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Innovative Returns to Tradition: Using Core Teachings as the Foundation for Innovative Accommodation

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This article argues that religious groups sustain organizational vitality by preserving core teachings and promoting adaptive innovations. The core teachings guard the sacred beliefs and practices held as timeless, and the innovations adapt these teachings to new cultures and contexts—with the most successful innovations building on the core. Using organizational theory and previous research, I explain how core teachings sustain vitality and I uncover the organizational mechanisms stimulating and blocking innovations. Historical examples are used to illustrate how denominations struggle to preserve the continuity of distinctive core teachings and promote adaptive innovations. Finally, I discuss the implications this thesis holds for the study of American religion, both past and present.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2004

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