The Guru is a Donut
Applications of Social Network Theory to the Study of Religion
Keywords:Gurus, Sathya Sai Baba, Social Relations, Social Network Analysis
How are global gurus successful in enchanting thousands of devotees? Common descriptions tend to highlight attributes of the actors, e.g. the charisma of the guru or the biographies and socio-economic backgrounds of the devotees. In my opinion this does not sufficiently explain the growth or stability of these movements. By using a social network theory approach, I focus on the types of ties between the involved actors. From this relational perspective, the network position of the actors and the qualities of the ties between them are the „material“ a guru-centered movement is made of. Instead of searching for more and more characteristics of the actors to explain the phenomenon (e.g. the guru's rhetoric skills and theological virtuosity or the devotee's disappointment with more conventional forms of religion), this approach helps to see a distinctive pattern of social organization that both enables and restricts interaction.
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