Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version


A theoretical perspective that discounts the effect of underlying social strain or deprivation in social movement genesis in favor of rational strategic and political considerations. There are two principal versions: (1) the political organizer model, which stresses the role of external elite sponsors in providing financing, organization, and strategic/tactical leadership, and (2) the political process model, which emphasizes the provision of critical movement resources by the indigenous grassroots.

The work of Mayer Zald, professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, has been crucial to RM theory. In the 1960s, Zald (1970) undertook a seminal study that detailed the organizational transformation of the YMCA from evangelism to social service. A decade later, he expanded this organization-environment model to the field of social movements in the form of the "resource mobilization" paradigm (McCarthy and Zald 1977). In 1981, he delivered the H. Paul Douglass lecture to the Religious Research Association in which he called for a marriage of RM theory with Robert Wuthnow's version of world systems, and therein applied the model to denominational schisms. Among Zald's doctoral students at Vanderbilt University who subsequently have made significant contributions to the social scientific study of religion were O. Kendall White, Kenneth Westhues, Hart Nelsen, and James R. Wood.

In related work, both McAdam (1982) and Morris (1984) have recognized the historic importance of black community churches in supplying money, meeting space, and leadership to the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Sociologists have applied the resource mobilization perspective to a variety of other religious contexts including new religious movements (Bromley and Shupe 1976, Khalsa 1986) and evangelistic crusades (Johnson et al. 1984).

John Hannigan


D. G. Bromley and A. D. Shupe, The Moonies in America (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1976)

N. Johnson et al., "Attendance at a Billy Graham Crusade," Sociological Analysis 45(1984):383-392

K. Khalsa, "New Religious Movements Turn to Worldly Success," Journal for the Social Scientific Study of Religion 25(1986):233-247

D. McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982)

J. D. McCarthy and M. N. Zald, "Resource Mobilization and Social Movements," American Journal of Sociology 82(1977):1212-1239

A. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Free Press, 1984)

M. Zald, Organizational Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970)

M. N. Zald, "Theological Crucibles," Review of Religious Research 23(1982):317-336

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