Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

New Religious Movements (NRMs) as Global Organizations: Organizational Structure and Leadership in the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization (BKWSO)

Wendy A. Smith.

This project is an innovative attempt to look at new religious movements (NRMs) as powerful players in the contemporary global context from a hitherto little explored perspective, that of organization and management studies, but using anthropological participant observation methodology. Although MNCs and international regulatory bodies such as the WTO and the UN predominate in the debates on globalization, increasingly institutions such as NGOs, and NRMs, which are often conceived and established in a international organizational form, are gaining prominence as global entities. They exert transnational power in identity formation and cultural adaptation on a daily, individual level and seek political and economic influence at national and international levels. Their membership size, budget levels and international management sophistication invite our analysis. While pathbreaking work has been done on the organizational style and economic imperatives of particular religious movements, more research emphasizing their global organizational significance as administrative structures performing successfully in cross-cultural and supra-national contexts is warranted. This paper aims to fill this gap by examining the organizational strategies, structures and the nature of leadership in a globalized NRM, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization. Based in India with 600,000 followers worldwide, its operational scope parallels a large MNC. Its culturally diverse set of local centres are administered voluntarily yet its managerial strategies and integrated, spiritually-based organizational culture have contributed to successful global expansion, U.N. representation and financial viability since 1970. Based on in-depth, inductive anthropological research by participant observation, interviews and document analysis, the paper contributes to our understanding of the functioning and significance of globalized non-economic organizations


Wendy A. Smith  (Australia)
Senior Lecturer in Management Director of the Centre for Malaysian Studies
Department of Management; Centre for Malaysian Studies, Monash Asia Institute
Monash University

Wendy Smith was born in Melbourne, Australia, and graduated from Monash University with combined honours in Anthropology and Japanese. After spending 14 years living and researching in Japan and Malaysia, she completed her PhD in Anthropology on "The Japanese Management System in Malaysia: a Case Study of a Japanese Company Overseas" in 1995. She became the director of the Centre for Malaysian Studies at Monash Asia Institute in 1998. She has two children and travels frequently between Australia and Malaysia. Her current research interests include "Social Protection in Malaysia", "Islamic Work Ethics" and "Organization and Leadership in Globalized New Religions". She teaches international management and international business from an anthropological perspective, with the aim of communicating to students the realities of workers' lives in the global economy.

  • New Religious Movements
  • Globalization
  • Leadership
  • Religious Organization

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)