Greta Thunbergin ja Fridays for Future-liikkeen kulttipotentiaali (englanniksi)

Alkuperäinen teksti on esseesuoritus poliittista johtamista käsittelevälle kurssille.



  1. Introduction. 2
  2. Greta Thunberg as a social movement leader. 2
  3. Fridays for Future compared to a millenarian religious movement 3

3.1 FFF and the belief in a better time to come. 3

3.2 FFF and a universal subscription to a distinctive etymology. 4

3.3 FFF as a distinct group of believers. 4

3.4 Greta Thunberg as FFF’s charismatic leader. 5

3.5 FFF’s apocalyptic vision of the future. 5

3.6 Contrasting FFF to a millenarian religious movement 6

  1. Greta Thunberg’s potential to transform into a millenarian religious leader. 6
  2. Greta Thunberg’s and FFF’s cultist potential 7
  3. Conclusion. 8
  4. References. 10



1.     Introduction


In this essay I will examine Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement (FFF) in the context of social movement and religious movement leadership. In the second chapter I will analyze Thunberg’s current role as a social movement leader based on Rucht’s (2012) typology of four architypes of a social movement/organization leader. In the third chapter I will compare and contrast FFF with Jennaway’s (2010) characterization of a millenarian religious movement to find out the similarities between it and FFF. In the fourth chapter I speculate on the possibly of Thunberg transforming herself/being transformed from a social movement leader (that I argue she currently is) to a religious leader, based on Chung’s (2016) examination of newly emerged Vietnamese millenarian religious movements. This potential transformation, were it to happen, would happen within the context of similarly transformed millenarian FFF, according to my hypothesis. In the fifth chapter I will further speculate on the cultist potential of FFF and Thunberg examine which aspects of those that the two currently posses would have the potential to turn the former into a cult and the latter into a cult leader. This speculation is based on Marquez’s (2018) two models of propagandist and ritualistic political leader cults.

2.     Greta Thunberg as a social movement leader


Rucht presents four architypes of a social movement/organization leader: the organizer, the motivator, the strategist, and the president. Of the motivator-type they write:

“The motivator has the capacity to convince the…adherents to take action. His basic means are agitation, persuasion, and…a spirit of optimism or even enthusiasm that seizes the hearts and minds of the adherents…the motivator may also play a role in convincing those outside the movement…to join…” (111)

Thunberg certainly, based on her public appearances, has managed to capture the agitation and persuasion aspects of the motivator-leader. However, her message is rather heavily tilted on the pessimism side, rather than the opposite.[1] Despite of this apparent lack of positivity and enthusiasm, hearts and minds of the supporters of FFF and Thunberg are well and truly seized. Additionally, based on the overall reactions of various prominent politicians and media figures Thunberg has, if not yet turned them into supporters or even believers, certainly has managed to gain their public support, with few notable exceptions.[2]

Thunberg also characterizes some of Rucht’s president-type of social movement/organization leader, namely being the “the individualized ‘face’ of the movement for the outer world and thus is known as a leader, speaker, or icon.” (111). It yet remains to be seen whether Thunberg only has “a primarily symbolic function” (111), or if she has “actual steering capacity” (111) within FFF, i.e. is she actually able to steer the direction of the movement or set an agenda for it going forward.

According to Rucht’s four-type model of a social movement/organization leader, Thunberg currently seems to be a kind of a hybrid between the motivator- and the president-type, a motivator-president-type, one could perhaps call her. Depending on how FFF and Thunberg herself change going forward, this argument could gain further support or perhaps it could be in need of revision. For now, the evidence to back this line of argument is, at the least, somewhat supported by Thunberg’s public statements and appearances. A look behind the curtain, so to speak, would be of great interest in this regard.

3.     Fridays for Future compared to a millenarian religious movement


Jennaway identifies seven characteristics of a millenarian religious movement, which : 1) believe in a better time to come[3], 2) have basis in revelatory prophesy, 3) have faith in divine intervention, 4) have a universal subscription to a distinctive entomology, 5) consist of a discrete group of believers, 6) are led by a charismatic leader, and finally 7) have an apocalyptic vision of the future. In the following I will compare and contrast these characteristics with FFF in its current form.

3.1 FFF and the belief in a better time to come


FFF calls for major changes in policies across all sectors in order to Climate Destruction[4] (CD) in the future. It is debatable whether avoiding CD would constitute as a better time to come[5] of a biblical proportion, or merely a better time to come in terms of the environmental situation. Regarding the question whether FFF has a belief in a better time to come the answer is, at this point in time, a resounding maybe.


3.2 FFF and a universal subscription to a distinctive etymology


Lindsay & Nayna (2018) argue that social justice (SJ) as an ideology closely resembles a religion yet is distinct from it. Lindsay & Nayna classify the key-difference between the SJ ideology a traditional religion being that the SJ ideology is, according to them, faith based programme relying on a postmodern mythology, rather than a premodern one as is the case with traditional religions (ch. 13). Lindsay & Nayna propose that the SJ ideology can be viewed as a religion of sorts, in order to better understand it. However, Lindsay & Nayna conclude that classifying the SJ ideology as a religion is currently a reach too far.

3.3 FFF as a distinct group of believers


The proponents and opponents of FFF and Thunberg can be divided, to a certain degree at least, along the emerging political divides in the West. The proponents of FFF and Thunberg are, for the most part, politically aligned with socialist and green parties and liberal globalist parties. These political parties share in common, among other things, the view of global political cooperation via supranational organizations, and the undesirability of the nation state as the modus operandi of political decision-making. The opponents of FFF and Thunberg are, for the most part, aligned with conservative nationalist parties. These political parties oppose the globalization of politics and economic systems and view the nation state as the most suitable unit for international politics.

However, it is hard in this instance to differentiate between true believers and supporters looking for a political advantage by siding with FFF and Thunberg. Therefore, to find the true believers one most look beyond political partisanship and into the fervor with which certain supporters react to the criticism leveled in generally at FFF and at Thunberg specifically. The true believers, if such are to be found, are then, following this logic, those supporters who most righteously oppose those who criticize either FFF or Thunberg.

So far this opposition to criticism of FFF and Thunberg has fallen into three categories: 1) opposing the critique because it is seen as unjust, 2) opposing the critique as insincere, or 3) opposing the critique because FFF and Thunberg should not be criticized at all. The opponents of critique that fit the description in the third category certainly fit the category of a believer in the religious sense since what they believe in is, in their minds, beyond reproach. It is noteworthy that this section of the supporters is a clear minority, but at the same time it is identifiable through the nature of its opposition to the critique of FFF and Thunberg, making it a distinct group.

One might also classify as believers the group of FFF and Thunberg’s supporters who tie in their support to the ideology of SJ. In different contexts the proponents of SJ are often times referred to as social justice warriors (SJWs), perhaps in the context of FFF and Thunberg, the appropriate label for this group of supporters could be climate social justice warriors (CSJWs).  CSJWs can oppose the criticism of FFF and Thunberg in all of three ways categorized above. Their unifying factor is the shared believe in SJ and that the CD is only avoidable via the adaptation of the SJ ideology in a global scale, i.e. making all global policies relating to stopping the CD SJ compatible.

Whether the FFF has a distinct group of believers is dependent on whether one sees the two above mentioned groups of supporters as being sufficiently distinct from all the other groups of supporters, who by these standards are not believers, despite their support.

3.4 Greta Thunberg as FFF’s charismatic leader


Greta Thunberg’s charisma is, if not the most ordinary kind[6], certainly evident in the ways in which she has captivated the attention of political leaders, a rather charismatic group of individuals by their own right, prestigious journalists, and the attention of the larger public worldwide. Based on the evidence so far it seems safe to argue that FFF has found a charismatic leader indeed.

3.5 FFF’s apocalyptic vision of the future


The FFF in general (“Why study for the future if there is no future”)[7] and Greta Thunberg specifically[8] are firm believers, based on their public statements, of the apocalyptic nature of the CD that will incur without drastic changes to global policies relating to climate change.

3.6 Contrasting FFF to a millenarian religious movement


At this point in time FFF does not fit all the seven characteristics of a millenarian religious movement, specifically FFF is not based on a revelatory prophesy and it has no faith in divine intervention. On the other hand FFF has a charismatic leader and an apocalyptic vision of the future, and it can be said, tentatively at least, that FFF does believe in a better future (achieved through its own vision) and it has, to a varying degree, a distinct group of believers (CSJWs) who believe in an ideology (SJ) that has the potential to form a postmodern religion. If one were to speculate, then FFF could be characterized as a millenarian religious movement if it would retroactively reveal that it indeed has a basis in a revelatory prophesy and if it were to discover faith in divine intervention that would stop the CD. Additional proof would be needed to argue that SJ is distinctive religious etymology, although it is a distinctive ideology. Similarly, the method of classifying a group of supporters of FFF and Thunberg as believers based on their opposition to critique needs to be further developed.

4.     Greta Thunberg’s potential to transform into a millenarian religious leader


Chung describes how in Vietnam new religious movements have been on the rise since the turn of the millennia. As discussed above FFF shares some common characteristics with a millenarian religious movement, such as some of the newer religious movements in Vietnam. What then would be required of Greta to transform into a millenarian style religious leader?

Chung describes the Vietnamese millenarians as religious groups who commonly believe in “a prophecy is of a total transformation which will take place as result of a ‘revolution’ brought about by the Jade Buddha.[9]” (244). The Jade Buddha, who has chosen human assistants to help[10] to bring about this revolution, according to some of the Vietnamese millenarian groups (242). In the context of Thunberg and FFF, Thunberg would need to find her own Jade Buddha whom to assist in bringing about “the revolution”, that one assumes, based on the perceived nature of FFF, would be closely tied into stopping the CD from occurring.

Some of the organizations born out of the Vietnamese millenarian movement such as the PS are ideologically tied to nationalism (245). By contrast Thunberg and FFF seem to be ideologically much more on the globalist side of the spectrum, if by just the global nature of FFF as a movement. Additionally, the mainstream support for Thunberg and FFF originates largely from global-minded politicians and media figures. The Vietnamese millenarians may be on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum to Thunberg and FFF, but they do share the common element of tying their respective movements into a political ideology be it nationalism or globalism. This is done, one assumes, at least partly to provide an ideological foundation to base these movements upon.

According to the example offered by the Vietnamese millenarian movement, the first characteristic that Greta Thunberg needs in order to potentially transform into a religious leader is for her to acclaim to have received a calling from a higher power who needs her help to achieve revolution. It is noteworthy that Thunberg has, according to some estimates, already flirted with the idea of a revolution, albeit a secular one rather than messianic.[11] The second characteristic of tying a religious movement into a political ideology, is already in place in the context of Thunberg and FFF, but again, as with the revolutionary rhetoric, shared by the two, Thunberg has stationed herself into a secular position. On the other hand, the Vietnamese millenarians inhabit a spiritual realm, while still harboring secular political aspirations.

5.     Greta Thunberg’s and FFF’s cultist potential


Regarding the propaganda model of political leader cults, Marquez writes:

“…leader cults are meant to transform bureaucratic power—the power to direct propaganda departments, hire artists, plaster entire cities with posters, commission biographies and textbooks, mass-produce and sell leader busts, and censor unapproved representations—into a sort of ersatz charisma by multiplying the positive representations of the leader, producing displays of praise, and preventing the production of alternative representations or displays of displeasure.” (266).

In the context of Greta Thunberg, her quite impassioned promise/threat of the coming change to the business-as-usual model for politics[12], could entail drastic changes the various global and local bureaucratic systems. Of course, she does not claim to be the one to bring about this change, rather it will be “her generation” who will. Given this, it would be an overreach to say that Thunberg herself is in active participant in building a cult of personality, if such a process is indeed underway.

Regarding ritual model of political leader cults and the leader worship they practice, Marquez writes that the ritual model: “stresses [the political leaders cults’] cult character: as a set of rituals of leader worship or veneration, ranging from great mass meetings to regular ceremonies in schools or workplaces and improptu events where people display their loyalty to the leader.”(266). FFF has gained its reputation, at least significant portion of it, by arranging multiple climate strikes across the globe. These climate strikes can quite easily be classified as mass gatherings based on the number of students that take part in the. Of ceremonially structured events in regards to FFF, there is no evidence as of yet. On the other hand Thunberg’s appearances in the UN have ceremonial structure to them, albeit a rather bureaucratic one at that. When it comes to the ritual of displaying of loyalty, in most of the public statements of support for Thunberg the message has not been that of loyalty, but rather that of admiration.[13] In general terms, Thunberg has thus far managed to outshine FFF, and the public interest as a result has so far remained on the leader rather than the movement. This indicates that the initial potential for a personality driven cult exists within FFF, at least in terms of the phenomenon Marquez leader image crafting (266). Some potential evidence for this image crafting process, conscious or unconscious, can be observed in the ways mainstream media, and Thunberg’s supporters frame the criticism faced by Thunberg, her inner circle, and FFF.[14] [15]

[1] ”WATCH: Greta Thunberg’s full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit” (, accessed 28.9.2019

[2] See fex president Trump’s Twitter timeline circa 25.9.2019-30.9.2019

[3] A strick interpretation would be the belief in a period of 1000 years of peace

[4], accessed 28.9.2019

[5] ”…a golden era of peace and prosperity…” (Jennaway, 2008, 70)

[6] perhaps an oxymoronic definition

[7], accessed 28.9.2019

[8] ”WATCH: Greta Thunberg’s full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit” (, accessed 28.9.2019

[9] A Vietnamese religious figure

[10] Fex by founding various religious organizations such as the Peace Society (PS) (Chung, 2016, 245)

[11] (, accessed 30.9.2019

[12]Watch Greta Thunberg’s Impassioned Speech: ‘Change Is Coming Whether You Like It Or Not’ | NBC News. (, accessed 30.9.2019

[13] (, accessed 1.10.2019

[14] Mauno, H. (2019). ” Analyysi: Trump hyökkäsi 16-vuotiaan ilmastoaktivistin kimppuun – tämän takia Greta Thunberg raivostuttaa.”, (, accessed 1.10.20119

[15] (, accessed 1.10.2019

Joonas Taipaleenmäki
Perussuomalaiset Paimio

Kaupunginvaltuutettu 2021-25. Äärinationalisti/Just the tip-globalisti, näkökulmasta riippuen.

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