The Obsolescence of the Power Paradigm Within the Brotherhoods of The Holy Spirit 
English version and synopsis of a Ph.D. thesis, 
by Antonieta Costa, Azores, 1998

1. Introduction

Power became a problem when we understood that it condradicts all social processes, thoughts and relations among people. The simplest interaction between two people becomes a stage of battle where each one pretends to establish the "truth" about whatever was being in question.

"Power", considered as authority, on the process of symbolic reality construction, is attributed by the group to certain people, who thus become legitimized in this function. Scientists, Priests, Shamans, the Law System, etc., depending on the type and development of the society, are considered the official producers, or constructors, of reality.

In spite of this conventional understanding a constant motion is caused by those left behind, resulting in private fights (most of the time hidden by the apparent calm of the surface) for the undertaking of a part of the residual power and/or recognition.

In both cases however, the establishment of the "truth" is always dependent on a super-entity who gives the last word, an authority who reinforces the moral rightness, a hierarchical system to whom common man can resort to, in order to "learn" how the order of the things is established, how it must be done, how everybody should behave. A society functioning under principles different from these is unforeseen and even unthinkable. The establishment of law and order in a society is thought to be inseparable from these figures of authority. Any other social system based on different logics is doomed to fail. The idea of having a society based on total equality among the members for these functions of the establishment of the "truth" is thus thought of as a foolish and impossible project, without any perspective of survival, although wished as a distant utopia.

Considering this link between the philosophical and the epistemological fields as our focus of concentration, we can say that the thematic of power has become a stationary one since the beginning of historical times, in the process of reality interpretation and construction. The access to the truth has always been perceived as coming from either a "gift", a "divine concession", an "enlightenment", or any other special means conferred by divine entities to the special care of these figures of authority. Never, in any case, and within any group, does it become the possession of common man, or seen as an ordinary function.

Being that this assertion is accepted as representing the status quo of the social thought in this matter, it is in this context that I present information about an organization (or group of religious brotherhoods) which operates by different principles, mainly based on symetrical interactions among the members. All definitions of the internal (organizational) reality, starting from the representation of the divinity, his perceived behaviors, values and expectations about human acting, the performance of the cult, as well as other similar functions and situations, are produced and established by the common man in his role of simple member of the brotherhood. This means that anyone wanting to do so can enter the organization, become a member, and, in performing within the cult as an "Imperador" (or the person in charge of the cult during a week) introduce any innovation that he or she sees as positive for a better functioning. 

Considering that this is a situation avoided by societies, fearing to loose control over the interpretations already produced and thus over the meaning and values attributed to them, a simple curiosity about the originality of this case lead to its classification as the object of study (in a doctorate program, at ISCTE, Lisbon, 1998) with the objective of giving notice of such facts to the scientific community.

2. The Problem

Coming from a priori observation and understanding of the organization of the Holy Spirit (or the group of brotherhoods), a first focus of attention can be directed to :
  • The visual absence of authorities or figures of power; 
  • Laws or norms not being superlatively established.
Such a singular situation brought many theoretical problems to the design level of the research. First of all, most of the theory already constructed is based and oriented by different paradigms, especially the power one, which would produce a distortion on the perception of the problems, affecting the analysis and loosing accuracy during the investigation. In second place, most of the evidence brought by the observation of this organization's functioning contradicts the existing theory. The raising of a controversial one then can become uncomfortable in the academic environments, especially if it does not have the support of a grounded theory.

3. Theoretical Basis

The work of Claude Faucheux and Serge Moscovici (1967) was one of the few exceptions. Not only because of that, but also by the excellency of its quality, they were chosen as principal theorists of the study. Their work produced a theory which went against the established explanations of symbolic reality, based on a perspective of the influence that minorities exert over social thought in the process of reality construction. They proved that this process suffers influences not only "from the top down", or from the authorities on the matter (especially the scientific ones), but also "from the bottom up", or from the common man. Although unknown, this last source of influence proved to be so strong that in most cases it is the only one fighting against organizational stagnation, and forcing change or imposing a new order.

In spite of the consequent controversy Faucheux and Moscovici were followed by many other scientists who confirmed the understanding of this flow of influence, which can be seen as a new capacity of common man. One of the most interesting speculations being the link drawn by Ilya Prigogine (1985) between physics and sociology, which suggested the possibility of man being one more of the examples of autonomous organization found every where in the universe, from a star to a mosquito, in a ever complex state.

Nonetheless, the weight that tradition inflicts upon the thinking process was too strong to be vanished just by theory. This must be the reason why the conventional image of authority kept its preeminence in social process. This was probably helped by the fallacy of the comparisons between animal and human societies, which help to perpetuate this way of thinking in spite of the knowledge that human societies are based on the construction of a symbolic reality in the production of which all members of the group should participate in order to have some sense, due to the conceptual nature of this production. Seen through this perspective, we find an explanation for minority influence found by Moscovici in his studies.

Based on these understandings and also on the studies brought some years after by Serge Moscovici (1976), general research of the organization of the Holy Spirit was proposed with the intention of clarifying other aspects, aside from the laboratory ones, to test the existing theory, in this case, Moscovici's results. The importance of minorities' influence on the social construction of reality could give a different understanding to social process and bring new capacities to democracy, becoming thus the focus of interest within the study.

4. Empirical Data

Due to the referred situation of the absence of authority figures, the strategy applied to the research was oriented in a first step, to the study of the social thought about that fact within the context of the organization and on its external environment. It was specifically interested in the relation with the sacred, knowing how all religious societies reserve the access to those functions only to initiated people. The construction of reality (giving meaning to situations and objects) in the absence of these authorities and their power, could be refused by the larger group (organizational external environment, or the entire Island population).

The investigation took place first with a construction of questionaires having the capacity to clarify these aspects. The application of factorial analysis to the answers brought out what can be considered its internal logic.

1 - The first study was done through an inquiry of the population, comprehending 25 villages of the Island (25 questionnaires per village, in a total of 625). It considered the distribution by sex, age, social class, and geography. The variations among these variables furnished information about the distribution of the opinions and thus, the different social interpretations of reality (the cult and the divinity) within this geographical space. The inquiries' content approached the concept of the delegation of power within the context of the legitimacy conferred to common man, in performances like the religious, ideological and administrative functions of the cult. The results indicated that not only the members (a population of approximately 30,000 - 50% of the island's population), but also the population external to the organization, accepted (without differences on the answers) this situation in the following factorial mean values (1=no, 5=yes):

factor 1 : religious delegation = 3,20
factor 4 : ideological delegation = 4,21
factor 5 : administrative delegation = 4,12

With the confirmation of this understanding, generalized to the entire island, the other studies followed subsequent objectives.

2 - A second study, or field research, pretended to get access to the actual concept of the divinity (former catholic Holy Spirit), with one first purpose of investigating any existing deviance from its roots, which would mean an autonomous production free from catholic church control. In second place, it was important also to know about the nature of this relationship (established with this sacred dimension) when performed solely by common man.

The strategy previewed the collection of "stories", or miracles of the Holy Spirit (as many as possible), which are very abundant in the tradition of the cult, coming from the understanding that the metaphysical nature of the stories would became manifested through the application of factor analysis' techniques to the material obtained.

It was possible to gather 330 stories. Upon this material were first applied techniques of content analysis, making it possible to identify the dominant terms of the cult. A list of these terms was presented to a group of catholic priests and seminarists (11). The results informed about the existence of a great percentage of new terms among contents, the one classified as orthodox (catholic) being only 1/3 of the total, with less then 1/2 of the occurrence of references; 46% of the references mentioned new or innovative entities. Autonomy from the influence of catholic church on the ideological production of the organization was thus confirmed, meaning that the organization was functioning at this level without any recognized authority on the production of its ideology.

It was then necessary to understand the logic behind the new ideology. A new content analysis operation was performed for the identification of the occurrence of the dominant terms within the stories' text, and the application of factor analysis to this material presented a structure of 4 factors explaining 42.25% of the founded variation in the following values:

factor 1 : personal control over survival factors - 14.3%
factor 2 : social control over survival factors - 10.97%
factor 3 : submission (to God's will) - 8.59%
factor 4 : punition (for infractions) - 8.40%

Through this information it was possible to understand that the perceived change (in comparison to the catholic tradition), allowed people a better sense of control over personal and environmental constrains. The interpretation of this sense was due to the distribution of weight through the factorial structure in a decreasing scale, where factor 4 shows the least possible form of control (the infractor may still reverse his situation, by accomplishing some form of the cult).

The relationship with the sacred revealed to be oriented to the acquisition and maintenance of a sense of mastery over the environment. This is different from the catholic attitude which in comparison with this one, seems more conformist and fatalistic.

The ideology produced in such circumstances (without leaders or ideological mentors) resulting solely from the symetrical interaction and communication among members (whom, in this circumstances, are minorities, in Moscovici's sense of the term), could be considered as presenting an internal logic, which has a more pragmatic characteristic than the former (catholic / orthodox) model.

3 - The third study had different objectives. Knowing that a group of singers (cantadores) was regularly hired to perform their arts during the rituals, a project of research based on their understanding of the situation was drawn with the intention of getting to know their opinions about the evaluation of the Imperadores' (the people auto-proposed for the performance of the cult) action, and the perceived reactions of the public. This was based on the hypothesis that the organization could be using them as what Hodge and Anthony call "boundary spanning units" for gathering information about the external environment, which is the population target for the organizational action.

Content analysis applied to interviews revealed that indeed, the public's opinion (both internal and external environments) shape part of Imperadores' action on the rituals.

Among all, this interaction of influences acting upon the production of organizational social reality proved to be effective in conducting the organizational action to a logical and somehow unexpected consensual outcome.

4 - Finally another empirical research project was done to examine the possible influence of the statutes and administrative committees of the brotherhoods. The 62 brotherhoods' committees were contacted to fulfill questionnaires (only 57 agreed to answer, giving a total of 138 questionnaires).

A latent conflict seems to exist in the interface of the two logic systems: the bureaucratic vs. the democratic. Factorial analysis applied to the questionnaires' answers revealed the existence of a great dissent among this particular population. However, autonomy of the Imperador was confirmed, while information about the influence coming from other brotherhoods was denied. Apparently reality construction happens inside each brotherhood, in a vacuum of power or authority to define the "right from wrong", more evident within the brotherhood's committee where each member, although autonomous, has to follow hierarchies from the bureaucratic system.

In part, all this situation can be explained by the conflict between the two logics, considering the fact that reality definitions are not being established by any authority, or even by statutory forms (where only the obligation towards some of the functions is referred), and are facing a different thought system: the bureaucratic one, coming from the statutes.

In Conclusion

Although touching only the surface of such a complex and original system, the four empirical research projects were able to identiyfy important information about this singular way of acting. It was possible to give emphasis to the fact that the concept of democracy, resulting from the analysis of the Holy Spirit praxis, differs from the concept of representative democracy in use, not only on the way both are performed, but more deeply, on their nature. Two of the many differences founded deserve a special remark:

The first refers to what is now accepted as a scientific position: the fact that reality construction is a social function where the participation of all social members not only becomes vital, but that it functions perfectly in that way, as it was possible to observe in this organization on its 500 years of age. Taking this in consideration and comparing with the model of representative democracy used by most societies, it seems that the latter is inflicting distortions on the process, especially because the "truth" becomes an individualized production, coming from just a few persons. In addition, power relations between people inhibit the natural expression of each others' interpretation of reality, impoverishing the whole process. There is also the implicit notion that representative democracy could be inflicting a distortion on this "natural law", the one that says that reality construction is a social process, which could be inferred by this model in its essence. As a result, and as a conclusion, we should invest more clearly in participative models now that the ghost of chaotic consequences may be vanished.

The second important discrepancy between the two models of democracy refers to what is considered ( in common sense) as necessary for the normal functioning of a society and for the acceptance of its norms: the consensus. Through the empirical research it was possible to verify that what is considered a "principle" within the social context is completely disregarded in the brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit. The attitude prevailing here is the one that defends differences as the norm, in opposition to consensus. The "truth" coming out of this process is a mixture of many "views", but is consistent and has its own logic.

The quality of tolerance perceived in this all attitude brings information about the contradictions existing in the democratic process in use, while suggesting the means to cope with its problems.

In spite of the difference in dimensions between each one of the two democratic processes, we should focus only on the principles that inform of the conduct and the interactions of the members (which should be common to both cases). Through this analysis we can observe that when people act under the notion of political democracy, they tend to respond to the representation of power, common to an authoritarian model. The role acted by their delegates in parliament is obliterated by the atavic image of power, still present in the design of this relationship. On the other hand, when they act under the perspective of what we can call "the brotherhoods' democracy", the attitude of responsibility of each one is a constant.

Although knowing that this attitude is a result of the lack of authority figures, which seems to produce the consequent involvement of everybody in equal circumstances, we can observe that the final results of such a situation (the lack of authority for a period of more than 500 years), is a stable, although dynamic, social organization.

Ascertaining this fact as a final conclusion, we may suggest that further research should be programmed based on this new paradigm of the feasibility of a total democracy, because we know now that the absence of authority does not result necessarily in chaos, and that a structure based on a logic different from the one of power is possible. Thus, future studies would bring information, among many other aspects, about the right dimensions necessary for the functioning of such systems.

But one principle should be fundamental to any new study on this area: social symbolic reality should always be thought as the product of the entire group affected. And this is so because man, as a social being incapable of living apart from the group - his conceptual and intellectual production only makes sense when it results from the interchange of ideas among the group, in such a way that an idea should be understood as both a collective product and an individual one, without primacy to any side.

This seems to be the way it functions in the brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit, which can be considered as living utopias or gigantic laboratories of this new order, where no one has authority to establish the "truth", a "truth" or reality. By ascertaining this fact it is possible to extend the results of Moscovici's work, in stating that minorities (in the sense of "common man") not only can introduce change in social order, but can also produce and maintain their own order or social structure.


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Hodge, B. e Anthony,W. (1984). Organization Theory, Library of Congress Catoling, U.S. America.

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Moscovici, S. (1976 / 1991). Psychologye des Minorités Actives, 1ªedição, 1976, Academic Press, Londres, 2ª e 3ª edições, Presses Universitaires de France.

Prigogine,L. e Stengers,I. (1985) Order out of chaos. Man's new dialogue with nature. Londres, Flamingo.

Trice, H.M., e Beyer, J.M. (1993). The Cultures of Work Organizations, Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

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