On October 31 1916, Charles Taze Russell died. Russell had founded a religious sect known as the International Bible Students, which would later become known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Like the followers of many other charismatic leaders, Russell’s followers experienced a traumatic time upon and after his death. In fact, sects often disappear altogether when their founders die. As we know, this sect not only survived the ordeal following its founder’s death, it thrived and grew. At the time of Russell’s death, it had about 10,000 followers. Today the movement has about 6 million active and zealous members worldwide. The person who laid the foundation for this impressive growth was Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. He became the 2nd President of the Watch Tower Society (hereafter: WTS) in 1917, and shortly thereafter he was the supreme leader of the movement. At Russell’s death, it is no exaggeration to say that the sect was focused primarily on his person. It took determined effort from Rutherford and many confrontations to secure the loyalty of the community. When Rutherford died in 1942, the organization had no problematic successor problem. The members of the sect had at that time loyalty more towards the whole organization than a single individual. The major objective of this thesis is to investigate some factors in Rutherford’s presidency that caused this change. A religious community founded primarily on loyalty to a single individual will naturally experience a crisis when this individual passes away. A religion that exists for a long time does so because its followers have loyalty towards the movement itself. Since religions are often founded by charismatic religious leaders –and Russell surely was one of them — what we can call the ‘successor problem’ may well be a general one. This thesis will describe the specific solution that Rutherford’s presidency proved to become.
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