Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe
Lunchbox Lecture: Post-Religion? Bhagwan's Neo-Sannyas Movement in Germany 1972-1989
CERES Palais, room "Ruhrpott" (4.13)
Lecture by Prof. Dr. Martin Papenheim (CERES)
Bhagwan's Neo-Sannyas movement entered Germany in 1972. Even though Hippies, dropouts and artists were its first members, by the end of the 1970s the movement had become the biggest "cult" in Germany with a large middle class membership. Depending on the source, the numbers vary from 20,000 to 50,000 members. This discrepancy reflects the complex and fluid character of the movement with both well-organized communes as well highly informal membership.
The public discourse in the late 1970s and 1980s focused on the concepts of "sect" and "gross endangerment of minors". Thus, the contemporary debate highly underestimated this west-eastern hybrid group's capacity to destabilize German/Christian religious sub-system. The Neo-Sannyas movement was a post-religion. In that it had inherited the questions religions typically ask. But instead of answering them, Bhagwan's teachings demanded a constant query of the Self. The movement combined traditional elements of institution and cult with new forms of organization and practice. Most importantly it re-organized the societal differentiation of the religious by (re-)implementing religious elements into other sub-systems especially health and economy, but also into media and art.