Antinomianism Definition

Antinomianism is fundamentally the belief that religious faith or commitment exempts individuals from adherence to the legal or moral codes of society. The term, often applied to various religious movements throughout history, signifies a rejection of conventional norms in favor of a perceived higher spiritual law.

Historical Context:

16th and 17th Century Protestantism: During this period, certain Protestant sects, influenced by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, embraced antinomian beliefs. They argued that being part of God’s elect meant they were incapable of sin, thus freeing them from societal rules.

John Calvin’s Influence: Calvin’s emphasis on predestination led to the idea that salvation was predetermined, creating a mindset among some believers that they were not bound by earthly laws or moral standards.

Notable Examples:

Radical Protestant Sectarians: These groups extended Calvinist doctrines to argue that those assured of their salvation were beyond sin and therefore not subject to conventional moral constraints.

Oneida Community: In the 19th century, the Oneida Community practiced complex marriage, where all members were considered married to each other. This practice was justified by their communal living ideals and belief in shared salvation.

Children of God: A contemporary example, this group promotes sexual activity outside marriage as a means to bring others to salvation, reflecting antinomian tendencies in modern religious movements.

Sociological Perspectives:

Max Weber’s Analysis: Weber suggested that antinomianism is a recurring phenomenon, particularly when the psychological aspects of religious faith are highly developed. He posited that such beliefs lead to a rejection of societal norms and conventional rules of conduct.


Social Stability: From a functionalist perspective, antinomianism challenges the stability and cohesion of society by rejecting established moral codes.

Role of Religion: Functionalists examine how antinomian beliefs affect the traditional role of religion in maintaining social order and reinforcing societal norms.

Symbolic Interactionism:

Meaning and Identity: This perspective explores how individuals construct their identities through antinomian beliefs and justify their actions based on their religious convictions.

Social Stigma: Symbolic interactionists analyze the societal reactions and stigmatization that antinomians face due to their unconventional practices.

Conflict Theory:

Power Dynamics: Conflict theorists view antinomianism as challenging the power structures within religious institutions and broader society.

Social Change: This perspective considers antinomianism as a form of resistance against dominant norms and values, potentially leading to social change.

Sociological Implications:

Impact on Social Norms:

Moral Relativism: Antinomianism can lead to a perception of moral relativism, where norms are viewed as subjective and open to interpretation.

Normative Deviance: Positions antinomian behavior as a form of deviance, challenging and redefining societal norms.

Influence on Religious Institutions:

Authority Challenges: Antinomian beliefs often undermine the authority of established religious institutions, leading to internal conflicts and schisms.

Formation of New Sects: Encourages the development of new religious movements that diverge from mainstream beliefs and practices.

Modern Relevance:

Contemporary Movements: Examines how modern spiritual or religious movements continue to exhibit antinomian tendencies, often challenging societal norms.

Cultural Impact: Discusses the broader cultural implications of antinomianism, including its influence on contemporary discussions about morality and religious freedom.


Antinomianism, while historically rooted in religious contexts, continues to resonate in modern discussions about the intersection of faith, morality, and societal norms. Its study offers valuable insights into how religious beliefs can shape and challenge conventional understandings of law and morality.

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