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date: 11 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter deals with sacred biographies, hagiographies, and their function in the formation of religious leaders and ritually venerated persons. It is argued that the status of any Master, Teacher, Prophet, guru, Seer and Channel is partly based on sacred biographies, and that the narrative construction of religious authority is crucial to our understanding of leadership in new religions, sects etc. Distinctions are made between doctrinal and popular hagiographies; doctrinal narratives promote the exalted leader according to theologically well-defined standards, while popular narratives cover a wider span, as they seek to draw a picture of the perfected human in many different ways. Counter-hagiographies, finally, serve to deconstruct the ideal person and are typically employed by ex-devotees or members of counter-groups. Hagiographies are seen as very ancient social strategies (there are references to old new religions including early Christianity and the cult of Christ), but also a very lively and important mechanisms in the current make of religious leaders. Examples are derived from Catholic cults of saints, the Mormon Church, Scientology, TM and several other groups.

Keywords: hagiography, sacred narrative, personal myths, religious leadership, sect leaders, leaders of NRMs, narrative formations

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