Adventism in Animist Societies

In October and November 2019 Dr. Lawson made five presentations to the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) class at Loma Linda University. Watch his presentation on Adventism and Social Issues here and his presentation on Adventism and Governments: A Preference for Dictators? here.

Adventism has been doing very well in animist societies in recent decades. At the end of 2017 our official membership statistics showed 5,121,819 members in Sub-Saharan Africa — that is one-third of the world membership. Adventism also has a very strong presence in Papua New Guinea. It had 310,500 members in a population of over 8 million in 2017. The Prime Minister, several cabinet ministers, and judges of the Supreme Court are Adventists.

Before Ronald Lawson carried out sociological research in such parts, his impression, gained from reading the Adventist Review and other official sources, had been that spirit possession was only a mild issue: that it appeared mostly when the Devil tried to interrupt baptisms, and that it took only invoking the name of Jesus to overcome the problem immediately. However, his research convinced him that many Adventists there both attempt to use the spirits of the ancestors as well as living in fear of them, and that spirit possession is no small problem. His research left him wondering to what extent Adventist preaching and teaching there were scratching where the people were not itching.

This presentation by Dr. Ronald Lawson to the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School class at Loma Linda University was recorded on October 19, 2019.

WATCH “Adventism in Animist Societies” with Ronald Lawson:

This presentation is also available to watch on Dr. Lawson’s website here.

Author Bio:

Ronald Lawson was born and educated in Australia. He earned a BA with Honours in History and a Ph.D. in both Sociology and History from the University of Queensland in 1970. In 1971 he traveled to Columbia University in New York City on a Fulbright Travel Grant for postdoctoral studies in the Sociology Department and the Bureau of Applied Social Research. He taught at the City University of New York from 1971 through 2009, with six years at Hunter College and thirty-three years at Queens College. He became a tenured Full Professor in 1983. His books include Brisbane in the 1890s: An Australian Urban Society (University of Queensland Press, 1973) and The Tenant Movement in New York, 1904–1984 (Rutgers University Press, 1986). Since 1984 his research has focused on globalizing American-born religious groups, especially Seventh-day Adventism, and he is currently preparing a series of four book manuscripts based on research in sixty countries of the World Church. He has published a slew of articles on protest movements, tenant-landlord conflict, Adventists, and American-born religious groups in academic journals and edited books. He has made those related to Adventism available on his website ( As of the end of January 2020 there are 77 papers there, and a new one is added each week.

Ron Lawson was one of the founders of QUSDAS (the Queensland University Seventh-day Adventist Society) in 1962 and its president from 1963-65. He was an active member of the Metro New York Adventist Forum, a chapter that met every week, from 1971-2015, and its president for 41 years. He formed the Asheville Adventist Forum in 2016, and continues to organize its meetings. Along the way he was instrumental in forming several other Forum chapters, including those in Sydney, San Diego, Toronto, and Orlando. He now lives in Loma Linda, California, where he is working towards completing his planned books on global Adventism.

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I’ve enjoyed all of Dr. Lawson’s presentations. This one was the biggest surprise. I guess I had forgotten what I learned as a child in books like ‘Clever Queen’ and the Eric B. Hare stories, but this presentation reminded me once again that in many parts of the world ancestor worship and a relationship with the spirit world is deeply ingrained. Expecting converts to easily leave it behind is probably unreasonable—even for pastors, it seems. He demonstrates through stories that this belief in the spirit world can become a cover for sexual molestation among college students, among other things, which I would not have expected.

Dr. Lawson must certainly hold the largest database on the Adventist lifestyle as it currently exists around the world due his wide ranging travels and interviews. He provides needed insight into the wide ranging variety that exists within Adventism.

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