People who experience belief in a different way than usual are quickly labelled abnormal.
This is the conclusion of religious sociologist Lammert Jansma, based on a study of the ‘Uit de Bron van Christus’ [Christ is our Source] Foundation, a small religious movement in the north of the Netherlands.
Jansma will be awarded a PhD for his research on 6 May 2010 by the University of Groningen.
Numerous new religious movements have emerged in the Netherlands in recent decades.
Most of them are looked at by the general public with some degree of distrust.
This is partly due to the influence of media reports of derailed, violent sects, such as that of David Koresh in Waco, USA, and the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo.
What is usually forgotten is that these were controversial exceptions and the temptation to generalize is hard to resist.
The ‘Uit de bron van Christus’ religious movement in Oudehorne, a village in Friesland, presented in the daily newspapers as ‘Sonja de Vries’s sect’, has also been repeatedly confronted with accusations and prejudice.
Religious sociologist Lammert Jansma has been charting the religious practices of and the reactions to Sonja de Vries’s movement since 1998.
He has interviewed members and ex-members, attended meetings of the movement and studied the written material (brochures, contact papers, archive material) they have produced.
He also interviewed key informants where the movement is currently located.
He has established that the movement fits into the broad tradition of Gnostic Christianity, related to theosophy and the New Age movement.
The movement being researched is centred on the prophetess Sonja de Vries.
In 1983 she ‘heard’ that she was an instrument of ‘powers from the beyond, angels from the Seventh Sphere of Light’, and that it was her duty to bring the people back to the true religion, the gospel as it was in the days of the first apostles.
In the years that followed, the movement grew to about two hundred believers.
Many of them joined the movement thanks to the miraculous cures performed by Sonja de Vries.
It is an unusual movement, Jansma has ascertained.
Whereas ‘healing cults’ usually have a rather loose organization, the movement that emerged in the Frisian village of Oudehorne is very well-organized.
The movement regards it as its duty to express the message of the angels and thus needs an effective organization.
What is also unusual is that this is a home-grown Dutch movement – virtually all new religious movements in the Netherlands, such as the Unification Church, the Scientology Church and the Hare Krishna movement, are originally from elsewhere.
One important difference with the established churches is that the members invest a lot of time in the movement –
preaching the message of the angels requires a great deal of effort from its apostles.
Non-members regard the devotion of the followers to the movement as abnormal behaviour, Jansma has determined.
Actors in the immediate environment of the movement reacted in ways that ranged from rejecting-confrontational (those opposed to the sect), to rejecting-warning (churches), to aloof (village community) to sensationalist (media).
In the eyes of villagers, church members and the media, a ‘normal’ church-member goes to church sometimes on a Sunday.
Faith should be a marginal and not a central aspect of daily life, that seems to be what general opinion dictates.
People who experience faith in a different way than usual are quickly labelled abnormal.
Lammert G. Jansma (1943) will be awarded a PhD by the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen on 6 May 2010.
H is supervisor is Prof. J.N. Bremmer.
This is Jansma’s second PhD; in 1977 he wrote a thesis on a historical-sociological study of the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement.
The title of this thesis is Engelen in Oudehorne. Een nieuwe profetische beweging in het lokaalpostmoderne [Angels in Oudehorne.
A new prophetic movement in local-postmodernism].
A commercial edition of the book is available.
Review copies are available from Eburon publishers, tel. 015-2131484, info eburon.nl.
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