Is 'Agile' a religion? (or merely a cult)

The ever-entertaining Steve Yegge (see also) put out an instantly notorious blog post last week, Good Agile, Bad Agile in which he says that Agile is a new age religion. My attention span waned before I completed the article, but it got me thinking: is it really a religion? Or is it merely a cult?

Back in high school i was taught that there are six dimensions to a religion, to wit:

  1. doctrinal
  2. ritualistic
  3. experiential
  4. ethical
  5. mythical
  6. social

And if you lack any of those aspects, you're a cult, at best.

So how does Agile stack up? Cult or Religion?


Let's look at Ninian Smart's 'six dimensions of religion' one at a time.

  1. doctrinal :: Yep! books galore, and prescriptions aplenty.
  2. ritualistic :: Yes! Many rituals, from stand up meetings to pair programming, even refactoring can be seen as a ritualised behaviour.
  3. experiential :: Indeed! Strong emphasis on members experiencing benefits by following the rituals and doctrines (i.e. not just an academic topic).
  4. ethical :: Definitely! see the agile manifesto
  5. mythical :: Maybe. Agile is full of stories, but are they myths? I'll address this below.
  6. social :: Definitely! Emphases on interaction, collaboration at every level. Many conferences, lectures and social gatherings.

Is there a 'Mythology' in Agile?

This is bound to be a touchy subject. The more I've looked into the meaning of the word 'myth' the more I've seen conflicting opinions. Can anything ever match all of these conflicting definitions? Are there any stories in the Agile world that qualify as myths?

(The following definitions are picked up from google. I've emphasized some of the more subjective terms)

  • "an artificial history attempting to give a traditional meaning to a current issue"
  • "An improvable story, almost always including incredible or miraculous events, that has no specific reference point or time in history"
  • "A narrative in which some characters are superhuman beings who do things that 'happen only in stories'"
  • "An ill-founded belief, usually based on limited experience, given uncritical acceptance by members of a group, especially in support of existing or traditional practices and institutions."
  • "stories drawn from a society's history that have acquired through persistent usage the power of symbolizing that society's ideology and of dramatizing its moral consciousness"

I don't know enough about Agile to say if it meets some, none or all of those definitions. It's up to you then: Does Agile have a shared set of myths? If so, it's a religion. If not, it's a cult. I don't see any third option.


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