Almut-Barbara Renger
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(5,073 words)

This article provides a definition of “authority,” focusing on religious and spiritual forms of leadership. It follows the development of the term from its origins in Roman law through to its undermining by modern, critical approaches towards authoritarian rule. Subsequently, Max Weber’s differentiation of “rational-legal,” “traditional,” and “charismatic” authority is applied to spiritual leaders, a prevalence of charismatic authority being observed among them. Several examples demonstrate the continuous importance of charismatic figures in religious movements as well as the dependence of a master’s authority on his personality, which, according to Joachim Wach, distinguishes his dominance from the impersonal authority of a teacher. Charismatic leadership, based on the exceptional powers of an individual challenging tradition and law, thus creates an unstable form of authority and is regularly institutionalized in the course of the history of religions and religious movements, which often establish a system of succession associated with the founder to legitimize authority after his demise. ⸙

Vocabulary for the Study of Religion Online

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