The Social Construction of a Religious Prophecy

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Abstract

Based on interviews and participant observation, this paper presents a narrative account of the reactions of people in a small, Arkansas community to the religious claims of prophecy and divine mission made by an individual who temporarily comes to reside in the community. Public interpretation and evaluation of the prophecy is conducted informally through the rumor construction process. Naturalistic interpretations of fraud or delusion are mostly suspended as supernatural interpretations by community members become ascendent. People are eventually forced to rationalize their reactions when events fail to materialize in the manner originally prophesied. The unfolding of events is viewed from a sociology of knowledge perspective and treated as a case study of the social construction of reality.

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