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“Shaking Out the Mat”: Schism and Organizational Transformation at a Mexican Ark of the Virgin

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The apocalyptic Marian colony of Nueva Jerusalén, Mexico suffered a violent schism in 1982, marking a turning point in the history of the sect. The rift resulted in a major organizational transformation and helped to establish the centralized system of authority now observable in the colony. This article examines the ideological and structural factors that promoted the schism. A succession crisis, caused by the death of a Marian apparition seer, precipitated schismatic activity as dissidents struggled to block the charismatic leader's attempts to revise the sect's authority structure and identity. At the same time, the prophet escalated tensions by reframing the conflict as a commitment test. Wallis's theory of structural opportunity for schism is used to show how the conflict grew out of long-standing interest groups and ambiguous authority arrangements in the colony.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Texas Christian University

Publication date: 01 June 2003

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