ABSTRACT: Charismatic authority is widely held to be a defining mark of new religious movements (NRMs). It is also thought to play a crucial role in the onset of violence in some NRMs. We have begun to understand both the psychological and the social structural dynamices of this mode of leadership and how, under specific social conditions, it contributes to a dangerous cycle of deviance amplification. This paper presents a synthetic and critical analysis of several different theories of the charismatic bond. The central concern is why people attribute charisma to some leaders, and hence grant them special authority over their lives. The theories examined help to explain why charismatic relationships form, but they do not allow us to differentiate sufficiently between benign and potentially dangerous types of charismatic bonds, let alone how one may become the other. Scholars of NRMs need to take a closer look at the observable social psychological processes that prompt the attribution of charisma to a leader. A better grasp of these processes, it is argued, would help us understand how the mismanagement of charismatic authority has led some religious groups to see violence as an appropriate response to their concerns.
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