One of the most fruitful concepts for the understanding of the emergence and transformation of religions is that of charisma. The German sociologist Max Weber applied it, alongside the concept of the institution, to create a notable dialectic: on the one hand, the powerful message of a charismatic teacher or prophet; on the other, the treatment of each legacy by his (or her) disciples and subsequent followers. The fervid and loving attempts to package memories of the charismatic often resulted in bodies of scripture, in exemplary tales about their lives and deeds, and in commemorative rituals. Yet the essence of charisma resides in a certain inscrutability – in gnomic sayings, in baffling gestures – and so disciples are charged with the task of interpreting, enshrining and repeating for future generations often ineffable experiences. To truly know a charismatic presence, ‘one has to have been there’.
Weber also suggested that the process of building institutions was tantamount to turning the extraordinary into parcels of experience that were ‘routinised’ – made predictable – and therefore manageable and repeatable for generations to come. This process can be lengthy and full of conflict, as different groups of followers fight