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This article does not discuss "cult" in its original sense of "religious practice"; for that usage see Cult (religious practice). See Cult (disambiguation) for more meanings of the term "cult".

In religion and sociology, a cult is a cohesive group of people (often a relatively small and recently founded religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream. Its separate status may come about either due to its novel belief system, because of its idiosyncratic practices or because it opposes the interests of the mainstream culture. Other non-religious groups may also display cult-like characteristics.

In common usage, "cult" has a negative connotation, and is generally applied to a group by its opponents, for a variety of reasons. Understandably, most, if not all, groups that are called "cults" deny this label. Some anthropologists and sociologists studying cults have argued that no one yet has been able to define “cult” in a way that enables the term to identify only groups that have been claimed as problematic[citation needed].

The literal and traditional meanings of the word cult is derived from the Latin cultus, meaning "care" or "adoration", as "a system of religious belief or ritual; or: the body of adherents to same" 32. In English, it remains neutral and a technical term within this context to refer to the "cult of Artemis at Ephesus" and the "cult figures" that accompanied it, or to "the importance of the Ave Maria in the cult of the Virgin." This usage is more fully explored in the entry Cult (religious practice).

In non-English European terms, the cognates of the English word "cult" are neutral, and refer mainly to divisions within a single faith, a case where English speakers might use the word "sect", as in "Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism are sects (or denominations) within Christianity". In French or Spanish, culte or culto simply means "worship" or "religious attendance"; thus an association cultuelle is an association whose goal is to organize religious worship and practices.

The word for "cult" in the popular English meaning is secte (French) or secta (Spanish). In German the usual word used for the English cult is Sekte, which also has other definitions. A similar case is the Russian word sekta.


[edit] Definitions

[edit] Dictionary definitions of "cult"

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists five different meanings of the word "cult" 32.

  1. Formal religious veneration
  2. A system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents;
  3. A religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents;
  4. A system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator;
  5. Great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book).

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary definitions are:

  1. A particular system of religious worship, esp. with reference to its rites and ceremonies;
  2. An instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, esp. as manifested by a body of admirers;
  3. The object of such devotion;
  4. A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc;
  5. Group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols;
  6. A religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader;
  7. The members of such a religion or sect;
  8. Any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.

[edit] Theological definition

Conservative Christian authors, especially some Protestants, define a cult as a religion which claims to be in conformance with Biblical truth, yet (in their view) deviates from it. By this definition, a cult would be a group which calls itself Christian yet deviates from (what they see as) a core Christian belief, e.g. the Trinity.

Main article: Catholic devotions

In theology, particularly Catholic theology, cult is a liturgical term, from the Latin, colere, to devote care to a person or thing, that is, to venerate, worship). "Cult" is the root of the term "culture," or "the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations..." [1]. Cult in theology then refers to:

  • Liturgy as the actual arrangement and execution of the public Divine worship as authorized by the Church. The Sacred Congregation of Rites, established by Sixtus V, 1587, as the authoritative organ of the Holy See, is the supreme arbiter.
  • Part III of the New Code of Canon Law is entitled, "On Divine Cultus." After giving the law governing worship in general (canon 1255) and public worship (canon 1256–1264), the Code gives special laws for the custody and cult of the Blessed Sacrament (canon 1265–1275); for the cult of the saints, sacred images, and relics (canon 1276–1289); for sacred processions (canon 1290–1295), and for sacred furniture (canon 1296–1306).
  • In Hagiology, we must distinguish between public and private cult of the saints. Privately, cult (dulia) can be paid to any deceased of whose holiness we are certain. "Public cult may be shown only to those Servants of God who by the authority of the Church are numbered among the Saints and Beatified" (canon 1277), by the regular processes of canonization and beatification. Canonized saints may receive public cult everywhere and by any act of dulia; the beatified, however, only such acts and in such places as the Holy See permits (canon 1277, § 2). Saints may be chosen with papal confirmation, as patrons of nations, dioceses, provinces, confraternities, and other places and associations. [2]
Catholic theology makes a distinction between the "cult" (Latin cultus), in its technical sense here, of dulia and latria.
Dulia is the "honor," "respect," "affection," due to saints -- Mary, as the mother of Christ, is given "hyperdulia," and traditionally St. Joseph as "foster-father and guardian" of Christ is honored with "protodulia," but in all cases, this dulia is best termed respect and honor. In no way is dulia owed to statues, icons or other depictions of saints, but to the saints themselves, of whom such depictions are mere reminders. This dulia is specifically defined as qualitatively different from 'worship," hence saints are never in fact prayed "to" (despite common inaccuracies of speech), but requested to "pray for us."
Latria is the cult of worship, and this belongs, in Catholic theology, to God alone -- hence, to the Eucharist (as, for Catholics, this is one way that Christ is "truly present") and to each person of the Trinity. In catholic terminology, God and God alone may be said to be "worshipped" and "adored."

[edit] Christian countercult movement definition

See also: heresy

Walter Martin, the pioneer of the Christian countercult movement gave in his 1955 book the following definition of a cult:

"By cultism we mean the adherence to doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity and which yet claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith."

Author Robert M. Bowman Jr. defines cult as

"A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy. Adj.: "cultic" (may be used with reference to tendencies as well as full cult status)." 33

[edit] Definitions in sociology of religion

According to what is one common typology among sociologists, religious groups are classified as ecclesias, denominations, cults or sects.

A very common definition in the sociology of religion for cult is one of the four terms making up the church-sect typology. Under this definition, a cult refers to a religious group with a high degree of tension with the surrounding society combined with novel religious beliefs. This is distinguished from sects, which have a high degree of tension with society but whose beliefs are traditional to that society, and ecclesias and denominations, which are groups with a low degree of tension and traditional beliefs.

According to Rodney Stark's the Theory of Religion, most religions start out their lives as cults or sects, i.e. groups in high tension with the surrounding society. Over time, they tend to either die out, or become more established, mainstream and in less tension with society. Cults are new groups with a new novel theology, while sects are attempts to return mainstream religions to (what the sect views as) their original purity. <ref>Stark, Rodney and Bainbridge, Willia S. A Theory of Religion ", Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0-8135-2330-3</ref>

Since this definition of "cult" is defined in part in terms of tension with the surrounding society, the same group may both be a cult and not a cult at different places and times. For example, Christianity was a cult by this definition in 1st and 2nd century Rome, but in fifth century Rome it is no longer a cult but rather an ecclesia (the state religion). Or similarly, very conservative Islam would (when adopted by Westerners) constitute a cult in the West, but the ecclessia in some conservative Muslim countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban). Likewise, because novelty of beliefs as well as tension is an element in the definition: in India, the Hare Krishnas are not a cult, but rather a sect (since their beliefs are largely traditional to Hindu culture), but they are by this definition a cult in the Western world (since their beliefs are largely novel to Christian culture).

The English sociologist Roy Wallis<ref>Barker, E. New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction (1990), Bernan Press, ISBN 0-11-340927-3</ref> argues that a cult is characterized "epistemological individualism" by which he means that "the cult has no clear locus of final authority beyond the individual member." Cults, according to Wallis are generally described as "oriented towards the problems of individuals, loosely structured, tolerant, non-exclusive", making "few demands on members", without possessing a "clear distinction between members and non-members", having "a rapid turnover of membership", and are transient collectives with vague boundaries and fluctuating belief systems Wallis asserts that cults emerge from the "cultic milieu". Wallis contrast a cult with a sect that he asserts are characterized by "epistemological authoritarianism": sects possess some authoritative locus for the legitimate attribution of heresy. According to Wallis, "sects lay a claim to possess unique and privileged access to the truth or salvation and their committed adherents typically regard all those outside the confines of the collectivity as 'in error'". <ref>Wallis, Roy The Road to Total Freedom A Sociological analysis of Scientology (1976) available online (bad scan)</ref> <ref>Wallis, Roy Scientology: Therapeutic Cult to Religious Sect abstract only (1975)</ref>

[edit] Definition by secular cult opposition

Secular cult opponents define a "cult" as a religious or non-religious group that tends to manipulate, exploit, and control its members. Here two definitions by Michael Langone and Louis Jolyon West, scholars who are widely recognized among the secular cult opposition:

Cults are groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership's demands through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders. 1
"A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgement, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of [consequences of] leaving it, etc) designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community." 8

The common anti-cult definition summarised,

  • Manipulative and authoritarian mind control over members
  • Communal and totalistic in their organisation
  • Aggressive in proselytizing
  • Systematic program of indoctrination
  • New membership of cults by middle class

[edit] Definition in popular culture

In his book In Our Time, Tom Wolfe defines a cult as a religion without political power.

[edit] Points of view regarding definitions

Unlike popular definitions, sociological definitions exclude considerations of harm and abuse and are not used in a pejorative manner.

According to professor Timothy Miller from the University of Kansas, in his 2003 Religious Movements in the United States, during the controversies over the new religious movements in the 1960s, the term "cult" came to mean something sinister, generally used to describe a movement that was at least potentially destructive to its members or to society, or that took advantage of its members and engaged in unethical practices. But he argues that no one yet has been able to define "cult" in a way that enables the term to identify only problematic groups. Miller asserts that the attributes of so-called cults (see cult checklist), as defined by cult opponents, can be found in groups that few would consider cultic, such as Catholic religious orders or many evangelical Protestant churches. Miller argues:

If the term does not enable us to distinguish between a pathological group and a legitimate one, then it has no real value. It is the religious equivalent of "nigger"—it conveys disdain and prejudice without having any valuable content. 31

Due to the usually pejorative connotation of the word "cult", new religious movements (NRMs) and other purported cults often find the word highly offensive. Some purported cults have been known to insist that other similar groups are cults but that they themselves are not. On the other hand, some skeptics have questioned the distinction between a cult and a mainstream religion. They say that the only difference between a cult and a religion is that the latter is older and has more followers and, therefore, seems less controversial because society has become used to it. See also anti-cult movement and Opposition to cults and new religious movements.

[edit] The cult debate

This section describes a 1970s sociological phenomenon known as the cult debate also called cult war.

[edit] History of debate

As the Vietnam war wound down in the early 1970s, and the US public's preoccupation with the so-called Red Menace declined, a new idée fixe arose in its place: what it saw as the menace of cults. [citation needed]<ref>Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, where Hofstadter argues that the anti-Catholic hysteria of the 1800s, the anti-immmigrant movement that lead to the Palmer raids in the 1920s, and the Second Red Scare that began in the 1950s are all examples of the thesis that in times of economic, social or political crisis, small conspiracy-minded groups suddenly gain a mass following.ISBN 0-674-65461-7,</ref> <ref>See also, Victor, Jeffrey S. (Professor of Sociology), The Institute for Psychological Therapies Journal, The Satanic Cult Scare and Allegations of Ritual Child Abuse, which reads in part: "The satanic cult scare is in many ways similar to the "Second Red Scare" of the 1950s, in the sense that it is a witch hunt for moral "subversives" and supposed criminals engaged in a highly secretive conspiratorial network. It is a collective overreaction to claims about crimes, which are supposedly committed by well-organized groups following a religious ideology involving worship of the Devil." [3]</ref> <ref>Anti-Cult Movement: Media</ref>

Throughout the decade, various organizations both dangerous (Charles Manson's "The Family") and benign (Hare Krishna) came to the forefront of debate over the changing mores of US society. Newspapers and broadcast news, as well as religious leaders and parents who worried over losing their teenaged and college-aged children to the Youth Movement of the 60s and 70s, frequently focused attention on groups they described as "dangerous cults." [citation needed]

While some of these groups were, in fact, notoriously criminal, engaging in behavior such as murder (Manson), kidnapping and armed robbery (Symbionese Liberation Army), prostitution and child sexual abuse (Children of God), and enforced separation from family members (various), others were culpable of nothing more "dangerous" than indoctrination of adherents into religious faiths or groups whose doctrines seemed unfamiliar, strange or even heretical to outsiders. [citation needed] Some of the groups that entered the national cult debate in the early and mid 1970s were Erhard Seminars Training (est), Exclusive Brethren).[citation needed], Hare Krishna, the Unification Church, and Transcendental Meditation (TM).

[edit] Connotative change

During the period, the word "cult" lost its traditional meaning (a system of religious worship[4]) and came to be associated with notions such as brainwashing, mind control, coersive recruiting tactics and sex abuse. [citation needed]

These nefarious associations were cemented in 1978 with the Reverend Jim Jones and the mass suicide of members of the Peoples Temple.

During this period, certain religious clerics and lay members of some evangelical Christian groups took advantage of this wave of publicity, and began using the term "cult" as a pejorative to describe any religious faith group whose doctrines or theology were different from their own. [citation needed] Members of so-called "anti-cult" ministries began publishing and distributing disparaging checklists with titles such as "Checklist of Cult Characteristics"[5], [6], [7], [8] where each entry on the checklist described unique beliefs or doctrines of a target religious faith. By disparaging doctrines such as Mariology or Antitrinitarianism, these groups attempted to calumniate even large, established faiths such as Roman Catholicism and Mormonism with the label "cult." [citation needed]

[edit] Post-debate change

Acknowledging the now-disparaging connotation of the once-useful term "cult," some scholars of religion and sociology began in the 1980s to use the term "New Religious Movement" to describe smaller and newer religious faith groups. Whilst not in common use -- due in some measure to its unwieldy name -- the newer term has wide currency both in the academic community and amongst religious scholars.

[edit] Non-Religious Cults

According to the Anti-Cult Movement, although the majority of groups to which the word "cult" is applied are religious in nature, a significant number are non-religious. These may include political, psychotherapeutic or marketing oriented cults that are organized in a manner very similar to their religious counterparts. The term has also been applied to certain channelling, human-potential and self-improvement organizations, some of which do not define themselves as religious movements although they clearly draw on ideas derived from various religions.

The political cults, mostly far-leftist or far-rightist in their ideologies, have received considerable attention from journalists and scholars but are only a minute percentage of the total number of so-called cults in the United States. Indeed, clear documentation of cult-like practices exists for only about a dozen ideological cadre or racial combat organizations, although vague charges have been leveled at a somewhat larger number. See Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth, "On the Edge: Political Cults Right and Left," Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000. [9]

The idea seen in political discussions that is closest to the idea of a political cult is that of a personality cult. The idea of a political cult tends to invalidate any strong or committed belief in any political system, policy, or leader, and thus raises philosophical questions about the nature of society.

Although most political cults involve a "cult of personality", the latter concept is a broader one. It has its origins in the excessive adulation said to have surrounded Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. It has also been applied to several other despotic heads of state. It is often applied by analogy to refer to adulation of non-political leaders, and sometimes in the context of certain businessmen, management styles, and company work environments. The use of this term in its broadest sense serves as a reminder that cultic phenomena (as opposed to full-blown "cults") are not just found inside small ashrams and splinter churches but also are spread throughout mainstream institutions in democratic societies as well as permeating in a far more toxic form the governments and ruling parties of some nondemocratic societies.

[edit] Societal and governmental pressures on cults

Some information in this article or section has not been verified and may not be reliable.
Please check for any inaccuracies, and modify and cite sources as needed.

American novelist and critic Tom Wolfe gave the definition of cult as a religion which has no political power, implying that there is no functional difference between religions and cults except their acceptance within the general community and the way they are perceived by others. Many majoritarian religions generally have their doctrinal tenets legitimized by society in one way or another (and by the state in some countries although not in most modern democracies), while groups with non-mainstream beliefs may experience social and media disapproval either permanently (if their beliefs and practices are just too unorthodox) or until either the group, or society, or both, evolve in a converging way resulting in a higher level of social acceptance.[citation needed]

In the 19th century The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) were singled out by the U.S. government, which even sent the U.S. Army against them in 1857. This military action has been referred to as the Utah War although no battles occurred. The US Army's charge was to depose Brigham Young as Governor of the Utah Territory and install a more acceptable, non-Mormon individual, Alfred Cumming. The motivation for this action was a rumor that the Mormons were planning to rebel against the United States government. When it became clear that the rumor was false and that President Buchanan had ordered military action without verifying his sources, the incident became known as "Buchanan's Blunder."

The question of social acceptance should not be confused, however, with that of governmental acceptance. Most governmental clashes with cult-like groups in the United States in recent years have been the result of real or perceived violations of the law by the groups in question. There have been no well documented recent cases of the U.S. government persecuting a supposedly cult-like group simply because of its religious or political beliefs (as opposed to its alleged illegal acts), although several groups have claimed such persecution. (Of course, it is possible that negative perceptions of a group by prosecutors could make them more quick to prosecute than they might otherwise be; for instance, in the income tax case against Reverend Moon.)<ref>Sherwood, Carlton (1991) Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Washington, D.C.: Regnery (ISBN 0-89526-532-X)</ref>

In addition, the United States has never had an established church. Groups widely regarded as cults or as having non-mainstream beliefs have often found it easy to gain political clout; for instance, the Unification Church (by way of its influential newspaper, the Washington Times), and Scientology (by way of its Hollywood connections, which some observers have suggested gave it clout with the Clinton administration).[citation needed]

A 1996 French Parliamentary Commission issued a report unofficial translations, in which a list of purported cults compiled by the general information division of the French National Police (Renseignements généraux) was reprinted. In it were listed 173 groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, the Theological Institute of Nîmes (an Evangelical Christian Bible college), and the Church of Scientology. Members of some of the groups included in the list have alleged instances of intolerance due to the ensuing negative publicity. Although this list has no statutory or regulatory value, it is at the background of the criticism directed at France with respect to freedom of religion.

The "Interministerial Mission in the Fight Against Sects/Cults" [MILS] was formed in 1998 to coordinate government monitoring of sect [name given to cults in France]. In February 1998 MILS released its annual report on the monitoring of sects. The president of MILS resigned in June under criticism and an interministerial working group was formed to determine the future parameters of the Government's monitoring of sects. In November the Government announced the formation of the Interministerial Monitoring Mission Against Sectarian Abuses [MIVILUDES], which is charged with observing and analyzing movements that constitute a threat to public order or that violate French law, coordinating the appropriate response, informing the public about potential risks, and helping victims to receive aid. In its announcement of the formation of MIVILUDES, the Government acknowledged that its predecessor, MILS, had been criticized for certain actions abroad that could have been perceived as contrary to religious freedom. On May 2005, former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin issued a circular indicating that the list of cults published on the parliamentary report of 1966 should no longer be used to identify cults. <ref>Circulaire du 27 mai 2005 relative à la lutte contre les dérives sectaires</ref>

[edit] Study of cults

Among the experts studying cults and new religious movements are sociologists, religion scholars, psychologists, and psychiatrists. To an unusual extent for an academic/quasi-scientific field, however, nonacademics are involved in the study of and/or debates concerning cults, especially from the anti-cult point of view. These include investigative journalists and nonacademic book authors (who sometimes make positive contributions by methods such as examining court records and studying the finances of cults, which academics are not accustomed to doing), writers who once were members of purported cults, and professionals who work with ex-cult members in a practical way (for instance, as therapists) but are not university affiliated. Less widely known are the writings by members of organizations that have been labelled cults, defending their organizations and replying to their critics (such works are less well known, in part, because they have to contend against popular conceptions of cults and also because they are usually published by the purported cult itself rather than by mainstream publishers).

Nonacademics are sometimes published, or their writings cited, in the Journal of Cultic Studies (JCS), the organ of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), a group that is strongly critical of cults. In addition, nonacademics, including former cult members, lawyers who have litigated against cults, psychotherapists who treat former cult members, and others with personal knowledge or experiences, often give presentations at ICSA conferences. It should be noted that sociologist Janja Lalich began her work and conceptualized many of her ideas while an ex-cult activist writing for the JCS years before obtaining academic standing, and incorporated her own experiences in a leftwing political cult into her later work as a sociological theorist.

For better or worse, the hundreds of books on specific cults by nonacademic critics (as well as the hundreds by current members defending or elaborating their organization's doctrines) comprise a large portion of the currently available published record on cults. The books by cult critics run the gamut from memoirs by ex-members, which may take the form either of thoughtful analyses or of "cult captivity" narratives (or a bit of both), to detailed accounts of the history and alleged misdeeds of a given group written from either a tabloid journalist, investigative journalist, or popular historian perspective.

The work of several non-academic cult authors is cited in this article. Journalists Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman wrote the book Snapping, which set forth speculations on how mind control works that have been criticized by some psychologists. Others mentioned in this article include Tim Wohlforth (co-author of On the Edge and a former follower of Gerry Healy); Carol Giambalvo, a former est member; and former deprogrammers (now referred to as exit counselors) Rick Ross and Steven Hassan, the latter a former Unification Church member and author of the book Combatting Cult Mind Control. Another example is the work of journalist/activist Chip Berlet, without whom the study of so-called "political cults" might scarcely exist today. Barbara G. Harrison's Vision of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses, can be regarded as an example of a serious study by an ex-cult member (she was raised as a Witness) whose thinking transcends the cult captivity genre. Current members of the Hare Krishna movement as well as several former leaders of the Worldwide Church of God also have written with critical insight on cult issues, using terminologies and framings somewhat different from those of secular experts but well within the circle of rational discourse. Members of the Unification Church have produced books and articles that argue the case against excessive reactions to new religious movements, including their own, with intellectual rigor and a sense of history.

Within this larger community of discourse, the debates about cultism and specific cults are generally more polarized than among scholars who study new religious movements, but there are heated disagreements among scholars as well. What follows is a summary of that portion of the intellectual debate conducted primarily from inside the universities:

[edit] Cult, NRM, and the sociology and psychology of religion

The problem with defining the word cult is that (1) the word cult is often used to marginalize religious groups with which one does not agree or sympathize, and (2) accused cult members generally resist being called a cult. Nearly all neutral, academic researchers of religion and sociology prefer to use the term new religious movement (NRM) in their research on religious groups that may be referred to as cults by non-academics and the media. However, some researchers have stated[citation needed] that this is an imperfect replacement for the term cult because some religious movements are "new" but not necessarily cults, and have expanded the definition of cult to include those which are not religious or overtly religious. Furthermore, some religious groups commonly regarded as cults are in fact no longer particularly "new"; for instance, Scientology and the Unification Church are both over 50 years old; and the Hare Krishna came out of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a religious tradition that is approximately 500 years old.

When a group (and generally one with teachings regarded as out of the mainstream) practices physical or mental abuse, some mental health professionals may use the term cult. Others prefer more descriptive terminology such as abusive cult or destructive cult. Since cult critics using these terms rarely mention any alleged cults except abusive ones, their use of the two terms is in effect redundant. The popular press also commonly uses these terms.

Not all sectarian groups labeled as cults or as "cult-like", function abusively or destructively to any degree greater than many mainstream social institutions, however, and even among those cults that psychologists believe are abusive to an exceptional degree, few members (as opposed to some ex-members) would agree that they have suffered abuse. Other researchers like David V. Barrett hold the view that classifying a religious movement as a cult is generally used as a subjective and negative label and has no added value; instead, he argues that one should investigate the beliefs and practices of the religious movement. 9

Some groups, particularly those labeled by others as cults, view the designation as insensitive and may feel persecuted by opponents; those opponents may in fact be affiliated with organizations that are self-defined as anti-cult (or strongly critical of cults). <ref>A discussion and list of ACM (anti-cult movement) groups can be found at</ref> Even when no affiliation with such a group exists, the opponents of a particular cult will usually be influenced to varying degrees by the anti-cult movement's ideas — which are summarized in this article in the sections "Definition by secular cult opposition" and "Definition by Christian anti-cult movement."

Groups accused of being "cults" or "cult-like" often defend their position by comparing themselves to more established, mainstream religious groups such as Catholicism and Judaism. The argument offered can usually be simplified as, "except for size and age, Christianity and Judaism meet all the criteria for a cult, and therefore the term cult simply means small, young religion."

According to the Dutch religious scholar Wouter Hanegraaff, another problem with writing about cults comes about because they generally hold belief systems that give answers to questions about the meaning of life and morality. This makes it difficult not to write in biased terms about a certain cult, because writers are rarely neutral about these questions. In an attempt to deal with this difficulty, some writers who deal with the subject choose to explicitly state their ethical values and belief systems.

For some scholars, psychologists and researchers, the usage of the word "cult" applies to groups perceived as exhibiting a pattern of abusive and over-controlling behavior towards members, and not to a belief system. For members of competing religions, use of the word remains undeniably pejorative and applies primarily to rival beliefs (see memes), and only incidentally to behavior. It should be noted that there is no clear, causal connection between extremist belief and the formation of a so-called destructive cult. Most far-right hate groups are not cults, although they have pathological ideas and are frequently violent. Some groups regarded as cults have relatively benign belief systems.

In the sociology of religion, the term cult is part of the subdivision of religious groups: sects, cults, denominations, and ecclesias. The sociologists Rodney Stark and William S. Bainbridge define cults in their book, "Theory of Religion" and subsequent works, as a "deviant religious organization with novel beliefs and practices", that is, as new religious movements that (unlike sects) have not separated from another religious organization. Cults, in this sense, may or may not be dangerous, abusive, etc. By this broad definition, most of the groups which have been popularly labeled cults fit this value-neutral definition.

[edit] Related Research

The following research examines phenomena related to people's reactions to groups identified as some other form of social outcast or opposition group. It relates to the visceral opposition that some religious groups evoke in their opponents.

[edit] Reactions to Social Out-Groups

A new study by Princeton University psychology researchers Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske shows that when viewing photographs of social out-groups, people respond to them with disgust, not a feeling of fellow humanity. The findings are reported in the article "Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups" in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society).[10]

According to this research, social out-groups are perceived as unable to experience complex human emotions, share in-group beliefs, or act according to societal norms, moral rules, and values. The authors describe this as "extreme discrimination revealing the worst kind of prejudice: excluding out-groups from full humanity." Their study provides evidence that while individuals may consciously see members of social out-groups as people, the brain processes social out-groups as something less than human, whether we are aware of it or not. According to the authors, brain imaging provides a more accurate depiction of this prejudice than the verbal reporting usually used in research studies.

[edit] Political Partisans and Closed-Mindedness

Recent research reveals that political partisans ignore facts that contradict their own sense of reality,[11] according to a report on research by Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University

The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.
Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.
The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.
"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," Westen said. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."
Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning.

Simply put, the emotional considerations overwhelm critical thinking. If anything, the rational part of the mind works to rationalize the emotional conclusion that was reached in advance. Thus, in the end, extremes in partisan politics form one of the bases for a "political cult", where rational thinking and discussion only takes place within narrow us-versus-them parameters, and where emotion-based assumptions and/or unquestioned ideological dogma dominate the political organization, facilitating the other questionable activities cited above and elsewhere.

This framework can be extended to provide an explanation of an important aspect of cult-like activity more generally, although it also presents a means for criticism of some counter-cult organisations as well (and perhaps of the larger cult/anti-cult debate).

[edit] Christianity and Cults

Since at least the 1940s, the approach of orthodox, conservative, or fundamentalist Christians was to apply the meaning of cult such that it included those religious groups who used (possibly exclusively) non-standard translations of the Bible, put additional revelation on a similar or higher level than the Bible, or had beliefs and/or practices deviant from those of traditional Christianity. Some examples of sources (with published dates where known) that documented this approach are:

  • Heresies and Cults, by J. Oswald Sanders, pub. 1948.
  • Cults and Isms, by J. Oswald Sanders, pub. 1962, 1969, 1980 (Arrowsmith), ISBN 0-551-00458-4.
  • Chaos of the Cults, by J.K. van Baalen.
  • Heresies Exposed, by W.C. Irvine.
  • Confusion of Tongues, by C.W. Ferguson.
  • Isms New and Old, by Julius Bodensieck.
  • Some Latter-Day Religions, by G.H. Combs.
  • The Kingdom of the Cults, by Walter Martin, Ph.D., pub. 1965, 1973, 1977, ISBN 0-87123-300-2

[edit] Theories about the reasons for joining a cult

Michael Langone gives three different models regarding joining a cult 30:

"The definitional ambiguity surrounding the term cult has fueled much controversy regarding why people join cults and other unorthodox groups. Three apparently conflicting models attempt to account for conversion to unorthodox groups. The deliberative model, favored by most sociologists and religious scholars, says that people join because of what they think about the group. The psychodynamic model, favored by many mental health professionals with little direct experience with cultists, says that people join because of what the group does for them - namely, fulfill unconscious psychological needs. The thought reform model, favored by many mental health professionals who have worked with large numbers of cultists, says that people join because of what the group does to them - that is, because of a systematic program of psychological manipulation that exploits, rather than fulfills, needs." [Both explanations are often thought to hold relevance and work in tandem.]

According to Gallanter 11, typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest.

Jeffrey Hadden summarizes a lecture entitled "Why Do People Join NRMs?" (a lecture in a series related to the sociology of new religious movements 12) as follows:

  1. Belonging to groups is a natural human activity;
  2. People belong to religious groups for essentially the same reasons they belong to other groups;
  3. Conversion is generally understood as an emotionally charged experience that leads to a dramatic reorganization of the convert's life;
  4. Conversion varies enormously in terms of the intensity of the experience and the degree to which it actually alters the life of the convert;
  5. Conversion is one, but not the only reason people join religious groups;
  6. Social scientists have offered a number of theories to explain why people join religious groups;
  7. Most of these explanations could apply equally well to explain why people join lots of other kinds of groups;
  8. No one theory can explain all joinings or conversions;
  9. What all of these theories have in common (deprivation theory excluded) is the view that joining or converting is a natural process.

Stark and Bainbridge have questioned the utility of the concept of conversion. They suggest, instead, that the concept of affiliation is a more useful concept for understanding how people join religious groups. 13

[edit] Cult leadership

According to Dr. Eileen Barker, new religions are in most cases started by charismatic leaders whom she considers unpredictable. According to Mikael Rothstein, there is in many cases no access to plain facts both about historical religious leaders and contemporary ones, though there is an abundance of legends, myths, and theological elaborations. According to Rothstein, most members of any new religious movement have little chance of a personal meeting with the Master (leader) except as a member of big audience when the Master is present on stage.

See also Role of charismatic figures in the development of religions

[edit] Development of cults

Cults based on charismatic leadership often follow the routinization of charisma, as described by the German sociologist Max Weber. The death of the founder may lead to a succession crisis.

In their book Theory of Religion, Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge propose that the formation of cults can be explained through a combination of four models:

  • The psychopathological model - the cult founder suffers from psychological problems; they develop the cult in order to resolve these problems for themselves, as a form of self-therapy
  • The entrepreneurial model - the cult founder acts like an entrepreneur, trying to develop a religion which they think will be most attractive to potential recruits, often based on their experiences from previous cults or other religious groups they have belonged to
  • The social model - the cult is formed through a social implosion, in which cult members dramatically reduce the intensity of their emotional bonds with non-cult members, and dramatically increase the intensity of those bonds with fellow cult members - this emotionally intense situation naturally encourages the formation of a shared belief system and rituals
  • The normal revelations model - the cult is formed when the founder chooses to interpret ordinary natural phenomena as supernatural, such as by ascribing his or her own creativity in inventing the cult to that of the deity.

[edit] Relationships with the outside world

Barker wrote that peripheral members may help to lessen the tension that exists between some groups and the outside world. 27

In the case where members live in intentional communities, custody disputes (if one parent leaves and one stays) may be a source of confrontation between the cult and the outside world.

[edit] Cults: genuine concerns and exaggerations

The stigma surrounding the classification of a group as a cult stems from the purported ill effect the group's influence has on its members, and, critics of media sensationalism add, from exaggerated portrayals of weirdness in media stories. The narratives of ill effect include perceived threats presented by a cult to its members (whether real or perceived), and risks to the physical safety of its members and to their mental and spiritual growth.

Anti-cultists in the 1970s and 1980s made heavy accustions regarding the harm and danger of cults for members, families of members, and societies. The debate at that time was intense and was sometimes called cult debate or cult wars.[citation needed]

Much of the actions taken against cults and alleged cults have been in reaction to the harm or perceived harm experienced by some members due to their affiliation with the groups in question. Many commentators have pointed out that not all groups called cults are dangerous. Over a period of time, some minority religious organizations that were at one point in time considered cults have been accepted by mainstream society, such as Christian Science in the USA. Christian Science has been the focus of controversy in recent years over its policy of discouraging members from seeking medical care for their children, but the media has generally treated this as a specific doctrinal issue — like the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood — rather than suggesting that Christian Science is a cult that controls all aspects of a member's life.

[edit] Documented crimes

Image:Jim Jones brochure of Peoples Temple.jpg
Brochure of the Peoples Temple, portraying its founder Jim Jones as the loving father of the "Rainbow Family".</sup>

Certain cults, such as Heaven's Gate, Ordre du Temple Solaire, Aum Shinrikyo, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda, the Church of the Lamb of God of Ervil LeBaron, and the Peoples Temple have demonstrated by their actions that they do pose an extreme threat to the well-being and indeed to the very lives of their own members and to society in general; these organizations are often referred to as doomsday cults by the media, and their mass suicides and mass murders are well-documented. According to John R. Hall, a professor in sociology at the University of California-Davis and Philip Schuyler, the Peoples Temple is still seen by some as the cultus classicus 25, 26, though it did not belong to the set of groups that triggered the cult controversy in United States in the 1970s. Its mass suicide on November 18, 1978 led to increased concern about cults. Other groups include the Colonia Dignidad cult (a German group settled in Chile) that served as a torture center for the Chilean government during the Pinochet dictatorship.

In 1984, a bioterrorist attack involving salmonella typhimurium contamination in the salad bars of 10 restaurants in The Dalles (a city in Oregon) was traced to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh group.<ref>Bioterrorism in History - 1984: Rajneesh Cult Attacks Local Salad Bar, WBUR</ref><ref>AP The Associated Press/October 19, 2001</ref> The attack sickened about 751 people and hospitalized forty-five; none died. It was the first known bioterrorist attack of the 20th century in the United States, and is still known as the largest germ warfare attack in the U.S. Eventually Sheela and Ma Anand Puja, one of Sheela's close associates, confessed to the salmonella attack and to attempted poisonings of county officials. The BW incident is used by the Homeland Defense Business Unit in Biological Incidents Operations training for Law Enforcement agencies.[

The Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, by members of Aum Shinrikyo has also raised awareness of the danger posed by some groups. The cult had a laboratory in 1990 where they cultured and experimented with botulin toxin, anthrax, cholera and Q fever. In 1993 they traveled to Africa to learn about and bring back samples of the Ebola virus.[12]

Heidi Fittkau-Garthe, a German psychologist, and a previously high-profile Brahma Kumaris, a doomsday-oriented sect like her own which was based on destruction, was charged in the Canary Islands with a plot of murder-suicide in which 31 cult followers, including five children, were to ingest poison. After the suicides, they were told they would be picked up by a spaceship and taken to an unspecified destination. [13]

[edit] Less problematic but nevertheless controversial groups

Certain other groups, while not universally condemned, remain suspect to the general public; this is the case with Scientology and to a lesser extent, the Unification Church and the Hare Krishnas, although media criticism of the latter two groups has subsided in recent years and they are no longer notorious in the way they were in the 1970s. A problem in casually examining such high-profile groups is to distinguish between a group's public image (which may have become fixed decades earlier) and the group's actual practices in the here and now. This is one reason (among many) that empirical studies by social scientists trained in scientific methods are important. It is especially important to make objective observations with proper scientific methods of the current state of a group in the case of a group whose founder has died or that has splintered, or a group with foreign origins that is gradually integrating itself into the culture of its host country.

[edit] Doomsday cults

It is worth noting that despite the emphasis on narratives of "doomsday cults" by the media and the anti-cult movement, the number of cults known to have fallen into that category is approximately ten, which is very few when compared with the total number of new religious movements, which E. Barker estimates to be in the tens of thousands 10 (including cults that are psychologically destructive but not extremely violent or doomsday-oriented).

Furthermore, of the total number of cults in the United States alone, only a hundred or so have ever become notorious for alleged misdeeds either in the national media or in local media; it is essentially these groups that are to varying degrees the targets of the so-called anticult and countercult movements in any meaningful sense. As scholarly study of cults is to an extent media driven,[citation needed] with notorious groups inviting sympathetic scholars to study them and provide a more favorable picture than the media has,[citation needed] and "anti-cult" scholars looking for a publishable topic, it is mostly the notorious groups that are studied. The vast majority of cults are terra incognita with no one having anything more than rough estimates of the number of cults and number of cult adherents either in the U.S. or internationally, or indeed if the majority of the groups in such tallies are cults at all.

[edit] Harm to members

In the opinion of Benjamin Zablocki, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members. He states that this is in part due to members' adulation of charismatic leaders contributing to the leaders becoming corrupted by power. Zablocki defines a cult here as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and that demands total commitment. 17

There is no reliable, generally accepted way to determine which groups will harm their members. In an attempt to predict the probability of harm, popular but non-scientific cult checklists have been created, primarily by anti-cultists, for this purpose.[citation needed]

According to Barrett, the most common accusation made against alleged "cults" is sexual abuse. See some allegations made by former members.

According to Kranenborg, some groups, like Christian Science, are risky when they advise their members not to use regular medical care. 15

Barker, Barrett, and the anti-cult activist Steven Hassan all advise seeking information from various sources about a certain group before getting deeply involved, though these three differ in the urgency they suggest.

[edit] Stigmatization and discrimination

Many feel that because the terms "cult" and "cult leader" have acquired such a strong stigma, and because some assert that these terms are used pejoratively by opponents of cults, argue that they are to be avoided. A website affiliated with Adi Da Samraj [14] sees the activities of cult opponents as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them, and regards the use of the words "cult" and "cult leader" as similar to the manner in which "nigger" and "commie" were used in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.

In an essay by Amy Ryan 20, the argument is made for the need to differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign. Ryan refers to New Religious Movements: Some Problems of Definition, where George Chryssides identifies two types of definitions: opponents define them in terms of negative characteristics, while scholars attempt to study these groups and be value free. The movements themselves may have different definitions of religion as well. Chryssides cites a need to develop more appropriate definitions to and allow for common ground in the debate. These definitions have political and ethical impact beyond just scholarly debate. In Defining Religion in American Law, for example, Bruce J. Casino presents the issue as crucial to international human rights laws. Limiting the definition of religion may interfere with freedom of religion, while too broad a definition may give some dangerous or abusive groups "a limitless excuse for avoiding all unwanted legal obligations." 34

Also, several authors in the cult opposition are not happy with the word cult. Some definitions used imply that there is a continuum with a large gray area separating "cult" from "noncult". 34 Others authors, e.g. Steven Hassan, differentiate by using terms like "Destructive cult", or "Cult" (totalitarian type) vs. "benign cult".

[edit] Leaving a cult

There are at least four ways people leave a cult: 18, 37

Lalich in Bounded Choice (2004) describes a fourth way of leaving — rebellion against the cult leader or cult majority. Although in the atypical case she describes, the entire cult membership quit, more often rebellion is a combination of the walkaway and castaway patterns in that the rebellion may trigger the expulsion — essentially, the rebels provoke the cult leadership into being the agency of their break with an over-committed lifestyle. Tourish and Wohlforth (2000) and Dennis King (1989) provide several examples in the history of political cults. The rebellion response in such groups appears to follow a longstanding behavior pattern among leftwing political sects which began long before the emergence of the contemporary political cult.

The majority of authors agree that there are some people who experience problems after leaving a cult. There are, though, disagreements regarding the frequency of such problems and regarding the cause.

According to Barker (1989), the biggest worry about possible harm concerns the relatively few dedicated followers of a new religious movement (NRM). Barker also mentions that some former members may not take new initatives for quite a long time after disaffiliation from the NRM. This generally does not concern the many superficial, short-lived, or peripheral supporters of a NRM.

Exit Counselor Carol Giambalvo believes most people leaving a cult have associated psychological problems, such as feelings of guilt or shame, depression, feeling of inadequacy, or fear, that are independent of their manner of leaving the cult. Feelings of guilt, shame, or anger are by her observation worst with castaways, but walkaways can also have serious problems with feeling inadequate or guilty. She says people who had interventions or a rehabilitation therapy do have similar problems but are usually better prepared to deal with them. 37

Sociologists of Religion Bromley and Hadden point out that there is lack of empirical support for alleged consequences of having been a member of a cult or sect, and that there is substantial empirical evidence against it such as: the fact that the overwhelming proportion of people who get involved in NRMs do leave, most short of two years; the overwhelming proportion of people leave of their own volition; and that two-thirds (67%) felt "wiser for the experience" 14.

Popular authors Conway and Siegelman, though having no training in social science methods, conducted a survey and published it in the book Snapping (rather than in a peer-reveiwed journal) regarding after-cult effects and deprogramming and concluded that people deprogrammed had less problems than people not deprogrammed.

The BBC writes that in a survey done by Jill Mytton on 200 former cult members most of them reported problems adjusting to society and about a third would benefit from some counseling. 36

Burks (2002), in a study comparing Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA) and Neurological Impairment Scale (NIS) scores in 132 former members of cults and cultic relationships, found a positive correlation between intensity of thought reform environment as measured by the GPA and cognitive impairment as measured by the NIS. Additional findings were a reduced earning potential in view of the education level that corroborates earlier studies of cult critics (Martin 1993; Singer & Ofshe, 1990; West & Martin, 1994) and significant levels of depression and dissociation agreeing with Conway & Siegelman, (1982), Lewis & Bromley, (1987) and Martin, et al. (1992). 39

According to Barret, in many cases the problems do not happen while in a movement, but when leaving a movement, which can be difficult for some members and may include a lot of trauma. Reasons for this trauma may include: conditioning by the religious movement; avoidance of uncertainties about life and its meaning; having had powerful religious experiences; love for the founder of the religion; emotional investment; fear of losing salvation; bonding with other members; anticipation of the realization that time, money, and efforts donated to the group were a waste; and the new freedom with its corresponding responsibilities, especially for people who lived in a community. Those reasons may prevent a member from leaving even if the member realizes that some things in the NRM are wrong. According to Kranenborg, in some religious groups, members have all their social contacts within the group, which makes disaffection and disaffiliation very traumatic. 15

According to F. Derks and J. van der Lans, there is no uniform post-cult trauma. While psychological and social problems upon resignation are not rare, their character and intensity are greatly dependent on the personal history and on the traits of the ex-member, and on the reasons for and way of resignation. 16

See also: Shunning

[edit] Criticism by former members of purported cults

The public generally hears criticism of an alleged cult from the mass media, which often quotes law enforcement sources, public interest researchers, lawyers involved in civil litigation involving the group in question, and anti-cult spokespersons as well as persons with direct experience. Those with direct experience provide the foundation for most criticisms of the quality of life within the alleged cult and for much of the description of controversial types of member behavior.

Such primary sources of criticism may include: parents, relatives, and close friends of alleged cult members (who often have carefully observed personality changes in their loved one which they rightly or wrongly interpret as changes for the worse); victims of scams perpetrated on the general public by a minority of cults; people who go to recruitment-oriented meetings and then back away as a result of their perceptions of such events; persons raised in groups considered cults who left after coming of age; and former adult members.

Usually, the most dramatic allegations, as well as the most systematic and detailed ones, will come from adult former members and to a lesser extent from persons who were raised in the in groups considered cults, although a fair percentage of former members in these categories are not strongly critical of their former spiritual or ideological home. The former members who voice strong criticisms are termed "apostates" by some scholars. But this term is regarded as pejorative by other scholars. One scholar who uses the term "apostate" frequently is Gordon Melton, who in turn has been labelled a cult apologist by scholars strongly critical of cults.

The allegations of former members include: sexual abuse by the leader; failed promises and failed prophecy; causing suicides through neglect or abuse; failing to allow an ex-cult parent to have access to his or her child or children being raised within the cult; leaders who neither admit nor apologize for mistakes; false, irrational, or even contradictory teachings; exclusivism; deception in recruitment (by using "front groups"); pressure to engage in illegal financial activity or manipulative sexual behavior; demands to turn over all (or an excessive amount) of one's assets and income; demands for total immersion in the religious mission, ideological cause or day to day organizational activities of the group at the expense of career, education, family, and friends; and more.

The role of former members in the controversy surrounding cults has been widely studied by social scientists. Former members in some cases become public opponents against their former group. The former members' motivations, the roles they play in the anti-cult movement, the validity of their testimony, and the kinds of narratives they construct, are controversial with some scholars who suspect that at least some of the narratives are colored by a need of self-justification, seeking to reconstruct their own past and to excuse their former affiliations, while blaming those who were formerly their closest associates,<ref>Wilson, Bryan R. Apostates and New Religious Movements, Oxford, England, 1994</ref> and that hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents.<ref>Melton, Gordon J., Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory, 1999</ref>. Other scholars conclude that testimonies of former members are at least as accurate as testimonies of current members.

Scholars that challenge the validity of critical former members' testimonies as the basis for studying a religious group include David G. Bromley, Anson Shupe, Brian R. Wilson, and Lonnie Kliever. Bromley and Shupe, who studied the social influences on such testimonies, assert that the apostate in his current role is likely to present a caricature of his former group and that the stories of critical ex-members who defect from groups that are subversive (defined as groups with few allies and many opponents) tend to have the form of "captivity narratives" (i.e. the narratives depict the stay in the group as involuntary). Wilson introduces the atrocity story that is rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion, or deceit, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. Introvigne found in his study of the New Acropolis in France, that public negative testimonies and attitudes were only voiced by a minority of the ex-members, who he describes as becoming "professional enemies" of the group they leave. Kliever, when asked by the Church of Scientology to give his opinion on the reliability of apostate accounts of their former religious beliefs and practices, writes that these dedicated opponents present a distorted view of the new religions, and cannot be regarded as reliable informants by responsible journalists, scholars, or jurists. He claims that the reason for the lack of reliability of apostates is due to the traumatic nature of disaffiliation that he compares to a divorce and also due the influence of the anti-cult movement even on those apostates who were not deprogrammed or received exit counseling. Scholars and psychologists who tend to side more with critical former members include David C. Lane, Louis Jolyon West, Margaret Singer, Stephen A. Kent, Benjamin Beith-Hallahmi and Benjamin Zablocki. Zablocki performed an empirical study that showed that the reliability of former members is equal to that of stayers in one particular group. Philip Lucas found the same empirical results.

According to Lewis F. Carter, the reliability and validity of the testimonies of believers are influenced by the tendency to justify affiliation with the group, whereas the testimonies of former members and apostates are influenced by a variety of factors. 21 Besides, the interpretative frame of members tends to change strongly upon conversion and disaffection and hence may strongly influence their narratives. Carter affirms that the degree of knowledge of different (ex-)members about their (former) group is highly diverse, especially in hierarchically organized groups. Using his experience at Rajneeshpuram (the intentional community of the followers of Rajneesh) as an example, he claims that the social influence exerted by the group may influence the accounts of ethnographers and of participant observers 21. He proposes a method he calls triangulation as the best method to study groups, by utilizing three accounts: those of believers, apostates, and ethnographers. Carter asserts that such methodology is difficult to put into practice. 21 Daniel Carson Johnson 22 writes that even the triangulation method rarely succeeds in making assertions with certitude. 21

James Richardson contends that there are a large number of cults, and a tendency among scholars to make unjustified generalizations about them based on a select sample of observations of life in such groups or the testimonies of (ex-)members. According to Richardson, this tendency is responsible for the widely divergent opinions about cults among scholars and social scientists. 24

Eileen Barker (2001) wrote that critical former members of cults complain that academic observers only notice what the leadership wants them to see. 23

See also Apostasy in new religious movemets, and Apostates and Apologists.

[edit] Allegations made by scholars and skeptics

[edit] Other allegations

  • Threats, harassment, excessive lawsuits and ad hominem attacks against critics. Allegations regarding the use of such tactics have been made against Scientology, the Lyndon LaRouche organization, and the now defunct Synanon drug-treatment cult. Although such harassment has been widely reported in the media, the number of purported cults engaging in such behavior to any significant extent (as opposed to the shunning of ex-member critics) has been extremely small, with most such groups dropping the method when it proved ineffective. Continued use of such tactics should be regarded as a peculiarity of the offending group's history and not as a common feature of cults or NRMs.[citation needed]

[edit] Prevalence of purported cults

By one measure, between 3,000 and 5,000 purported cults existed in the United States in 1995. 6 Some of the more well-known and influential of these groups are frequently labelled as cults in the mass media. Most of these well-known groups vigorously protest the label and refuse to be classified as such, and often expend great efforts in public relations campaigns to rid themselves of the stigma associated with the term cult. But most of the thousands of purported cults live below the media's radar and are rarely or ever the subject of significant public scrutiny. Such groups rarely need to speak up in their own defense, and some of them just ignore the occasional fleeting attention they may get from the media.

A list of purported cults presents a listing of groups referred to as cults by various non-related, reasonably unbiased sources.

[edit] Cults and governments

Main article: Cults and governments

In many countries there exists a separation of church and state and freedom of religion. Governments of some of these countries, concerned with possible abuses by cults, have taken restrictive measures against some of their activities. Critics of such measures claim that the counter-cult movement and the anti-cult movement have succeeded in influencing governments in transferring the public's abhorrence of doomsday cults and make the generalization that it is directed against all small or new religious movements without discrimination. The critique is countered by stressing that the measures are directed not against any religious beliefs, but specifically against groups whom they see as inimical to the public order due to their totalitarianism, violations of fundamental liberties, inordinate emphasis on finances, and/or disregard for appropriate medical care. 40

There exists a controversy regarding religious tolerance between the United States and several European countries, especially France and Germany, that have taken legal measures directed against "cultic" groups that they believe violate human rights. The 2004 annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom states that these initiatives have "...fueled an atmosphere of intolerance toward members of minority religions in France". On the other hand, the countries confronted with such allegations see the United States' attitude towards NRMs as failing to take into account the responsibility of the state for the wellbeing of its citizens, especially concerning children and incapacitated persons. They further claim that the interference of the United States in their internal affairs is at least partially due to the domestic lobbying of cults and cult apologists. 40

[edit] The BITE model

The BITE model (standing for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion control), is cult deprogramming expert Steve Hassan's model on the patterns used by harmful cults.<ref>Hassan, Steven (2000) Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves. Aitan Publishing. (ISBN 0-9670688-0-0). online version.</ref>

[edit] Cults and NRMs in literature

Cults and new religious movements have been a subject or theme in literature and popular culture since ancient times. There are many references to it in the 20th century.

[edit] See also

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

[edit] External links

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Books

[edit] Articles

  • Langone, Michael: Cults: Questions and Answers [16]
  • Lifton, Robert Jay: Cult Formation, The Harvard Mental Health Letter, February 1991 [17]
  • Moyers. Jim: Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups [18]
  • Richmond, Lee J. :When Spirituality Goes Awry: Students in Cults, Professional School Counseling, June 2004 [19]
  • Rogge. Michael: On the psychology of spiritual movements[20]
  • Shaw, Daniel: Traumatic abuse in cults [21]
  • Rosedale, Herbert et al.: On Using the Term "Cult" [22]
  • Van Hoey, Sara: Cults in Court The Los Angeles Lawyer, February 1991 [23]
  • Zimbardo, Philip: What messages are behind today's cults?, American Psychological Association Monitor, May 1997 [24]
  • Aronoff, Jodi; Lynn, Steven Jay; Malinosky, Peter. Are cultic environments psychologically harmful?, Clinical Psychology Review, 2000, Vol. 20 #1 pp. 91-111
  • Rothstein, Mikael, Hagiography and Text in the Aetherius Society: Aspects of the Social Construction of a Religious Leader, an article which appeared in the book New Religions in a Postmodern World edited by Mikael Rothstein and Reender Kranenborg, RENNER Studies in New religions, Aarhus University press, ISBN 87-7288-748-6
  • Phoenix, Lena: "Thoughts on the Word Cult" [25]

[edit] References

  • Note 1: William Chambers, Michael Langone, Arthur Dole & James Grice, The Group Psychological Abuse Scale: A Measure of the Varieties of Cultic Abuse, Cultic Studies Journal, 11(1), 1994. The definition of a cult given above is based on a study of 308 former members of 101 groups.
  • Note 2: Barker, E. The Ones Who Got Away: People Who Attend Unification Church Workshops and Do Not Become Moonies. In: Barker E, ed. Of Gods and Men: New Religious Movements in the West'. Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press; 1983. ISBN 0-86554-095-0
  • Note 4: Galanter M. Unification Church ('Moonie') dropouts: psychological readjustment after leaving a charismatic religious group, American Journal of Psychiatry. 1983;140(8):984-989.
  • Note 6: Singer, M with Lalich, J (1995). Cults in Our Midst, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-0051-6
  • Note 8: West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1985). Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, September 9–11. Weston, MA: American Family Foundation.
  • Note 9: Barrett, D. V. The New Believers - A survey of sects, cults and alternative religions 2001 UK, Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35592-5
  • Note 10: Barker, E. (1984), The Making of a Moonie, p.147, Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-13246-5
  • Note 11: Galanter, Marc M.D.(Editor), (1989), Cults and new religious movements: a report of the committee on psychiatry and religion of the American Psychiatric Association, ISBN 0-89042-212-5
  • Note 12: Hadden, Jeffrey K. SOC 257: New Religious Movements Lectures, University of Virginia, Department of Sociology.
  • Note 13: Bader, Chris & A. Demaris, A test of the Stark-Bainbridge theory of affiliation with religious cults and sects. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 285-303. (1996)
  • Note 14: Hadden, J and Bromley, D eds. (1993), The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., pp. 75-97.
  • Note 15: Kranenborg, Reender Dr. (Dutch language) Sekten... gevaarlijk of niet?/Cults... dangerous or not? published in the magazine Religieuze bewegingen in Nederland/Religious movements in the Netherlands nr. 31 Sekten II by the Free university Amsterdam (1996) ISSN 0169-7374 ISBN 90-5383-426-5
  • Note 16: F. Derks and the professor of psychology of religion Jan van der Lans The post-cult syndrome: Fact or Fiction?, paper presented at conference of Psychologists of Religion, Catholic University Nijmegen, 1981, also appeared in Dutch language as Post-cult-syndroom; feit of fictie?, published in the magazine Religieuze bewegingen in Nederland/Religious movements in the Netherlands nr. 6 pages 58-75 published by the Free university Amsterdam (1983)
  • Note 17: Dr. Zablocki, Benjamin [26] Paper presented to a conference, Cults: Theory and Treatment Issues, May 31, 1997 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Note 18: Duhaime, Jean (Université de Montréal), Les Témoigagnes de Convertis et d'ex-Adeptes (English: The testimonies of converts and former followers, an article which appeared in the book New Religions in a Postmodern World edited by Mikael Rothstein and Reender Kranenborg, RENNER Studies in New religions, Aarhus University press, 2003, ISBN 87-7288-748-6
  • Note 20: Amy Ryan: New Religions and the Anti-Cult Movement: Online Resource Guide in Social Sciences (2000) [27]
  • Note 21: Carter, Lewis, F. Lewis, Carriers of Tales: On Assessing Credibility of Apostate and Other Outsider Accounts of Religious Practices published in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  • Note 22: Johnson, Daniel Carson (1998) Apostates Who Never were: the Social Construction of Absque Facto Apostate Narratives, published in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  • Note 23: Barker, E. (2001), Watching for Violence: A Comparative Analysis of the Roles of Five Types of Cult-Watching Groups, available online
  • Note 24: Richardson, James T. (1989) The Psychology of Induction: A Review and Interpretation, article that appeared in the book edited by Marc Galanter M.D. (1989) Cults and new religious movements: a report of the committee on psychiatry and religion of the American Psychiatric Association ISBN 0-89042-212-5
  • Note 25: Hall, John R. and Philip Schuyler (1998), Apostasy, Apocalypse, and religious violence: An Exploratory comparison of Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians, and the Solar Temple, in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7, page 145 "The tendency to treat Peoples Temple as the cultus classicus headed by Jim Jones, psychotic megaliomanic par excellence is still with us, like most myths, because it has a grain of truth to it. "
  • Note 26: McLemee, Scott Rethinking Jonestown on the website "If Jones' People's Temple wasn't a cult, then the term has no meaning." [28]
  • Note 27: Barker, E., Standing at the Cross-Roads: Politics of Marginality in "Subversive Organizations" article in the book The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements edited by David G. Bromley Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers, (1998). ISBN 0-275-95508-7
  • Note 28: Edby, Lloyd (1999), Testimony presented to the Task Force to Investigate Cult Activity on the Campuses of Maryland Public Higher-Education Institutions [29]
  • Note 29: Lane, David C., The Guru Has No Turban: Part 2 [30]
  • Note 30: Langone, Michael, "Clinical Update on Cults", Psychiatric Times July 1996 Vol. XIII Issue 7 [31]
  • Note 31: Miller, Timothy, Religious Movements in the United States: An Informal Introduction (2003) [32]
  • Note 32: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary entry for cult [33]
  • Note 33: Bowman, Robert M., A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy, 1994, [34]
  • Note 34: Casino. Bruce J., Defining Religion in American Law, 1999, [35]
  • Note 35: Langone, Michael, On Using the Term "Cult", [36]
  • Note 36: BBC News 20 May, 2000: Sect leavers have mental problems [37]
  • Note 37: Giambalvo, Carol, Post-cult problems [38]
  • Note 38: Ross, Rick, Ethical standards [39]
  • Note 39: Burks, Ronald, Cognitive Impairment in Thought Reform Environments [40]
  • Note 40: Kent, Stephen A. Brainwashing in Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), 1997 [41]
  • Note 41: CDC Aum Shinrikyo: Once and Future Threat?[42]
  • Note 42: Aum Shinrikyo (Japan, cultists)[43]
  • Note 43: Homeland Defense Business Unit[44]

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