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2.9.6. Cyclicity in the development of religion

V. I. Melnikov

History of religion has stored extensive factual material referring to cyclic or periodical transformation of both religion in general and particular religious confessions, e.g. evolution of 3 world religions.

The table 2 contains the main stages of development of some generalized standard religion connected with the corresponding factors of the environment as well as with the whole scheme of interactions of the object and environment.

The time of existence of a particular religion or the duration of cycle can be estimated by its general dependency of the time of the random object’s existence during its interaction with the environment (15).


where values contained in this relationship can be interpreted in the following way: t – time of existence of particular religion, N0 – initial change (increase, decrease) of the number of believers (or the value of the initial condition of doctrines’ system) in nominal conditions per unit f time; ΔD – general maximal number of a particular religion’s followers or an acceptable variation of the value of the initial doctrines’ system, allowing to be preserved as a separate religion; R – resistance to the religion’s demolishing (flexibility of the connection of religion and environment, propaganda, financing, public opinion, compulsion, mentality, fashion, social and economic situation etc.); ΔCн – initial variance in levels of the conditions of religion and its environment, degree of mismatch between doctrines’ system and religion’s environment; П – influence of programmatic religious sets of the subconscious upon the doctrines’ system; В – parameter of substitution of one religion’s programmatic set for another religion’s programmatic set (or for an atheistic set etc.); У – parameter of the conditions of religion’s existence (social and economic situation, level of science, globalization, informatization, unification of society etc.).

In order to get a more complete and exact understanding and cover of the religion’s transformation, dynamic analogy of religion’s cyclic development process and well studied in the vibration theory self-vibrating (self-exciting) process can be used. Such a process emerges in a system containing some variety of oscillating circuit and its inverse coupling with the external source of energy [40]. The difference between the level of condition of religion and its environment serves as an energy source; subconscious energy serves as a transit-time element, potential of activity (analogues to spring or condenser) is contained in constructive abilities of new religious ideas.

In accordance with the afore-mentioned, as it is depicted in Table 2, cycle and time interval relating to one general religion of transformation form the part of a more general self-oscillating process covering the whole religious world outlook’s developing period that consists of a chain of replacing religion’s structures. Scheme of the whole process is presented on fig. 5.

Fig. 5.

Here ΔC is the difference of the condition’s levels of a new state and an old religion, new factors and old doctrines, g1 – conductivity of the underbar zone between ambience and founder to new religion, receptivity, sensitivity of the founder to religions to condition level difference ΔC; m – religious’ consciousness (thinking) inertia of both a personality and society (inertia of instincts, customs, thinking stereotypes, behavior arrangements, genetic programs, etc.); m = D + ΔD, where D – indicator of old religion’s initial doctrines; ΔD – variation of this index; W1 and W2 – action of state levels’ difference ΔC by g1 upon the founder of religion; W3 and W4 – action of new ideas through the dividing zone g2 upon society’s consciousness; W5 – reverse action of the changed condition consciousness upon conductance g2 (susceptibility of society).

According to the scheme above grounder of a new religion plays a role of signal’s intensifier from ΔC that is transmitted through g2 as a complex of new ideas for public religious consciousness m.

Table 2. Typical dynamics of cyclic development of some general religion

Stages of interaction in the system object – environment Development of the system – factors – religion Acting factors Comments
1. Emergence of difference in states of a new environment and a previous object Formation of conditions for a new religion’s emergence, change in living conditions under old religion’s preservation 3.1; 3.2; 4.1; 4.2; 4.3; 4.4. Conditions change without regard to consciousness as well as to personalities and society
2. Beginning of the object’s change resulting from new environment’s impact upon this object Generation of new religious beliefs 2.3; 2.5; 4.2. Conscious and subconscious
3. Development of the object’s change under action of difference in states Dissemination of new religious conceptions among relatives, pupils, disciples, in a close circle of parishioners 1.1; 1.2; 2.1; 2.2; 2.3; 2.4; 2.5; 3.1; 3.2; 4.1; 4.2; 4.3 In a clandestine, local way, in defiance of universally recognized religious conceptions
4. Inhibition (decrease of intensity) of the object’s state by the old environment Rejection and persecution of new ideas by the authorities and the great bulk of the population 1.1; 1.2; 2.2; 2.3; 3.1; 3.2; 4.2 Lack of understanding of new ideas by the great bulk of the population and personal mercenary interests of the authorities
5. Development of the object’s change under action of the factors previously not studied Current adjustment of new ideas in their modification process 2.2; 2.3; 2.4; 2.5; 3.1; 3.2; 4.1 As a rule, by all the clergy of the church
6. Maximal intensity of the object’s change Quick dissemination of new ideas among the majority of the territory’s population 2.4; 2.5; 3.1; 3.2; 4.1; 4.2; 4.3. Universal weakening of new religion
7. Setting up equilibrium in the system object-environment New religion is recognized as a power and is used in one’s own interests 2.3; 2.4; 2.5; 3.1; 3.2; 4.3. Financial, ideological organizational and coercive support of religion by the authorities and society
8. Emergence of new difference in states of a new environment and previous object Emergence of new living conditions and creation of prerequisites for origination of a new religion 3.1; 3.2; 4.1; 4.2; 4.3; 4.4. Start of a new cycle of society’s development and its consciousness

Apparently the time of old religion’s existence is determined by some maximum value of change of its doctrines ΔDнр while it is not demolished as a whole, by, sui generic, religion’s safety factor and the interval of maximal adoption in the new environment and, as a reason, loss of a acceptable contingent of believers. It is also evident that religion’s safety factor m increases when inertia of believers’ thinking increases and power of influence of new religion’s ideas F decreases, i.e. .

According to the above-mentioned scheme the whole cycle of a particular religion’s existence can be presented in the following way. Difference in states ΔC between the object-religion and the new factors of its environment (contradictions) through underbar zone of the founder to religions with conductivity g1 generates by a religion’s founder (prophet) the main ideas of a new religious world outlook F through the dividing zone, thus eliminating existing contradictions.

These ideas influence public consciousness m through the dividing zone with a conductance g2, to some extent changing the old religion’s set of doctrines D for the value ΔD. Until a particular moment, despite the existence of a peculiar relationship of m and g2, the latter does not change and religion continue to exist with the old doctrines D. Having attained a maximum change ΔDнр the old religion start to disintegrate and through a reverse connection W5, acting upon conductance g2, decreases it, in such a way strengthening the effect of the new ideas’ influence F and facilitating the acceleration old religion’s destruction, thus creating a religious vacuum and facilitating the adoption of new ideas F, and thereby eliminating initial contradictions between the old religion and a new environment. Upon the elimination of such contradictions ΔC = 0 and new religion with a set of doctrines D1 becomes an official religion of this society, i.e. the cycle is completed. Dynamic equilibrium of e new environment and a new religion is established. Consequently religious process is a particular case of the general interaction process in the object-environment system and is subject to its laws.

Further environment’s change leads to origination of new contradictions with the already established religion D1, and the process is further repeated in accordance with the scheme described above.

In such a way, having a gradual (evolutional) environment’s change at an entry, we observe a periodical cyclic (revolutionary) system of doctrines change at an exist.

This is naturally an extremely idealized and simplified scheme. In reality a boundless number of various interrelated environment’s factors generate a corresponding diversity of living forms and religious world outlook’s consciousness change. Nevertheless the principle of religion’s change as one of the alternative of a self-oscillating process remains unchanged. It is important to select required source data for each particular case of a particular religion.

Cyclicity (recurrence) features are described by many religious processes’ researchers grounding on quite different methodological approaches and world outlook positions [36, 71].

Thus, G.Gelgel’s general line of religion’s evolution includes stages – natural religion – spiritual individuality religion – absolute religion with particular confessions. While D.Frezer’s conception is the following: magic – religion – science. R.Bell defines 5 main cycles: primitive religion, archaic religion, historic religions, early modern religion, pluralistic religion (religion of the future). According to the generally accepted historic classification cyclicity (recurrence) is presented as the following chain: ancient religions, ethnic and regional religions, world religions, non-traditional religions.

The following set is also well-known: magic, basic religions (fetishism, totemism, animism, shamanism), pantheism, polytheism, monotheism (confessional and universal) and unifying religions. Their cyclicity is probably also connected with the described mechanism of functioning of the environment – object system.

In all the cases at this stage of research specifics of religion makes it possible to determine some resemblance with periodic cyclic processes basing on relatively small and quite unrepresentative selection of experimental historic material against the background of long-term millennial time intervals.

Conventionally all the above-mentioned processes can be graphically presented in the coordinates of difference of sates of environment and religion/ part of believers in the whole population mass – time.

Dynamics OF cyclicity, suggested by the religion’s evolution theory by sociologist R.Bell can be graphically presented in the following way (fig. 6).

In order to improve visualization and in relation to the evident increase in religious formations’ tempo with the course of time, axis of abscissa is presented by irregular time scale, division value of which is decreased over a period of time in accordance with the following relation:


where n = 2,3,4, …; d = 128 thousand years; a1 = 72 thousand years.

The time of the first form of religions’ origination, i.e. 200 thousand years ago, is taken as the initial moment of time.

It has also been taken into account that, as the practice reveals, none of the old religions vanish completely with the course of time, their rudiments are preserved for an indefinite period of time. Examples: magic, fetishism etc.

As the creator of the theory R.Bell has not provided clear time benchmarks and the number of believers, this scheme is of a mere qualitative and evaluation character. In a similar way schemes of sets of G.Gegel, D.Fraser, historic etc. can be presented. The given correlations will be more closely depict the reality in case the “pure” processes (e.g., confessions), and not their eclectic mixtures, are reviewed.

Cycles can not be explained for an object – religion if it is reviewed as an undividable whole possessing the only one indicator – state. Mechanism of religion can be revealed only when religion is reviewed as a system consisting of elements and their functional interconnections, namely – inertia of subconscious and new ideas’ potential. Therefore in any particular study of any objects, including religion, it is important to correctly determine the object of the study, as well as its structure and parameters.

At the same time it is important to mention that such a mechanism of self-vibrating evolutionary and revolutionary processes is acting during the substitution of public and political formations, as well as machinery generation and technological substitutions. Though the real content of the scheme elements will remain different in each particular case.

In case of public and political formations productive forces is the source, and productive relations – is the object. State plays the role of a dividing zone that connects the above-mentioned forces and relations. In the case of machinery – environment corresponding ideas will also act as an active potential constructive element; while sources of material realization of these ideas will act as an inertia element.