelling. Levi-Strauss may often be entirely wrong, but I have every reason to believe he may be right much of the time, because, like me, he is looking at the systematic products of persons who engage in genetic engineering to make culture, writ small.


Cultural genes are far more liable than biological genes, but I believe they do possess sufficient stability and coherence to permit a science of cultural genetics. Culture has nothing so regular as DNA to support genetic structure, for the genes are carried in the human mind rather than in a molecule. Yet, intellect creates structure, and both tradition and abstract logic produce regularities in even the most imaginative innovations.

Just as biological genetics began with studies of sweet peas and fruit flies, cultural genetics can begin with systematic research on cults and artistic schools. We need many careful empirical studies tracing the origins and patterns of transmission of cultural genes. This essay has offered hypotheses about the chief mechanisms of mutation and heredity, but only research can determine if these are the most common mechanisms which in fact play important roles. The idea that tradition often establishes a genetic locus in which different alleles substitute to produce competing viable subcultures is a true theory, combining lower-level hypotheses in an overarching explanation. Research can tell us whether it contributes significantly to an understanding of cultural differentiation.

We should not rule out the experimental method in research on cults and artistic schools. Lofland and Stark (1965) have already inadvertently manipulated the religious group they studied by providing it with an effective scheme for recruiting new members - although I do not mean to claim that their famous paper really gave the group its later success, such easily could have been the case. Since religion and art are human creations, there is nothing ethnically wrong or impractical about influencing or even creating such subcultures for research purposes. The growing literature on the ethics of biological genetic engineering might guide us in setting limits for similar research on culture (Wade 1977; Rogers 1977; Fletcher 1974).

Certainly we should be prepared to use quantitative techniques in cultural genetics, although I see no obvious analog of the phenotype ratios which played such an important role in the Mendelian tradition. Already, several quantitative studies have attempted to map religious groups in several dimensions. I should point out one possible source of misinterpretation, however. Two cults which in fact are closely related with several identical cultural loci, but with different alleles at each locus, may superficially seem more different than two unrelated cults with no loci in common. For example, a romantic cult [R] may give birth through allele substitution to a classical cult [L], and the two will appear at opposite ends of the R/L dimension. But two unrelated cults which both lack the R/L locus may appear similar to each other because neither is distinctively [R] or [L]. And, of course, superficial similarities are not proof of consanguinity. The knight-in-armor is no kin of the turtle, despite the fact that each has found a tough shell to be a successful adaptation to a dangerous environment. Nor is either related to the ankylosaur, glyptodon, armadillo or horseshoe crab. One must use more subtle techniques than mere quick inspection to determine relationships between cults.

This essay has been so concerned with genes and genetic mutation that it has given little attention to population genetics except in consideration of the principle of character displacement. Yet it should be clear that concepts from population genetics should often apply to the competitive, differentiated cultural marketplace. Many a niche may exist for specialized sects and cults, and the interplay of denominations contending for the fertile low-tension territory may be very complex. Many insights, including some embodied in subtle computer models, may come from the examination of religion as a problem in cultural population genetics.

The job of creating a cultural genetics will not be an easy one. I hope the metaphors proposed in this essay illuminate more than they obscure. I have made my oft radical proposals after failing to find adequate theory of cultural innovation within conventional sociology. In two ways this essay has been anachronistic. First, the idea that sociology can profitably use metaphors drawn from the physical sciences was abandoned decades ago. Second, in recent years sociology has tended to ignore culture as an object of study. But there are fashion cycles in social science as in everything else cultural. Therefore, I suggest there exists a great opportunity in reversing these trends and in bravely seeking a science of cultural genetics based initially on concepts borrowed from biology and on information about those exotic micro-organisms, religious cults.


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