Research is driven by people, not the people that fund the research, nor the individuals that carry out the research, but driven by those being researched. Market, social and opinion research studies our societies, our cultures and our businesses. Research needs our movements, our fads and trends. A market research study is more than numbers on a page or in a presentation, it’s a historical record of why and how we live.

Since our first conference in 1948, ESOMAR has been collecting and cataloguing the studies, results and innovations of market research practitioners around the world. To celebrate our 65th anniversary the RW Connect team has been delving into the ESOMAR archives in order to reproduce some of those historical papers in their entirety here on RW Connect.

In the first of an on-going series this year celebrating the rich history of market, social and opinion research, we proudly present a paper from our 1969 Congress by sociologist Helen Hacker of the Adelphi University in New York.

Adam Warner, Editor

Hippies and Dissident Youth as perceived by American Clergy.

In recent years newspaper headlines have been shared by two groups which have sought to break out of traditional and spiritually outworn moulds, but with this difference – modernising clergymen want to become more worldly and hippie youth less so.  This curious role reversal is well described by an American Methodist minister:

“Hippie religiosity takes some strange turns from the contemporary religious scene in terms of its idea, values, and practices. While avant-garde Catholics question a formalized liturgy employing a dead language, the hippies gather in public to recite Sanskrit prayers for hours.  While earnest clerical reformers insist that nuns and priests must cast off their habits and wear ordinary clothing, the hippies parade in colourful symbolic clothing. While the young theologians and pastors talk about the necessity of bringing the Church into the heart of secularised society, the hippies declare that society is corrupt and urge us to found little islands of holiness and peace.  While Catholic radicals assert the virtues of clerical marriage, the hippies (though hardly celibate) accept implicitly the Roman Church’s most telling argument for celibacy: that marriage domesticates and tames the dedicated man and narrows his vision.  While the new theologians exhort Christians to turn their minds to the problem of an industrialized society, the hippies blithely pursue transcendent experiences”.

Precedent for exploring the relationship between hippies and religious groups is not lacking.  Thus, Jay Haley, a family therapist and communications analyst, writes in the summer, 1968, issue of VOICES:

“There are two comparisons of hippies with other groups which have been made.  Psychiatrists, who are generally prejudiced against hippies, called them schizophrenics.  Atheists, who are generally prejudiced against religion, called them Christians”.  He then goes on to give some examples of the consternation caused to Christians by hippies, and concludes:  “Not only did hippies pose moral dilemmas to Christians but there was a crucial difference between their philosophy and either early or later Christians.  The hippies did not judge others or set out to save other people by imposing their views upon them.”

Churchmen have also taken official cognisance of the significance of the hippie movement for organised religion.  In March of this year (1969) a six day symposium on the culture of non-belief was held in Rome, sponsored by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Nonbelievers in collaboration with the Department of Sociology of the University of California.  Here Dr Harvey G. Cox, a Baptist professor of theology and the Harvard School of Theology and the Rev. Jean Danielou, a French Roman Catholic theologian agreed, according to the New York Times, that hippie experimentation with oriental mysticism, drugs, and sex represents a search for belief outside the conventional forms, and that youthful protesters have lost faith more in a dividend-gathering “True Church” than in the Gospels.

It is understandable therefore, that my graduate class in Research Methods at Adelphi University sought to pursue the connection between clergymen and hippies.  They wanted to find out whether ministers saw hippies as primitive Christians, to what extent they agreed with hippie philosophy, either wittingly or unwittingly, and whether ferment in youth could be related to ferment in the Church.  Accordingly, we constructed a questionnaire and mailed it, accompanied by a persuasive letter soliciting his anonymous cooperation, to every clergyman listed in a directory for Nassau and Suffolk counties of Long Island, New York. Some 300 letters were sent out, and 107 usable replies were received.  Testimony to the involvement of the ministers in this project is provided both by the respectable rate of return and by their considered, eloquent responses to a final unstructured question which asked them to comment about the relationship of hippie ideas, values, and practices to the Judaic-Christian tradition and whether they felt the hippie movement upheld or threatened basic religious tenets. The first part of the questionnaire was devoted to relevant background data, including religious affiliation, size of congregation, number of years in the ministry, secular education, number and ages of children, and a self-rating on a scale from a traditional position within their church.  The second part consisted of statements comprising three scales:

  1. What might be called the “hippie-cratic creed” culled from their own months
  2. A secular or “social gospel” scale
  3. A scale of mysticism.

The third part compared ministers’ stereotype of hippies with their images of divinity students, young fascists, young communists, and juvenile delinquents by means of ten forced choices.  In the fourth part they were asked to identify fifteen personalities of chiefly hippie, religious, or political interest.  The fifth and final part was the essay question already described.

Perhaps our most interesting finding was the cleavage between clergymen’s image of the hippie and their espousal of hippie values.  Of the four comparison groups, hippies are seen as most resembling juvenile delinquents in that they had mother-dominated childhoods, reject parental values, are not interested in politics, dress unconventionally, are sexually promiscuous, and are drug users — and in all these respects they are most unlike divinity students.  The only trait they share with divinity students, in the eyes of these clergymen, is a middle class background and, to some extent, a college education.  Hippies are kin to young communists in preferring group to individual relationships.  In short, they are viewed largely as middle class delinquents. Nevertheless, 90% of the Protestant ministers (and 87 % of the total sample) endorse such an item from the hippie ethos scale as “Young people should be encouraged to question contemporary social institutions”.  In fact, 60 % of the Protestants and half of the total sample agreed with ten of the fifteen statements in this scale.  These data suggest that negative ministerial perceptions of hippies refer more to what they practice than what they preach. It has already been indicated that Protestants as a group are more favourable to hippie values than either Catholics or Jews, but it may be worthwhile to mention other characteristics which are associated with support of the hippie outlook.  First, as might be expected, ministers who rate themselves as non-traditional are more likely to score high on the hippie ethos scale.  This least traditional group, though, is more polarised than self-styled traditional ministers, with a higher percentage also low on the hippie ethos scale.  One may speculate, however, that they reject the hippie philosophy as being too disengaged, and some support for this hypothesis is found in the fact that non-traditional ministers were also higher on the secular scale than their more traditional confreres.

The factor of age and children were also associated with variations in hippie scale scores.  Ministers in the age group of forty to sixty were far more likely than their younger colleagues to score high.  On the other hand, this group also showed the highest frequency of children between the ages of 15 and 24, which we defined as the age of hippie vulnerability, and the presence of hippie aged children was also discerned as predictive of placement in the high scoring group.  The question arises of whether their scores may be attributed to generational or parental experiences.  The data suggest that age is the more important consideration because there is no difference in the proportion of clergymen with children and clergymen without children who score high on the hippie scale.  A greater percentage of high hippie ethos score are also found among clergymen who have been in the ministry less than ten years, as well as among those with twenty or more years of service.  If this relationship should turn out to be stable, one might follow Durkheim’s speculations about the affinity between grand-parents and grandchildren. What additional factors are associated with subscription to hippie values?  Still to be mentioned is the size of congregation which is positively associated with high hippie scores.  One might argue that larger congregations pay higher salaries and can attract better educated ministers, were it not for the finding of little relationship between education and hippie ethos score.  A more plausible explanation, suggested also by a similar association of size of congregation with a high secular scale score is that congregations of fundamentalist and evangelical pastors tend to be small and frequently of the store front variety.

Aside from background factors, some internal relationships may be discerned.  Thus agreement with what we postulated as the hippie stereotype is inversely related to endorsement of the hippie-cratic creed.   Moreover, ministers with high hippie ethos scores are less likely to perceive hippies as being like juvenile delinquents, and more likely to see them as resembling divinity students.

So far we have been talking about ministers’ agreement or disagreement with propositions which we have identified as congruent with hippie values, but which were not labelled for them as such. How do these ministers express themselves when asked directly to comment on hippies? A content analysis of the essay part of the questionnaire reveals that one-fifth of the total sample are negative to hippies; almost one-third have mixed feelings, but inclining to negative; about one-fifth have mixed feelings, but inclining to positive; and a little more than a tenth are unqualifiedly positive seeing hippies as upholding basic religious tenets.

There is also a difference in emphasis between the two ambivalent groups.  Ministers who lean more strongly to the negative criticize hippies in terms of their private morality, stressing their use of drugs, sexual promiscuity, avoidance of washing, and other departures from middle class mores. The more positive group is more concerned with public morality and couches its criticism in terms of excessive romanticism, idealism, a historicity, apathy towards social action, and other characteristics which detract from the efficacy of hippies as a social force.

Before giving illustrations of these positions, it may be interesting again to note some background characteristics which are linked to explicit attitudes toward hippies. We find the highest proportion of overall favourable responses among clergymen who have been in the ministry five years or less, who are under thirty years of age, who have medium-sized congregations, and who rate themselves as non-traditional.  No clear relationship emerges between secular education and overall hippie response except that those with graduate degrees seem more dichotomised between negative and positive attitudes than those with less education.

The perennially interesting question of the relationship between information and attitudes may be mentioned in passing. Neither position on the hippie ethos scale nor expressed attitudes toward
hippies appeared to vary with ministerial ability to identify the names on the three informational scales.

What are some of the main themes expressed by these ministers? First, we sample those who reject hippies as having nothing in common with the religious way of life and, indeed, as threatening
basic religious tenets:

“Theirs is a total revolt against the precepts as taught by the Bible… Their attitude and philosophy is an emphatic demonstration of the words of Scripture:  ‘There is no more righteous, no not one.
There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God..: “

And another:

“They are not in sympathy with, or a part of genuine Biblical Christianity, but play the role of the demons in the man who followed St. Paul and said: Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?…”


“The hippies are parasites and contribute nothing to society nor to religion”.


“The hippies represent self-indulgence run wild”.

Some ministers feel that hippies may confuse Eros and Agape:

“Love, which is the basic Christian thought, is their reason for non-violence.  But Love too is the reason for the freedom that they have in their sexual relations, lack of principles regarding
their responsibilities, and evident disregard for authority… Call the final word a jest, but seriously I cannot see them leading a new way of life while they espouse the great ‘unwashed’…”

This quotation is typical of several clergymen who score hippie lack of discipline as basically un-Christian:

“… the man who calls himself a Christian must realize that the Bible uses that term only for those who are also ‘disciples’.  The root meaning of the term disciple is “discipline” , and this precisely defines what hippiedom will have none of.  The Christian is one who has yielded control of his life to God; a hippie most emphatically claims the right to direct his own life and to do ‘his own thing’. . .  Hippies are a threat in that they have adopted drugs as a kind of pseudo-religious experience.  Throughout history there has continually been some kind of counterfeit Christianity, which offers the thrill without the discipline, the fun without the responsibility.   Perhaps some young people are, and will be enthralled by this prospect as over against the proclamation of the Gospel, which inevitably involves some harsh realities like self-denial… Should we say, then, that there are two extremes: the hippies, and the way of love and laughter; and Christianity, with its sobering demands and grim prospects?  The New Testament is far from being a gloomy tirade — but only the one who tastes and sees that the Lord is good will be able to experience the joyful reality about which it speaks”.

Another view, while condemning hippies, points an accusatory finger at the Church:

“Free love, unconventional dress, vulgarity, perversion, rebellion against authority and law, Bohemian style of life, drug addiction characterize the ‘hippies’, perhaps the Church is to blame in part for the creation of such a distressing situation among our youth of today — the church has long since lost its essential mission — to lift up Christ as the Saviour…  If the present hippie movement continues to spread, God have mercy on the next generation.”

More common, though, is the notion, that the hippie movement represents only one of the many currents which have rushed against the true rock of the Church and then subsided; that it is only a passing fad: Thus, a traditionalist speaks:

“There have been other movements that have come and gone…  Christian morals and standards are taught in the Word and will remain, though part of our society violates the laws of God.”

In sum, these and other negative characterizations of hippies held they were: lazy, indifferent to the necessity of making something useful out of their lives, irresponsible, indifferent to others, unable to delay immediate gratification, undisciplined, looking for an excuse for sexual liberties, unstable, escapists, tiresome, hedonistic, rootless, naive, self-centred, unrealistic, excessively concerned with self-fulfilment, inadequate, too negative, against everything, non-believers in authority, drug users, rebels, amoral, extremists, pathetic.

On the other hand, many ministers hail the hippies as rejuvenators of Christian doctrine and challenge to a materialistic, mechanistic, depersonalized violence-prone society and hypocritical, provincial, and irrelevant church:

“In our culture the hippie is a Judeo-Christian phenomenon out of the middle class…  They reflect the prophetic, the mystical.  They seek authenticity and dig the phrase ‘the courage to be’.  They are existential in mood, find ultimate being in the Now of responsiveness with love.  They explore the margins of life; see the hypocrisy of the ‘over-age’ generations.  They would have been more open to Jesus and Jeremiah than the average Christian, hostile in style to the Pharisaic and Priestly groups … They accept and seek to live basic implied ideals of the Judeo-Christian culture”.

In similar vein:

“The hippie movement is an attempt by some young people to find deeper values than those currently in vogue in American society. Their disdain of material goals; their seeking after ‘love, not war’, ‘peace’, ‘nature’, etc., all tend to uphold Judaic-Christian traditions rather than threaten them”.

Some ministers impute a religiosity to hippies which they recognize as unintended by hippies themselves.  The hippies, then, honour the Lord with their hearts, if not with their lips.

“They would choose to ‘threaten’, not ‘uphold’ religious tenets.  But the reverse may be true.  Their sensitivity, perceptivity, and method may actually revive the primitive spirit of the Judeo-Christian heritage”.

This group of ministers go on to point out the congruence of hippie and Christian precepts:

“I believe hippies in their emphasis on a person being a person apart from what he possesses in a materialistic sense in a definite Christian teaching.  Actually, God could even be Okaying this emphasis in a prophetic way for our modern world.  Even their conviction of living according to conscience is a Christian teaching”.

And another:

“The great point which is made is not new, but is important.  It insists that the one absolute in guiding the choices one makes in his relationships with others is that our actions should be compatible with love — which is precisely what Jesus was saying 2000 years ago”.

The following quotations are illustrative of the frequently expressed view that hippies represent a return to primitive Christianity; may belong to God’s “invisible church”, while appearing to threaten the established church and nominal Christians:

“In some cases the hippie embodies the oldest traditions of communal ideas and values…  The (movement) threatens the puritanical hang ups of traditional pietism that was neither Christian nor Pious to being with.  It is a call to re-awakening, evaluating, and perhaps re-structuring worn out clichés and structures”.

“In the sense of flushing a lot of unnecessary theological museum pieces the hippie movement is good, healthy, and supportive of a relevant Christian presence”.

“The hippies ‘do’ at times when some Christians merely content themselves with mouthing the ethic to love they neighbour”.

“True hippies are more right than they are wrong…  Who said it is wrong to challenge the status quo of organized religions? Perhaps the threat that they present is good”.

“The hippie movement is a particularly mid-twentieth century response to a set of circumstances that has been developing for centuries.  It is not a threat to basic religious tenets since it is most practically an outgrowth of them …  It is, however, a threat to many ideas, values, and practices that have grown out of the INSTITUTIONS (conventions) of the Judaic-Christian tradition… the lack of violence, the disregard of usual conventions, and the intense caring for persons of the hippie movement have appealed to me…”

Clergymen also draw an explicit parallel between the hippie movement and the Monastic movement, but are critical of both as “copping out” on the social implementation of Christian values:

“Their withdrawal is like the Monastic Movement.., their values (too) are departures from the Christian doctrine concern for one’s fellow man in love, shown through service to the needy and oppressed, partly through the structures of society and partly through reform of these structures.  They just want to ‘cut out'”.


“The hippie movement is the modern monastic movement. Monks of the fourth century escaped the world, drank much beer, and were not much concerned with others.  But monasteries did provide the atmosphere for education, debate, art-and a flower bloomed”.

And in a more sophisticated and indulgent manner:

“Oddly enough, the conflict between the hippie and society would have been comprehensible to the Medieval mind, which saw two distinct modes of the Christian life… the active and the contemplative … The hippie … speaks of dropping out of society in almost the same way that the monastics spoke of shunning the world; they are attracted to Eastern mysticism and they frankly assert that life reaches its highest moments in ineffable experiences which have virtually no relationship to ordinary human existence.  The hippies preach the ancient message of Christian Asceticism: withdrawal from the snares and corruptions of hopelessly complex society and the embracing of a simple, frugal community life cemented by love. (To be sure, hippie asceticism involves some notable omissions, especially sex and drugs).”

Hippies are also likened to the prophets, but in this comparison their disengagement is a point of difference:

“While many of the basic concepts of the Hippie Movement seem to be based upon Judaic-Christian concepts, the basic difference would be in its retreat from life.  The leading men of the Bible, men like Moses, Joshua, David, Amos, Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus Christ, Paul, Peter, etc. , were all very deeply involved with national life. Often they came into sharp disagreement with the Establishment, but their protest was not to ‘drop out’.  Rather, they used all means at their disposal to bring about change in the thinking and attitudes of their day.”

This minister may consider the hippies effective in their fashion:

“When I read the Old Testament prophets, who cried out against injustice, poverty and decadence, I detect a similarity with what I hear from responsible hippies today”.

It is difficult to resist quoting further from these articulate and often vivid appreciations of the hippie quest.  As already stated, the majority of the ministers are ambivalent in their evaluation of hippies.

While they applaud their idealism, simplicity, rejection of possessions, dedication to love and non-violence, impatience with hypocrisy, scepticism in regard to any absolute truths or established dogmas and openness to new experience and non-western religious outlooks, emphasis upon the moral worth of individuals, their search for a more meaningful life, they also see many flaws in hippie attitudes and practices. Perhaps their criticisms can be summed up in the notion that hippies are too orphic and playful; are not sufficiently serious. If they were really serious, some of these ministers seem to be saying:

  • They would make their views meaningful by grounding them in some philosophical or theological system.
  • They would lead self-disciplined lives in accordance with their avowed values.
  • They would be actively engaged in reshaping the world closer to their heart’s desire; in organizing love.
  • They would not turn their backs upon all existing structures, such as the church, but make selective use of them while working for change.
  • They would see their lives as related to the past and having consequences for the future.

No matter whether they praise or sorrow over the hippies, most of the ministers agree that their challenge to church, family, and society is salutary and should stimulate hard thinking about the real meaning of religious tenets.  On the whole, there is recognition of hippies as intrinsically Christian and sympathy for their spiritual search, though often accompanied by a feeling that they are misguided in the path they are following or, as one minister put it: “their life style does not effectively produce the freedom, beauty, truth and love which they are actually seeking”.

Most prominent is a sense of guilt and concern that society has let them down.  Finally, the ministers hope the hippie prick to conscience will be felt:

“Much of their protest against ‘phony’ middle class suburban values is quite valid, and we need to take it seriously as a call for love, justice, and freedom”.

“Perhaps their revolt may have some benefit if it makes us take a good hard look at our lack of understanding of an involvement in our own faith”.

And, for the last word:

“As long as the hippies remain visible and vocal, they serve as a constant reminder that certain things are not dead, e.g. the meaning of life, the nature of personality, the attainment of the Absolute, and the possibility of other modes of existence besides those in the Judaic-Christian tradition to wrestle with their preachments, and to maintain within their communions the metaphysical dialogue which points to something beyond social engineering or pietistic platitudes”.

First presented and published by Helen Hacker at the ESOMAR/WAPOR Congress 1969