Sociological Classifications of Religious Movements

Sociologists have proposed various classifications of religious movements. The most widely used classification in the sociology of religion is the church-sect typology. The typology states that churches, ecclesia, denominations and sects form a continuum with decreasing influence on society. Sects are break-away groups and tend to be in tension with society.

Cults and new religious movements fall outside this continuum and in contrast to aforementioned groups often have a novel teaching. They have been classified on their attitude towards society and the level of involvement of their adherents. Continue reading “Sociological Classifications of Religious Movements”

Mind Control

Mind control (also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual “systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person being manipulated”.[1] The term has been applied to any tactic, psychological or otherwise, which can be seen as subverting an individual’s sense of control over their own thinking, behavior, emotions or decision making. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul maintains that the “principal aims of these psychological methods is to destroy a man’s habitual patterns, space, hours, milieu, and so on.”[2]

Theories of brainwashing and of mind control were originally developed to explain how totalitarian regimes appeared to succeed in systematically indoctrinating prisoners of war through propaganda and torture techniques. These theories were later expanded and modified to explain a wider range of phenomena, especially conversions to new religious movements (NRMs).

Korean War and the origin of brainwashing

The Oxford English Dictionary records its earliest known English-language usage of brainwashing in an article by Edward Hunter in New Leader published on 7 October 1950. During the Korean War, Hunter, who worked at the time both as a journalist and as a U.S. intelligence agent, wrote a series of books and articles on the theme of Chinese brainwashing.[3]

The Chinese term 洗腦 (xǐ năo, literally “wash brain“)[4] was originally used to describe methodologies of coercive persuasion used under the Maoist regime in China, which aimed to transform individuals with a reactionary imperialist mindset into “right-thinking” members of the new Chinese social system.[5] To that end the regime developed techniques that would break down the psychic integrity of the individual with regard to information processing, information retained in the mind and individual values. Chosen techniques included dehumanizing of individuals by keeping them in filth, sleep deprivation, partial sensory deprivation, psychological harassment, inculcation of guilt and group social pressure.[citation needed] The term punned on the Taoist custom of “cleansing/washing the heart/mind”[6] (洗心, xǐ xīn) prior to conducting certain ceremonies or entering certain holy places.[citation needed]

Hunter and those who picked up the Chinese term used it to explain why, unlike in earlier wars, a relatively high percentage of American GIs defected to the enemy side after becoming prisoners-of-war. It was believed that the Chinese in North Korea used such techniques to disrupt the ability of captured troops to effectively organize and resist their imprisonment.[7] British radio operator Robert W. Ford[8][9] and British army Colonel James Carne also claimed that the Chinese subjected them to brainwashing techniques during their war-era imprisonment. The most prominent case in the U.S. was that of Frank Schwable, who confessed to having participated in germ warfare while in captivity.[10]

After the war, two studies of the repatriation of American prisoners of war by Robert Jay Lifton[11] and by Edgar Schein[12] concluded that brainwashing (called “thought reform” by Lifton and “coercive persuasion” by Schein) had a transient effect. Both researchers found that the Chinese mainly used coercive persuasion to disrupt the ability of the prisoners to organize and maintain morale and hence to escape. By placing the prisoners under conditions of physical and social deprivation and disruption, and then by offering them more comfortable situations such as better sleeping quarters, better food, warmer clothes or blankets, the Chinese did succeed in getting some of the prisoners to make anti-American statements. Nevertheless, the majority of prisoners did not actually adopt Communist beliefs, instead behaving as though they did in order to avoid the plausible threat of extreme physical abuse. Both researchers also concluded that such coercive persuasion succeeded only on a minority of POWs, and that the end-result of such coercion remained very unstable, as most of the individuals reverted to their previous condition soon after they left the coercive environment. In 1961 they both published books expanding on these findings. Schein published Coercive Persuasion[13] and Lifton published Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.[14] More recent writers including Mikhail Heller have suggested that Lifton’s model of brainwashing may throw light on the use of mass propaganda in other communist states such as the former Soviet Union.[15]

In a summary published in 1963, Edgar Schein gave a background history of the precursor origins of the brainwashing phenomenon:

Thought reform contains elements which are evident in Chinese culture (emphasis on interpersonal sensitivity, learning by rote and self-cultivation); in methods of extracting confessions well known in the Papal Inquisition (13th century) and elaborated through the centuries, especially by the Russian secret police; in methods of organizing corrective prisons, mental hospitals and other institutions for producing value change; in methods used by religious sects, fraternal orders, political elites or primitive societies for converting or initiating new members. Thought reform techniques are consistent with psychological principles but were not explicitly derived from such principles.[16]

Mind-control theories from the Korean War era came under criticism in subsequent years. According to forensic psychologist Dick Anthony, the CIA invented the concept of “brainwashing” as a propaganda strategy to undercut communist claims that American POWs in Korean communist camps had voluntarily expressed sympathy for communism. Anthony stated that definitive research demonstrated that fear and duress, not brainwashing, caused western POWs to collaborate. He argued that the books of Edward Hunter (whom he identified as a secret CIA “psychological warfare specialist” passing as a journalist) pushed the CIA brainwashing theory onto the general public. He further asserted that for twenty years, starting in the early 1950s, the CIA and the Defense Department conducted secret research (notably including Project MKULTRA) in an attempt to develop practical brainwashing techniques, and that their attempt failed.[17]

The U.S. military and government laid charges of “brainwashing” in an effort to undermine detailed confessions made by U.S. military personnel to war crimes, including biological warfare, against the Koreans.[18] Frank Schwable, Chief of Staff of the First Marine Air Wing was shot down in North Korea. After Chinese radio broadcasts claimed to quote him admitting to participating in germ warfare, United Nations commander Gen. Mark W. Clark denounced said: “Whether these statements ever passed the lips of these unfortunate men is doubtful. If they did, however, too familiar are the mind-annihilating methods of these Communists in extorting whatever words they want …. The men themselves are not to blame, and they have my deepest sympathy for having been used in this abominable way.”[19] In August, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson set up a task force to study the response of U.S. prisoners of war to brainwashing.[20]

Army report debunks brainwashing of American prisoners of war

In 1956 the U.S Department of the Army published a report entitled Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War which called brainwashing a “popular misconception.”[21] The report states “exhaustive research of several government agencies failed to reveal even one conclusively documented case of ‘brainwashing’ of an American prisoner of war in Korea.”[22]

While US POW’s captured by North Korea were brutalized with starvation, beatings, forced death marches, exposure to extremes of temperature, binding in stress positions, and withholding of medical care, the abuse had no relation to indoctrination or collecting intelligence information “in which they [North Korea] were not particularly interested.”[23] In contrast American POW’s in the custody of the Chinese Communists did face a concerted interrogation and indoctrination program–but the Chinese did not employ deliberate physical abuse. “Extensive research has disclosed that systematic, physical torture was not employed in connection with interrogation or indoctrination,” the report states.[24]

The Chinese elicited information using tricks such as harmless-seeming written questionnaires, followed by interviews.[25] The “most insidious” and effective Chinese technique according to the US Army Report was a convivial display of false friendship:

“[w]hen an American soldier was captured by the Chinese, he was given a vigorous handshake and a pat on the back. The enemy ‘introduced’ himself as a friend of the ‘workers’ of America . . . in many instances the Chinese did not search the American captives, but frequently offered them American cigarettes. This display of friendship caught most Americans totally off-guard and they never recovered from the initial impression made by the Chinese. . . . [A]fter the initial contact with the enemy, some Americans seemed to believe that the enemy was sincere and harmless. They relaxed and permitted themselves to be lulled into a well-disguised trap [of cooperating with] the cunning enemy.” [26]

It was this surprising, disarmingly friendly treatment, that “was successful to some degree,” the report concludes, in undermining hatred of the communists among American soldiers, in persuading some to sign anti-American confessions, and even leading a few to reject repatriation and remain in Communist China.[27]

Cults and the shift of focus

After the Korean War, applications of mind control theories in the United States shifted in focus from politics to religion. From the 1960s an increasing number of American youths started to come into contact with new religious movements (NRM), and some who converted suddenly adopted beliefs and behaviors that differed greatly from those of their families and friends; in some cases they neglected or even broke contact with their loved ones. In the 1970s the anti-cult movement applied mind control theories to explain these sudden and seemingly dramatic religious conversions.[28][29][30] The media was quick to follow suit,[31] and social scientists sympathetic to the anti-cult movement, who were usually psychologists, developed more sophisticated models of brainwashing.[29] While some psychologists were receptive to these theories, sociologists were for the most part skeptical of their ability to explain conversion to NRMs.[32]

Theories of mind control and religious conversion

Over the years various theories of conversion and member retention have been proposed that link mind control to NRMs, and particularly those religious movements referred to as “cults” by their critics. These theories resemble the original political brainwashing theories with some minor changes. Philip Zimbardo discusses mind control as “the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes”,[33] and he suggests that any human being is susceptible to such manipulation.[34] In a 1999 book, Robert Lifton also applied his original ideas about thought reform to Aum Shinrikyo, concluding that in this context thought reform was possible without violence or physical coercion. Margaret Singer, who also spent time studying the political brainwashing of Korean prisoners of war, agreed with this conclusion: in her book Cults in Our Midst she describes six conditions which would create an atmosphere in which thought reform is possible.[35]

Approaching the subject from the perspective of neuroscience and social psychology, Kathleen Taylor suggests that manipulation of the prefrontal cortex activates “brainwashing”, rendering a person more susceptible to black-and-white thinking.[36] Meanwhile, in Influence, Science and Practice, social psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that mind control is possible through the covert exploitation of the unconscious rules that underlie and facilitate healthy human social interactions. He states that common social rules can be used to prey upon the unwary. Using categories, he offers specific examples of both mild and extreme mind control (both one on one and in groups), notes the conditions under which each social rule is most easily exploited for false ends, and offers suggestions on how to resist such methods.[37]

Deprogramming and the anti-cult movement

Both academic and non-academic critics of “destructive cults” have adopted and adapted the theories of Singer, Lifton and other researchers from the inception of the anti-cult movement[when?] onwards. Such critics often argue that certain religious groups use mind control techniques to unethically recruit and maintain members. Many of these critics advocated or engaged in deprogramming as a method to liberate group members from apparent “brainwashing”. However the practice of coercive deprogramming fell out of favor in the West and was largely superseded by exit counseling. Exit counselor Steven Hassan promotes what he calls the “BITE” model in his book Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves (2000).[38] The BITE model describes various controls over human behavior, information, thought and emotion.[38] Hassan claims that cults recruit and retain members by using, among other things, systematic deception, behavior modification, the withholding of information, and emotionally intense persuasion techniques (such as the induction of phobias). He refers to all of these techniques collectively as “mind control”.

Critics of mind control theories caution against the broader implications of these conversion models. In the 1998 Enquete Commission report on “So-called Sects and Psychogroups” in Germany, a review was made of the BITE model. The report concluded that “control of these areas of action is an inevitable component of social interactions in a group or community. The social control that is always associated with intense commitment to a group must therefore be clearly distinguished from the exertion of intentional, methodical influence for the express purpose of manipulation.”[39] Indeed virtually all of these models share the notion that converts are in fact innocent “victims” of mind-control techniques.[32] Hassan suggests that even the cult members manipulating the new converts may themselves be sincerely misled people.[40] By considering NRM members innocent “victims” of psychological coercion these theories open the door for psychological treatments.

Sociologists including Eileen Barker have criticized theories of conversion precisely because they function to justify costly interventions such as deprogramming or exit counseling.[41] For similar reasons, Barker and other scholars have criticized mental health professionals like Margaret Singer for accepting lucrative expert witness jobs in court cases involving NRMs.[41] Singer was perhaps the most publicly notable scholarly proponent of “cult” brainwashing theories, and she became the focal point of the relative demise of those same theories within her discipline.[29]

Scholarly debate

James Richardson observes that if the NRMs had access to powerful brainwashing techniques, one would expect that NRMs would have high growth rates, yet in fact most have not had notable success in recruitment. Most adherents participate for only a short time, and the success in retaining members is limited.[42] For this and other reasons, sociologists of religion including David Bromley and Anson Shupe consider the idea that “cults” are brainwashing American youth to be “implausible.”[43] In addition to Bromley, Thomas Robbins, Dick Anthony, Eileen Barker, Newton Maloney, Massimo Introvigne, John Hall, Lorne Dawson, Anson Shupe, Gordon Melton, Marc Galanter, Saul Levine (amongst other scholars researching NRMs) have argued and established to the satisfaction of courts, of relevant professional associations and of scientific communities that there exists no scientific theory, generally accepted and based upon methodologically sound research, that supports the brainwashing theories as advanced by the anti-cult movement.[44]

Other scholars disagree with this consensus amongst sociologists of religion. Benjamin Zablocki asserts that it’s obvious that brainwashing occurs, at least to any objective observer; the “real sociological issue”, he states, is whether “brainwashing occurs frequently enough to be considered an important social problem”.[45] Zablocki disagrees with scholars like Richardson, stating that Richardson’s observation is flawed.[46] According to Zablocki, Richardson misunderstands brainwashing, conceiving of it as a recruiting process, instead of a retaining process.[47] So although Richardson’s data are correct, Zablocki states, properly understood, brainwashing does not imply that NRMs will have a notable success in recruitment; so the criticism is inapt.[48] Additionally, Zablocki attempts to debunk the other criticisms Richardson, et al, apply to brainwashing: if Zablocki is correct, there’s a plethora of evidence in favor of the claim that some NRMs brainwash some of their members.[49] Perhaps most notably, Zablocki says, the sheer number of former cult leaders and ex-members who attest to brainwashing in interviews (performed in accordance with guidelines of the National Institute of Mental Health and National Science Foundation) is too large to be a result of anything other than a genuine phenomenon.[50] Zablocki also reveals that of two most prestigious journals dedicated to the sociology of religion, the number of articles “supporting the brainwashing perspective” have been zero, while over one hundred such articles have been published in other journals “marginal to the field”.[51] From this fact, Zablocki concludes that the concept ‘brainwashing’ has been “blacklisted” unfairly from the field of sociology of religion.[51] Moreover, sociologists of religion have received “lavish funding” from NRMs, which suggests that the so-called scientific community of scholars engages in some “corrupt” practices”.[45] Stephen A. Kent has also published several articles about brainwashing.[52][53] These scholars tend to see no consensus, while what Melton sees as a majority of scholars[54] may regard it as a rejection of brainwashing and of mind control as legitimate theories.[citation needed]

Legal issues, the APA and DIMPAC

Since their inception, mind control theories have also been used in various legal proceedings against “cult” groups. In 1980, ex-Scientologist Lawrence Wollersheim successfully sued the Church of Scientology in a California court which decided in 1986 that church practices had been conducted in a psychologically coercive environment and so were not protected by religious freedom guarantees.[citation needed] Others who have tried claiming a “brainwashing defense” for crimes committed while purportedly under mind control, including Patty Hearst, Steven Fishman and Lee Boyd Malvo, have not been successful.

In 1983, the American Psychological Association (APA) asked Margaret Singer to chair a taskforce called the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC) to investigate whether brainwashing or “coercive persuasion” did indeed play a role in recruitment by such movements. Before the taskforce had submitted its final report, the APA submitted on February 10, 1987 an amicus curiæ brief in an ongoing court case related to brainwashing. Although the amicus curiæ brief written by the APA denies the credibility of the brainwashing theory, the APA submitted the brief under “intense pressure by a consortium of pro-religion scholars (a.k.a. NRM scholars)”.[55] The brief repudiated Singer’s theories on “coercive persuasion” and suggested that brainwashing theories were without empirical proof.[56] Afterward the APA filed a motion to withdraw its signature from the brief, since Singer’s final report had not been completed.[57] However, on May 11, 1987, the APA’s Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC report because the report “lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur”, and concluded that “after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue.”[58] This leaves the APA’s position on brainwashing as equivalent to: more research is needed until a definitive scientific verdict can be given.[59]

Two critical letters from external reviewers Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and Jeffery D. Fisher accompanied the rejection memo. The letters criticized “brainwashing” as an unrecognized theoretical concept and Singer’s reasoning as so flawed that it was “almost ridiculous.”[60] After her findings were rejected, Singer sued the APA in 1992 for “defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy” and lost.[61] Benjamin Zablocki and Alberto Amitrani interpreted the APA’s response as meaning that there was no unanimous decision on the issue either way, suggesting also that Singer retained the respect of the psychological community after the incident.[62] Yet her career as an expert witness ended at this time. She was meant to appear with Richard Ofshe in the 1990 U.S. v. Fishman Case, in which Steven Fishman claimed to have been under mind control by the Church of Scientology in order to defend himself against charges of embezzlement, but the courts disallowed her testimony. In the eyes of the court, “neither the APA nor the ASA has endorsed the views of Dr. Singer and Dr. Ofshe on thought reform”.[63]

After that time U.S. courts consistently rejected testimonies about mind control and manipulation, stating that such theories were not part of accepted mainline science according to the Frye Standard (Anthony & Robbins 1992: 5-29) of 1923.

Other areas

Mind control is a general term for a number of controversial theories proposing that an individual’s thinking, behavior, emotions or decisions can, to a greater or lesser extent, be manipulated at will by outside sources. According to sociologist James T. Richardson, some of the concepts of brainwashing have spread to other fields and are applied “with some success” in contexts unrelated to the earlier cult controversies, such as custody battles and child sexual abuse cases, “where one parent is accused of brainwashing the child to reject the other parent, and in child sex abuse cases where one parent is accused of brainwashing the child to make sex abuse accusations against the other parent”.[64][65]

Stephen A. Kent analyzes and summarizes the use of the brainwashing meme by non-sociologists in the period 2000-2007, finding the term useful not only in the context of “New Religions/Cults”, but equally under the headings of “Teen Behavior Modification Programs; Terrorist Groups; Dysfunctional Corporate Culture; Interpersonal Violence; and Alleged Chinese Governmental Human Rights Violations Against Falun Gong“.[66]


1.       ^ Langone, Michael. “Cults: Questions and Answers”. International Cultic Studies Association. Retrieved 2009-12-27. “Mind control (also referred to as ‘brainwashing,’ ‘coercive persuasion,’ ‘thought reform,’ and the ‘systematic manipulation of psychological and social influence’) refers to a process in which a group or individual systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person being manipulated.”

2.       ^ Ellul, Jacques (1973). Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. 113.Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-394-71874-3.

3.       ^ Marks, John (1979). “8. Brainwashing”. The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control. New York: Times Books. ISBN 0-8129-0773-6. Retrieved 2008-12-30. “In September 1950, the Miami News published an article by Edward Hunter titled ” ‘Brain-Washing’ Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party.” It was the first printed use in any language of the term “brainwashing,” which quickly became a stock phrase in Cold War headlines. Hunter, a CIA propaganda operator who worked under cover as a journalist, turned out a steady stream of books and articles on the subject.”

4.       ^ Chinese English Dictionary

5.       ^ Taylor, Kathleen (2006). Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 9780199204786. Retrieved 2010-07-02.

6.       ^ Note: can mean “heart”, “mind” or “centre” depending on context. For example, 心脏病 means Cardiovascular disease, but 心理医生 means psychologist, and 市中心 means Central business district.

7.       ^ Browning, Michael (2003-03-14). “Was Kidnapped Utah Teen Brainwashed?”. Palm Beach Post (Palm Beach). ISSN 1528-5758. “During the Korean War, captured American soldiers were subjected to prolonged interrogations and harangues by their captors, who often worked in relays and used the “good-cop, bad-cop” approach, alternating a brutal interrogator with a gentle one. It was all part of “Xi Nao,” washing the brain. The Chinese and Koreans were making valiant attempts to convert the captives to the communist way of thought.”

8.       ^ Ford RC (1990). Captured in Tibet. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-581570-X.

9.       ^ Ford RC (1997). Wind Between the Worlds: Captured in Tibet. SLG Books. ISBN 0-9617066-9-4.

10.    ^ New York Times: “Red Germ Charges Cite 2 U.S. Marines,” February 23, 1954, accessed February 16, 2012

11.    ^ Lifton, Robert J. (1954-04). “Home by Ship: Reaction Patterns of American Prisoners of War Repatriated from North Korea”. American Journal of Psychiatry 110 (10): 732–739. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.110.10.732. PMID 13138750. Retrieved 2008-03-30. Cited in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

12.    ^ Schein, Edgar (1956-05). “The Chinese Indoctrination Program for Prisoners of War: A Study of Attempted Brainwashing”. Psychiatry 19 (2): 149–172. PMID 13323141. Cited in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

13.    ^ Schein, Edgar H. (1971). Coercive Persuasion: A Socio-Psychological Analysis of the “Brainwashing” of American Civilian Prisoners by the Chinese Communists. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-00613-1.

14.    ^ Lifton, RJ (1989) [1961]. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism; a Study of “Brainwashing” in China. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4253-2.

15.    ^ Heller, Mikhail (1988). Cogs in the Soviet Wheel: The Formation of Soviet Man. Translated by David Floyd. London: Collins Harvill. ISBN 0-00-272516-9. “Dr [Robert J.] Lifton draws attention to a fact of exceptional importance: the effect of ‘brainwashing’ and its methods is felt even by those whom he calls the ‘apparent resisters’, those who seem not to succumb to the intoxication. This study showed that they do assimilate what has been hammered into their brain but the effect comes only a certain time after their liberation, like the explosion of a delayed-action bomb. It is not hard to imagine the effect which ‘education’ and ‘re-education’ has upon the Soviet citizen, who is exposed from the day he is born to ‘brainwashing’, bombarded every day, round the clock, by all the means of propaganda and persuasion.” Heller’s footnote explains the phrase “the means of propaganda and persuasion” as “[t]he official name for the means of communication in the USSR. The accepted abbreviation is SMIP [literally from the Russian phrase meaning ‘means of mass information and propaganda’].”

16.    ^ Schein, Edgar Henry (1963). “Brainwashing”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (14th (revised) ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.. p. 91.

17.    ^ Anthony, Dick (1999). “Pseudoscience and Minority Religions: An Evaluation of the Brainwashing Theories of Jean-Marie”. Social Justice Research 12 (4): 421–456. doi:10.1023/A:1022081411463.

18.    ^ Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets From the Early Cold War (Indiana University Press, 1998)

19.    ^ New York Times: “Clark Denounces Germ War Charges,” February 24, 1953, accessed February 16, 2012

20.    ^ New York Times: “Officers to Study ‘Brainwash’ Issue,” August 23, 1954, accessed February 16, 2012

21.    ^ U.S Department of the Army (15 May 1956). Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War. (Pamphlet No. 30-101 ed.). U.S Gov’t Printing Office. pp. 17 & 51.

22.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 51)

23.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 15)North Koreans considered US POWs illegal invaders and asserted they were not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

24.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 51)

25.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 20-21)

26.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 37)

27.    ^ (Communist Interrogation, Indoctrination, and Exploitation of Prisoners of War 1956, p. 50-51)

28.    ^ Melton, J. Gordon (1999-12-10). “Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory”. CESNUR: Center for Studies on New Religions. Retrieved 2009-06-15. “In the United States at the end of the 1970s, brainwashing emerged as a popular theoretical construct around which to understand what appeared to be a sudden rise of new and unfamiliar religious movements during the previous decade, especially those associated with the hippie street-people phenomenon.”

29.    ^ a b c Bromley, David G. (1998). “Brainwashing”. In William H. Swatos Jr. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0761989561.

30.    ^ Barker, Eileen: New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery office, 1989.

31.    ^ Wright, Stewart A. (1997). “Media Coverage of Unconventional Religion: Any ‘Good News’ for Minority Faiths?”. Review of Religious Research (Review of Religious Research, Vol. 39, No. 2) 39 (2): 101–115. doi:10.2307/3512176. JSTOR 3512176.

32.    ^ a b Barker, Eileen (1986). “Religious Movements: Cult and Anti-Cult Since Jonestown”. Annual Review of Sociology 12: 329–346. doi:10.1146/

33.    ^ Zimbardo, Philip G. (November 2002). “Mind Control: Psychological Reality or Mindless Rhetoric?”. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved 2008-12-30. “Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively. A body of social science evidence shows that when systematically practiced by state-sanctioned police, military or destructive cults, mind control can induce false confessions, create converts who willingly torture or kill ‘invented enemies,’ and engage indoctrinated members to work tirelessly, give up their money—and even their lives—for ‘the cause.'”

34.    ^ Zimbardo, P (1997). “What messages are behind today’s cults?”. Monitor on Psychology: 14.

35.    ^ Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, Margaret Thaler Singer, Jossey-Bass, publisher, April 2003, ISBN 0-78796-741-6

36.    ^ Taylor, Kathleen Eleanor (December 2004). Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. Oxford University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780192804969. Retrieved 2009-07-30. “Your susceptibility to brainwashing (and other forms of influence) has much to do with the state of your brain. This will depend in part on your genes: research suggests that prefrontal function is substantially affected by genetics. Low educational achievement, dogmatism, stress, and other factors which affect prefrontal function encourage simplistic, black-and-white thinking. If you have neglected your neurons, failed to stimulate your synapses, obstinately resisted new experiences, or hammered your prefrontal cortex with drugs (including alcohol), lack of sleep, rollercoaster emotions, or chronic stress, you may well be susceptible to the totalist charms of the next charismatic you meet. This is why so many young people baffle their more phlegmatic elders by joining cults, developing obsessions with fashions and celebrities, and forming intense attachments to often unsuitable role models.”

37.    ^ Cialdini, Robert B. (2007). Influence: the psychology of persuasion. London: Collins. pp. epilogue. ISBN 0-06-124189-X.

38.    ^ a b Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Steven Hassan, Ch. 2, Aitan Publishing Company, 2000

39.    ^ Final Report of the Enquete Commission on “So-called Sects and Psychogroups” New Religious and Ideological Communities and Psychogroups in the Federal Republic of Germany

40.    ^ Hassan, Steven (1988). Combatting cult mind control. Rochester, Vt: Park Street Press. ISBN 0-89281-243-5.

41.    ^ a b Barker, Eileen (1995). “The Scientific Study of Religion? You Must Be Joking!”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 34, No. 3) 34 (3): 287–310. doi:10.2307/1386880. JSTOR 1386880.

42.    ^ Richardson, James T. (1985-06). “The active vs. passive convert: paradigm conflict in conversion/recruitment research”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 24, No. 2) 24 (2): 163–179. doi:10.2307/1386340. JSTOR 1386340.

43.    ^ Brainwashing by Religious Cults

44.    ^ CESNUR – Brainwashing and Mind Control Controversies


46.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 176. ISBN 0802081886.

47.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 176. ISBN 0802081886.

48.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 176. ISBN 0802081886.

49.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 176. ISBN 0802081886.

50.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 194-201. ISBN 0802081886.

51.    ^ a b Zablocki, Benjamin. (1998-04). “TReply to Bromley”. Nova religio 1 (2): 267-271.

52.    ^ Brainwashing and Re-Indoctrination Programs in the Children of God/The Family

53.    ^ Dr. Stephen A. Kent (1997-11-07) (PDF). Brainwashing in Scientology’s Rehabilitation Force (RPF). Retrieved 2008-08-16. [dead link]

54.    ^ Melton, J. Gordon (10 December 1999). “Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory”. CESNUR: Center for Studies on New Religions. Retrieved 5 September 2009. “Since the late 1980s, though a significant public belief in cult-brainwashing remains, the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies-have shared an almost unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis proposed by Margaret Singer and her colleagues in the 1980s is without scientific merit.”

55.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U. of Torono Press. pp. 168. ISBN 0802081886.

56.    ^ CESNUR – APA Brief in the Molko Case. [t]he methodology of Drs. Singer and Benson has been repudiated by the scientific community [… the hypotheses advanced by Singer comprised] little more than uninformed speculation, based on skewed data […] [t]he coercive persuasion theory … is not a meaningful scientific concept. […] The theories of Drs. Singer and Benson are not new to the scientific community. After searching scrutiny, the scientific community has repudiated the assumptions, methodologies, and conclusions of Drs. Singer and Benson. The validity of the claim that, absent physical force or threats, “systematic manipulation of the social influences” can coercively deprive individuals of free will lacks any empirical foundation and has never been confirmed by other research. The specific methods by which Drs. Singer and Benson have arrived at their conclusions have also been rejected by all serious scholars in the field.

57.    ^ Motion of the American Psychological Association to Withdraw as Amicus Curiae

58.    ^ American Psychological Association Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) (1987-05-11). “Memorandum”. CESNUR: APA Memo of 1987 with Enclosures. CESNUR Center for Studies on New Religion. Retrieved 2008-11-18. “BSERP thanks the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control for its service but is unable to accept the report of the Task Force. In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for APA imprimatur.”

59.    ^ Zablocki, Benjamin (2001). isunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. U of Toronto Press. pp. 168. ISBN 0802081886.

60.    ^ APA memo and two enclosures

61.    ^ Case No. 730012-8 Margaret Singer v. American Psychological Association

62.    ^ Amitrani, Alberto; Di Marzio R (2001). “Blind, or just don’t want to see? Mind Control in New Religious Movements and the American Psychological Association”. Cultic Studies Review.

63.    ^ Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith, Lingua Franca, December 1998.

64.    ^ Richardson, James T. Regulating Religion: Case Studies from Around the Globe, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers 2004, p. 16, ISBN 9780306478871.

65.    ^ Oldenburg, Don (2003-11-21). “Stressed to Kill: The Defense of Brainwashing; Sniper Suspect’s Claim Triggers More Debate”, Washington Post, reproduced in Defence Brief, issue 269, published by Steven Skurka & Associates

66.    ^ Kent, Stephen A. (2008). “Contemporary Uses of the Brainwashing Concept: 2000 to Mid-2007”. Cultic Studies Review (International Cultic Studies Association) 7 (2): 99–128. ISSN 1539-0152. Retrieved 2010-02-09. “The brainwashing concept is sufficiently useful that it continues to appear in a wide variety of legal, political, and social contexts. This article identifies those contexts by summarizing its appearance in court cases, discussions about cults and former cult members, terrorists, and alleged victims of state repression between the years 2000 and mid-2007. In creating this summary, we discover that a physiologist has examined the biochemical aspects of persons going through brainwashing processes, and that (to varying degrees) some judges and others related to the judiciary have realized that people who have been through these processes have impaired judgment and often need special counseling. Most dramatically, a new brainwashing program may be operating in Communist China, a country whose political activities toward its own citizens in the late 1940s and 1950s spawned so much of the initial brainwashing research.”

Cults and New religious Movements in Literature and Popular Culture

New religious movements and cults can appear as themes or subjects in literature and popular culture, while notable representatives of such groups have produced, for their own part, a large body of literary works.


The term “cult,” as applied to non-mainstream religious or secular organizations, has multiple overlapping or contradictory meanings in both scholarly and popular usage.[1]

Some anthropologists and sociologists studying cults have argued that no one has yet been able to define “cult” in a way that enables the term to apply only to groups identified as problematic; however, even without the “problematic” concern, scientific criteria of characteristics attributed to cults do exist.[2] Note a little-known example: the Alexander and Rollins (1984) scientific study labels the socially well-received group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) a cult,[3] yet Vaillant, 2005, concluded that AA is beneficial.[4]

Commentators other than social scientists participate to a greater degree in cultic studies than in many comparable topics, which may render it difficult to demarcate the boundaries of scientific research from theology, politics, journalism, family cultural values, and the anecdotal findings of some mental-health professionals. According to James T. Richardson (1993), the “popular use” of the term “cult” has, since the 1920s, “gained such credence and momentum that it has virtually swallowed up the more neutral historical meaning of the term from the sociology of religion.” A 20th century attempt by sociologists to replace “cult” with the term New Religious Movement (NRM), failed to resonate with the public[5] and gained only partial acceptance in the scientific community.[6] Some scholars use the term “New Religious Movement” (as opposed to “cult”) with the implication that the group in question either lacks “destructive” cult characteristics or has evolved away from past controversial practices.[7]

Members of the groups in question usually strongly dispute the label “cult”, especially as used in the media and popular culture, and some scholars and social scientists regard any definitions that focus on special authoritarian characteristics as flawed.[8]

This article deals with the treatment of such groups in literature and popular culture, which may depict exaggerated and or even inaccurate perceptions of particular or generic groups. The mention of any real (as opposed to fictional) organization or person in this article reflects only that some specific source regards it as having (or having had in the past) the characteristics associated with such groups. Some organizations or movements mentioned herein have evolved over the years, as has the surrounding culture, and no longer experience the opprobrium they did at the time particular literary works about them (or literary works by their founders or members) originated. Other historical groups, such as Theosophy in the late 19th century, became known for their novel beliefs and charismatic leadership but not necessarily for abusive practices: one might regard them as the NRMs of their day.



Alexander the False Prophet, a deeply hostile[9] satire by Lucian of Samosata, allows this 2nd-century-AD writer to describe Alexander of Abonoteichus, an oracle who built a following in parts of the Roman Empire, and who (according to Lucian) swindled many people and engaged, through his followers, in various forms of thuggery.[10] The strength of Lucian’s venom against Alexander is attributed to Alexander’s hate of the Epicureans (Lucian admired the works of Epicurus, a eulogy of which concludes the piece). Whether or not Alexander epitomized fraud and deceit as portrayed by Lucian; he may not have differed greatly from other oracles of the age, in which a great deal of dishonest exploitation occurred in some shrines.[9]

Sociologist Stephen A. Kent, in a study of the text, compares Lucian’s Alexander to malignant narcissism in modern psychiatric theory, and suggests that the “behaviors” described by Lucian “have parallels with several modern cult leaders.”[11] Ian Freckelton has noted at least a surface similarity between Alexander and the leader of a contemporary religious group, the Children of God.[12]

Other scholars have described Alexander as an oracle who perpetrated a hoax to deceive gullible citizens,[13][14] or as a false prophet and charlatan who played on the hopes of simple people, who “made predictions, discovered fugitive slaves, detected thieves and robbers, caused treasures to be dug up, healed the sick, and in some cases actually raised the dead” (ch. 24). Alexander did more than combine healing instructions with the oracle (not uncommon at the time); he also instituted mysteries. His main opposition came from Epicureans and Christians.[15]

Lucian also wrote a satire called The Passing of Peregrinus, in which the lead character, Proteus, described by Lucian as a charlatan, takes advantage of the generosity and gullibility of Christians.[16]

The Golden Ass

In the last chapter of ApuleiusThe Golden Ass, Lucius, the hero, eager for his initiation into the mystery cult of Isis, abstains from forbidden foods, bathes and purifies himself. Then the secrets of the cult’s books are explained to him, and further secrets revealed before he goes through the process of initiation, which involves a trial by the elements in a journey to the underworld. Lucius is then asked to seek initiation into the cult of Osiris in Rome, and eventually is initiated into the pastophoroi — a group of priests that serves Isis and Osiris.[17]


Even apart from the religious Reformation, the Renaissance era exhibited experimental belief-systems and resultant arguments about their merits. Shakespeare noted ca. 1595 in a passing comparison the phenomenon of the apostate: “the heresies that men do leave / Are hated most of those they did deceive” A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 2, Scene 2).

Early twentieth century

Mark Twain wrote a highly critical book (1907) about Christian Science.[18] Willa Cather, a newspaper and magazine journalist and editor before turning to full-time fiction-writing, co-authored a detailed muckraking book (1909) on the same religious movement.[19] (Christian Science gained a large measure of respectability in later years.[20][21][22])

Zane Grey, in his Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), a Western novel that would have a major influence on Hollywood, lambasts the Mormons and has his gunslinger hero rescue a wealthy young woman in the early 1870s from the clutches of elderly polygamists via exceedingly bloody gunfights. The novel contains a portrayal of the psychological conflicts of the young woman, raised a Mormon but gradually coming to the realization that she wants a supposedly less constricted life. (The Mormon misdeeds depicted in the story take place on the southern frontier of Utah, and Grey makes no suggestion of the involvement of Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City.) The harassment of the young woman reflects a popular literary theme in Queen Victoria‘s England.

In Dashiell Hammett‘s The Dain Curse (1929), much of the mystery puzzle revolves around the Temple of the Holy Grail, a fictitious California circle that Hammett’s characters repeatedly describe as a “cult”. Hammett depicts it as starting as a scam, although the putative leader begins to believe in his own fraudulent claims.

A.E.W. Mason, in The Prisoner in the Opal (1928), one of his Inspector Hanaud mysteries, describes the unmasking of a Satanist cult.

The Italian novelist Sibilla Aleramo, in Amo, dunque sono (I Love, Therefore I Am) (1927) depicted Julius Evola‘s UR Group, a hermetical circle and intellectual movement — strongly influenced by Anthroposophy — that attempted to provide a spiritual direction to Benito Mussolini‘s fascism.[23] Aleramo described the character based on her former lover Evola as “inhuman, an icy architect of acrobatic theories, vain, vicious, perverse.” Aleramo based her hero on Giulio Parise, who would unsuccessfully attempt to oust the pro-Fascist Evola as the circle’s leader in 1928, resulting in an announcement by Evola that he would thenceforth exert “an absolute unity of direction” over the circle’s publications.[24]

Mid and late twentieth century

Science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein wrote two novels that deal with fictitious cult-like groups. A leading figure in his early “Future History” series (see If This Goes On–, a short novel published in Revolt in 2100), Nehemiah Scudder, a religious “prophet”, becomes dictator of the United States. By his own admission in an afterword, Heinlein poured into this book his distrust of all forms of religious fundamentalism, the Ku Klux Klan, the Communist Party and other movements that he regarded as authoritarian. Heinlein also stated in the afterword that he had worked out the plot of other books about Scudder, but had decided not to write them — in part because he found Scudder so unpleasant.[25] Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land features two cults: the “Dionysian Church of the New Revelation, Fosterite”, and the protagonist Valentine Michael Smith’s own “Church of All Worlds”. Heinlein treats of the motives and methods of religious leaders in some detail.[26]

Fictitious cults also feature in science fantasy and in horror novels. In That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis describes the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments, or “NICE”, a quasi-governmental front concealing a kind of doomsday cult that worships a disembodied head kept alive by scientific means.[27] Some commentators[who?] have interpreted this head, who/which plots to turn the Earth into a dead world like the Moon, as a symbol of secularism and materialism. Lewis’ novel is notable for its elaboration of his 1944 address “The Inner Ring.” The latter work criticizes the lust to “belong” to a powerful clique — a common human failing that Lewis believed was the basis for people being seduced into power-hungry and spiritually twisted movements.[28][29][30]

In William Campbell Gault‘s Sweet Wild Wench, L.A. private eye Joe Puma investigates the “Children of Proton”, a fictional cult that has attracted the support of the daughter of a wealthy businessman.[31]

In Elizabeth Hand‘s Waking the Moon, the heroine battles against a Goddess-worshipping cult led by a radical feminist with supernatural powers and a penchant for human sacrifice.[32]

Gore Vidal‘s Messiah depicts the rise of a cult leader,[33] while Vidal’s Kalki, a science-fiction novel, recounts how a small but scientifically adept fictitious cult kills off the entire human race by means of germ warfare.[34]

Chuck Palahniuk‘s Survivor presents Tender Branson as the last surviving member of the fictional Creedish Church/cult. He starts off as a loyal servant for a rich couple, sent out of his community to service and improve the outside world, as well as to earn money for the church. Once identified as the last survivor, he becomes a media messiah and religious celebrity.[35]

Twenty-first century

Popular French author Michel Houellebecq‘s 2005 science-fiction novel, The Possibility of an Island, describes a cloning group that resembles the Raëlians.[36]

Dan Brown‘s novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), portrays a hero and heroine in flight from an assassin who belongs to the Catholic organization Opus Dei. (Opus Dei has disputed the accuracy of the portrayal, as has much of the media. For example, The Da Vinci Code portrays its villain as a monk, but the real Opus Dei includes no monks.[37][38])

Paul Malmont‘s The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (2006) portrays a young L. Ron Hubbard as one of three 1930s pulp-fiction writers who fight the forces of evil in a novel that nostalgically mimics the pulps. Although Malmont portrays the young Hubbard and future Scientology-founder as having a tendency to pad his résumé (a charge also made by some biographers of the real Hubbard), Malmont’s Hubbard appears in most respects as a sympathetic character as well as a hero of the action.

Mike Doogan‘s detective thriller Lost Angel (2006) takes place at a fictional Christian commune in Alaska called “Rejoiced”. In the opening pages, Doogan’s novel appears to present a stereotypical cult, but it soon emerges that many of the members show independence of mind and routinely (if quietly) disobey the commune’s founder and nominal leader.

Robert Muchamore has written a book for teenagers, Divine Madness, about a religious cult that has a vast number of members: the main characters of the book must infiltrate the cult to discover a sinister plot.

The primary antagonists of Brad Fear‘s A Macabre Myth of a Moth-Man (2008) are an organization of super-enhanced fanatics called ‘The Swarm’. The cult’s beliefs seem focused on the flaws of man as a species; their motivations based on ushering in an age of superior, gene-spliced hybrids. They conceal their ‘imperfect’ human forms beneath gas masks and body armour (with the exception of the cult-leader, Dante Eclipse, who wears a porcelain theatre mask and robes).

The novel Godless centers around a teenager who forms a religious cult that worships his hometown’s watertower.

The film Red State was based on the Westboro Baptist Church cult.

The Novel Seeds of Rapture (2011) by DC Ryder is a thriller about a young woman who infiltrates a religious cult as part of a deal with the FBI.

Literary works by founders of new trends or movements

Aleister Crowley, founder of the English-speaking branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis and of a short-lived commune (the “Abbey of Thelema“) in Sicily, wrote poetry (anthologized in 1917 in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse) and novels (Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922) and Moonchild (1929)). Crowley died in 1947. His autobiography, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, republished in 1969, attracted much attention. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy describes Crowley’s fiction and his manuals on the occult as examples of “lifestyle fantasy”.[39]

The travel-writer, poet and painter Nicholas Roerich, the founder of Agni Yoga, expressed his spiritual beliefs through his depiction of the stark mountains of Central Asia.[40] His classic travel-books include Heart of Asia: Memoirs from the Himalayas (1929) and Shambhala: In Search of the New Era (1930).

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, worked as a contributing author in the Golden Age of Science Fiction (1930s to 1950s) and in the horror and fantasy genres. In a bibliographical study of his works, Marco Frenschkowski agrees with Stephen King in regarding Fear (1940) as one of the major horror tales of the 20th century, and praises “its imaginative use of the prosaic and its demythologizing of traditional weird fiction themes”. Other works which Frenschkowski cites as notable include Typewriter in the Sky (1940), To the Stars (1950), the best-selling Battlefield Earth (1982), and the ten-volume Mission Earth (1985–1987). Frenschkowski concludes that although Hubbard’s fiction has received excessive praise from his followers, science-fiction critics leery of Scientology have underrated it.[41] John Clute and Peter Nichols, however, manage to praise much of Hubbard’s oeuvre while also raising questions about the thematic link to Scientology. Hubbard’s “canny utilization of superman protagonists” in his early work, they argue, came to “tantalize” s-f writers and fans “with visions of transcendental power” and may explain why so many early followers of Hubbard’s movement came from the s-f community.[42]

G.I. Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher who introduced and taught the Fourth Way, authored three literary works that comprise his All and Everything trilogy. The best known, Meetings with Remarkable Men, a memoir of Gurdjieff’s youthful search for spiritual truth, has become a minor classic. Peter Brook made it into a film (1979). The trilogy also includes Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, a curious melange of philosophy, humor and science-fiction that some regard as a masterpiece. P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins series and a disciple of Gurdjieff, described Beelzebub as “soaring off into space, like a great, lumbering flying cathedral”.[43] Martin Seymour-Smith included Beelzebub in his 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, characterising it as “…the most convincing fusion of Eastern and Western thought that has yet been seen.”[44] Gurdjieff’s final volume, Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’, consists of an incomplete text published posthumously.

Ayn Rand, founder of the Objectivist movement, wrote two bestsellers, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). The Fountainhead sold over 6.5 million copies by 2008; and Atlas Shrugged over 6 million.[45] Rand’s science-fiction novella Anthem (1938) also found a wide readership.[46][47][48][49]

Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, wrote highly regarded poetry. William Carlos Williams described his “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana” (1925)[50] as his “major poem”, and wrote that Siegel “belongs in the first ranks of our living artists”.[51] Other critics and poets who praised Siegel’s work included Selden Rodman[52] and Kenneth Rexroth; the latter wrote that “it’s about time Eli Siegel was moved up into the ranks of our acknowledged Leading Poets.”[53]

Important non-fiction writers among founders of movements

Helena Blavatsky, the Russian adventuress who founded Theosophy, wrote Isis Unveiled (1887) and The Secret Doctrine (1888), and had an immense cultural and intellectual influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, helping to stimulate the Indian nationalist movement, the interfaith ecumenical movemen, parapsychology, the fantasy literary genre,[54] and today[update]‘s New Age movement. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy describes her two major books as “enormous, entrancing honeypots of myth, fairytale, speculation, fabrication and tomfoolery”.[55]

Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, wrote in a variety of fields (his collected works total 350 volumes) and influenced such figures as the novelist Herman Hesse and the philosopher Owen Barfield. Through his writings and lectures, Steiner stimulated the development of the cooperative movement, alternative medicine, organic farming, the Waldorf schools, and “eurythmy” in modern dance.

“Tract” literature

Several authors have prolifically produced tracts, and although their writings may not have influenced contemporary culture to the degree of a Reich or a Blavatsky, they have stimulated many to join their churches or movements and have expressed ideas that writers and spiritual “entrepreneurs” outside of their own circles have adopted and adapted. Examples include JZ Knight, founder of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, whose popular Ramtha books have done much to spread the practice of spirit channelling among New Agers; and Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant who, with her late husband Mark Prophet, wrote over 75 books on the “Ascended Masters” and similar topics. Other examples include the late Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God, whose books on Biblical prophecy and British Israelism were widely read for over a half century; and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche — the author of over 500 books, articles and published speeches which have had a significant if often subterranean influence on various movements of the left and right as well as on the media in some countries.



  • In Brookside, Simon Howe indoctrinates an increasingly mentally unstable Terry Sullivan into a religious cult much to the dismay of his friend Barry Grant. The two later hold Grant hostage and blow up the his house.
  • In the Rocko’s Modern Life episode “Schnit-heads”, Heffer joins a sausage-worshiping cult. When he tires of eating nothing but sausage, and is caught eating pizza, the cult holds him prisoner, and it is up to Rocko and Filburt to save him.
  • In the Simpsons episode “The Joy of Sect“, most of Springfield join a new sect called The Movementarians, led by the mysterious “Leader” who persuades most residents to give up their material possessions to him. A skeptical Marge tries desperately to deprogram her family with the help of Reverend Lovejoy, one of the few town residents not to join the sect, and Willie (who offers to “kidnap Homer for fifty, deprogram him for a hundred, or kill him for five hundred”). Eventually they kidnap Homer and “deprogram” him with beer. The Leader is then revealed to be a con-artist and the whole town return back to normal.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Luanne Platter than later Peggy Hill joins a cult disguised as a sorority called the “Omega House”. Members, deprived of the bathroom, must change their name to Jane, sell jams and eat a diet of only rice.
  • The X-Files episode “Via Negativa” dealt with a murderous religious cult leader.[56]
  • In an episode of Monk, entitled “Mr. Monk Joins a Cult“, Adrian goes undercover within a cult to investigate the murder of one of its members. However, he becomes brainwashed and has to be deprogrammed by his therapist Dr. Charles Kroger.
  • In an episode of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Norman Lear‘s 1976-1977 soap-opera parody, one of Mary Hartman’s neighbors joins the Hare Krishnas and his family decides to have him deprogrammed.
  • In a Seinfeld episode entitled “The Checks“, Mr. Wilhelm joins a religious cult that masquerades as a carpet-cleaning service. When George tries to talk him out of it, Mr. Wilhelm reveals his new name: “Tanya” (a nod to the Patty Hearst case).
  • Spoofs of Lyndon LaRouche have appeared several times: on programs such as The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, and in the comic strip Bloom County. An episode of the science-fiction series Sliders depicts a parallel universe in which LaRouche has become President of the United States.
  • “The Plan”, an episode of Six Feet Under first broadcast on 17 March 2002, deals with a seminar reminiscent of an est or Landmark Education Forum.[57]
  • The Family Guy episode “Chitty Chitty Death Bang” deals with a fictional cult that parodies elements of Heaven’s Gate and Peoples Temple.[58]
  • The Criminal Minds episode “The Tribe”, which first aired March 8, 2006, involves a fictitious cult with an affinity to the Native American people who are killing people in ritualistic ways in New Mexico and a character kidnapped from the cult who needs to be ‘deprogrammed’. The cult are led by Chad Allen who followers call ‘Grandfather’. There are similarities with the Manson Family and Manson’s idea of “Helter Skelter“.[59]
  • The Criminal Minds episode “Minimal Loss”, which first aired October 8, 2008, deals with a fictitious cult ‘the Separatarian Sect’ at ‘Liberty Ranch’ in Colorado. Two of the team are investigating reports of child abuse made against the cult leader (Benjamin Cyrus, played by Luke Perry) and are taken hostage when a federal raid on the ranch goes bad. References are made to ‘similar’ real life incidents in Ruby Ridge, the Waco Siege and the Freeman Standoff.[60]




  • The Silent Hill series heavily involves a religious cult.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has a cult called the “Mythic Dawn”. The player must join the cult in an effort to defeat it.
  • In Devil May Cry 4, there is a quasi-religious group called the Order of the Sword that worships the demon Sparda and has many cult-like tendencies.
  • In Resident Evil 4, Leon Kennedy fights against a cult of Spanish villagers possessed by parasites.
  • In Diablo II, the player is tasked to fight against a variety of religious cults: There are shamanic groups who gather around “healers” and whose adherents are called “the fallen”. Their spiritual guru is one “Colenzo”. Then there is a monastery that has turned to a form of satanistic death-worship, and an old initiatic order called the “Order of the Horadrim” whose leadership has gone mad. In the third act of the game, a cult named the “Zakarum” with priests of the ranks of “sextons”, “cantors”, and “hierophants”, is depicted. The cult followers are called the “faithful” or “zealots”, and there is also a “High Council”.
  • In EarthBound, Ness must rescue a girl with psychic powers named Paula from a cult called Happy Happyism that resembles the Ku Klux Klan and believes that everything must be painted blue. The Happy Happyists are controlling a small town named Happy Happy Village. Their leader is named Mr. Carpainter, and a statue called the Mani Mani Statue is controlling the cult’s thoughts. Eventually, Ness breaks the spell over the cultists and rescues Paula. Many of the characteristics of the cult are similar to real-world cults: Mr. Carpainter is claimed to have received a “divine revelation” that told him to create the cult, otherwise normal citizens appear to have delusions, and a woman in the town asks for donations.
  • In Dead Space the majority of the crew of the Ishimura are “unitologists” and are seen as cultists.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the player may either side with or defy the Cult of Andraste before obtaining Her Sacred Ashes from the Urn.
  • In Fallout 3 There is a cult named The Children Of The Atom, who worship an un-detonated nuclear bomb in a settlement called Megaton.
  • In Fallout 2 There is a cult named The Hubologists, a thinly veiled reference to Scientology. The practices of the cult broadly resemble some of the practices of Scientology.
  • In Grand Theft Auto games there is frequent discussion on the radio, and by pedestrians about the Epsilon Program, a religion started by the character Chris Formage, which has been called “a cult” by GTA radio personalities such as Lazlow Jones.
  • In the Warcraft Universe a number of cults exist, some worshiping ancient evils; seeking to bring them back into the world like the Twilight’s Hammer, while others like the “Cult of the Damned” seek to end all life on Azeroth, while securing their own immortality in undeath.
  • The game “Persona 3“, the human villans are the founders and leaders of a cult worshiping Nyx: the harbringer of the apocolipse
  • In the “Fatal Frame” series there are a variety of cults that do rituals and sacrifices.
  • In “killer7“, the main antagonist of the third part of the game, Andrei Ulmeyda, seems to be a cult leader, as it is said that the members of the Ulmeyda Intercity are all fanatic about Ulmeyda, his posters are all around the outskirts of the city, there is an Ulmeyda bottle cap competition you have to play to get to his company, First Life’s, building, but the main revelation comes when you find him, where you get to see a ton of cultists in jumpsuits, one of them being chosen to test a car out. After performing a mercy killing on Ulmeyda, said cultist calls him his “Messiah.”






1.       ^ The Definitional Ambiguity of “Cult” and ICSA’s Mission

2.       ^ Robert J. Lifton, 1961, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (cited by

3.       ^ Alexander, F., Rollins, R. (1984). “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Unseen Cult,” California Sociologist, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter, page 32 as cited in Ragels, L. Allen “Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Cult? An Old Question Revisited” “AA uses all the methods of brain washing, which are also the methods employed by cults … It is our contention that AA is a cult.” transcribed to the “Freedom of Mind” website and retrieved on August 23, 2006.

4.       ^ Vaillant, 2005, concluded that AA “..appears equal to or superior to conventional treatments for alcoholism,…” and “…is probably without serious side-effects.” Vaillant GE. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;39(6):431-6. PMID 15943643

5.       ^ “The use of the concept “new religious movements” in public discourse is problematic for the simple reason that it has not gained currency. Speaking bluntly from personal experience, when I use the concept “new religious movements,” the large majority of people I encounter don’t know what I’m talking about. I am invariably queried as to what I mean. And, at some point in the course of my explanation, the inquirer unfailing responds, “oh, you mean you study cults!” ” –Prof. Jeffrey K. Hadden quoted from Conceptualizing “Cult” and “Sect” (cited by

6.       ^ “…use of the term ‘cult’ by academics, the public and the mass media, from its early academic use in the sociology of religion to recent calls for the term to be abandoned by scholars of religion because it is now so overladen with negative connotations. But scholars of religion have a duty not to capitulate to popular opinion, media and governments in the arena of the ‘politics of representation’. The author argues that we should continue using the term ‘cult’ as a descriptive technical term. It has considerable educational value in the study of religions. ” –Michael York, quoted from Defending the Cult in the Politics of Representation DISKUS Vol.4 No.2 (1996) (cited by

7.       ^ Langone, Michael D. (1995). “Secular and Religious Critiques of Cults: Complementary Visions, Not Irresolvable Conflicts”. Cultic Studies Journal, Volume 12, Number 2. pp. 166–186. Retrieved 2008-10-29. “Many U.S. critics, including myself, use the term “cult” to label groups — whether religious, psychotherapeutic, political, or commercial — believed to be extremely manipulative and exploitative. Because we are concerned with groups that are not necessarily religious, we find NRM to be too restrictive a term. Furthermore, most of my colleagues distinguish between the terms new religious movement and cult by attributing the use of exploitative manipulation only to the latter, with the former being seen as unorthodox but relatively benign psychologically.”

8.       ^ Miller, Timothy (2003). “Religious Movements in the United States: An Informal Introduction”. The New Religious Movements Homepage @The University of Virginia. University of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-09-23.

9.       ^ a b Nuttall Costa, Charles Desmond, Lucian: Selected Dialogues, pp.129, Oxford University Press (2005), 0-199-25867-8

10.    ^ “Alexander the False Prophet,” translated with annotation by A.M. Harmon, Loeb Classical Library, 1936 [1]

11.    ^ Stephen A. Kent, “Narcissistic Fraud in the Ancient World: Lucian’s Account of Alexander of Abonuteichus and the Cult of Glycon,” Ancient Narrative (University of Groningen), Vol. 6.

12.    ^ Ian Freckelton, “‘Cults’ Calamities and Psychological Consequences,” Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 5(1), pp. 1-46.

13.    ^ Hume, David, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding: A Critical Edition, pp. 175, Oxford University Press (2000), ISBN 0198250606

14.    ^ Meyer, Marmin W., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, pp. 43, University of Pennsylvania Press (1999), ISBN 081221692X

15.    ^ Ferguson, Everett, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, pp. 218, (2003), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 0-802-82221-5

16.    ^ Lucian [ Available online

17.    ^ Iles Johnson, Sarah, Mysteries, in Ancient Religions pp.104-5, The Belknap Press of Harvard University (2007), ISBN 978-0-674-02548-6

18.    ^ Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907)

19.    ^ Willa Cather and Georgine Milmine, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1909), reprinted by U. of Nebraska Press, 1993

20.    ^ J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, New York: Garland Publishing, 1986, pp. 23-28

21.    ^ Caroline Fraser, God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church, Owl Books, 2000

22.    ^ Laura Miller, “The Respectable Cult,” Salon, 1 September 1999

23.    ^ Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press, 2002.

24.    ^ Renato Del Ponte, “Julius Evola and the UR Group,” preface to Introduction to Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus (anthology of writings by Evola and his associates), trans. Guido Stucco, ed. Michael Moynihan, Inner Traditions: Rochester, Vermont, 2001.

25.    ^ Heinlein, Robert A. (1953). “Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript”. Revolt in 2100. Chicago: Shasta.

26.    ^ Heinlein, Robert A. (1961). Stranger in a Strange Land. New York: Putnam.

27.    ^ Lewis, C.S. (1945). That Hideous Strength. London: The Bodley Head.

28.    ^ Lewis, C.S. (2001) [1949]. “The Inner Ring”. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-065320-5.

29.    ^ Loconte, Joseph (March 18, 2002). “What Would C.S. Lewis Say to Osama Bin Laden?”. Meridian Magazine.

30.    ^ Johnson, Phillip E. (March 2000). “C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength (1945)”. First Things 101.

31.    ^ Gault, William Campbell (1959). Sweet Wild Wench. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett.

32.    ^ Hand, Elizabeth (1995). Waking the moon. New York: HarperPrism. ISBN 0-06-105214-0.

33.    ^ Vidal, Gore (1954). Messiah. New York: Dutton.

34.    ^ Vidal, Gore (1978). Kalki. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-42053-5.

35.    ^ Palahniuk, Chuck (1999). Survivor. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04702-4.

36.    ^ “Houellebecq, prêtre honoraire du mouvement raëlien [Houellebecq, honorary priest of the Raëlien movement]” (in French). Le Nouvel Observateur. 2005-10-19. Retrieved 2009-08-03. “Le roman de Michel Houellebecq, sorti le 31 août, met en scène une secte triomphante, qui resemble fort à celle des raëliens, alors que l’auteur prédit la mort des grandes religions monothéistes. Il a choisi la secte des raëliens parce qu'”elle est adaptée aux temps modernes, à la civilisation des loisirs, elle n’impose aucune contrainte morale et, surtout, elle promet l’immortalité.” [TRANSLATION: “Michel Houellebecq’s novel, appearing on 31 August, depicts a victorious cult, strongly resembling that of the Raëlians, while the author predicts the death of the great monotheist religions. He chose the Raëlian cult because “it has adapted to modern times, to the leisure civilization. it imposes no moral constraint and, above all, it promises immortality.”]

37.    ^ “Secrets of The DaVinci Code: Opus Dei”. Retrieved 2009-08-03.

38.    ^ Colon, Alicia (April 4, 2006). “‘Da Vinci’ and Opus Dei”. The New York Sun. Retrieved 2009-08-03.

39.    ^ See “Crowley, Aleister” entry in John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.

40.    ^ “Nicholas Roerich Museum”. Retrieved 2008-12-02.

41.    ^ Marco Frenschkowski, “L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology” (annotated bibliographical survey), Marburg Journal of Religion, 4:1, July 1999.

42.    ^ “L. Ron Hubbard” entry in John Clute and Peter Nichols, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, second ed., New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993. ISBN 0312096186

43.    ^ “Gurdjieff,” in Man, Myth and Magic: Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, London: Purnell, 1970-71 [2])

44.    ^ Seymour-Smith, Martin (2001). The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: The History of Thought from Ancient Times to Today. C Trade Paper. pp. 447–452. ISBN 0806521929.

45.    ^ “Sales of Ayn Rand Books Reach 25 million Copies”. Ayn Rand Institute. April 7, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-31.

46.    ^ Michael Shermer, “The Unlikeliest Cult in History,” Skeptic, vol. 2, no. 2, 1993 [3]

47.    ^ Murray N. Rothbard, “The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult,” 1972 (Murray Rothbard Archives)[4]

48.    ^ Jeff Walker, The Ayn Rand Cult, Open Court, 1998

49.    ^ Ellen Plasil, Therapist, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985 (therapist domination of and sexual relations with patients in Randian psychotherapy movement; see favorable review of this book by Nathaniel Branden, a former top aide to Rand, at [5]

50.    ^, (republished in Siegel’s 1957 book of the same name: Siegel, Eli. Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana, New York: Definitions Press, 1957

51.    ^ William Carlos Williams, “Letter to Martha Baird,” in Breslin, J.E.B., ed., Something to Say, New York: New Directions, 1985 [6]

52.    ^ Selden Rodman, Review of “Hot Afternoons,” Saturday Review, 17 August 1957

53.    ^ Rexroth, New York Times Book Review, March 23, 1969

54.    ^ See “Blavatsky, Helena” and “Theosophy” entries in John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997

55.    ^ “Theosophy” in John Clute and John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997

56.    ^ The X-Files, “Via Negativa“, 168-807, aired December 17, 2000, 8ABX07, writer: Frank Spotnitz, dir: Tony Wharmby

57.    ^ Akass, Kim; Janet McCabe, Mark Lawson (2005). Reading Six Feet Under: TV to die for. London: I.B.Tauris. pp. 96–97. ISBN 1850438099.

58.    ^ Callaghan, Steve. “Chitty Chitty Death Bang”. Family Guy: The Official Episode Guide Seasons 1-3. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 22 – 25.

59.    ^;summary

60.    ^;summary


The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre.[1] The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices. The word was first used in the early 17th century denoting homage paid to a divinity and derived from the French culte or Latin cultus, ‘worship’, from cult-, ‘inhabited, cultivated, worshipped,’ from the verb colere, ‘care, cultivation’.

In the 1930s cults became the object of sociological study in the context of the study of religious behavior. They have been criticized by mainstream Christians for their unorthodox beliefs.In the 1970s the anticult movement arose, partly motivated by acts of violence and other crimes committed by members of some cults (notably the Manson Family and People’s Temple). Some of the claims of the anticult movement have been disputed by other scholars, leading to further controversies.

Government reaction to cults has also led to controversy. Cults have also been featured in popular culture.


Origins in sociology

The concept of “cult” was introduced into sociological classification in 1932 by American sociologist Howard P. Becker as an expansion of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch‘s church-sect typology. Troeltsch’s aim was to distinguish between three main types of religious behavior: churchly, sectarian and mystical. Becker created four categories out of Troeltsch’s first two by splitting church into “ecclesia” and “denomination“, and sect into “sect” and “cult”.[2] Like Troeltsch’s “mystical religion”, Becker’s cults were small religious groups lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs.[3] Later formulations built on these characteristics while placing an additional emphasis on cults as deviant religious groups “deriving their inspiration from outside of the predominant religious culture”.[4] This deviation is often thought to lead to a high degree of tension between the group and the more mainstream culture surrounding it, a characteristic shared with religious sects.[5] Sociologists still maintain that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism and therefore maintain a continuity with traditional beliefs and practices, “cults” arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.[6]

Popularizing the word: Anti-cult movements and their impact

In the 1940s, the long held opposition by some established Christian denominations to non-Christian religions or/and supposedly heretical, or counterfeit, pseudo-Christian sects crystallized into a more organized “Christian countercult movement” in the United States (using a doctrinal definition comparing the essential doctrines of established, Bible-based Christianity with the other groups deemed heretical). For those belonging to the movement, all religious groups claiming to be Christian, but deemed outside of Christian orthodoxy, were considered “cults”.[7] As more foreign religious traditions found their way into the United States, the religious movements they brought with them attracted even fiercer resistance. This was especially true for movements incorporating mystical or exotic new beliefs and those with charismatic, authoritarian leaders. They widened their scope to also critique (from a Bible-based, traditional Christian perspective) world religions and the occult, including the eclectic New Age Movement.

In the early 1970s, a secular opposition movement to “cult” groups had taken shape. The organizations that formed the secular “Anti-cult movement” (ACM) often acted on behalf of relatives of “cult” converts who did not believe their loved ones could have altered their lives so drastically by their own free will. A few psychologists and sociologists working in this field lent credibility to their disbelief by suggesting that “brainwashing techniques” were used to maintain the loyalty of “cult” members.[8] The belief that cults “brainwashed” their members became a unifying theme among cult critics and in the more extreme corners of the Anti-cult movement techniques like the sometimes forceful “deprogramming” of “cult members” becoming standard practice.[9]

In the meantime, a handful of high profile crimes were committed by groups identified as cults, or by the groups’ leaders. The mass suicides committed by members of the People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, and the Manson Family murders are perhaps the most prominent examples in American popular culture. The publicity of these crimes, as amplified by the Anti-cult movement, influenced the popular perception of new religious movements. In the mass media, and among average citizens, “cult” gained an increasingly negative connotation, becoming associated with things like kidnapping, brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and other criminal activity, and mass suicide. While most of these negative qualities usually have real documented precedents in the activities of a very small minority of new religious groups, mass culture often extends them to any religious group viewed as culturally deviant, however peaceful or law abiding it may be.[10][11][12]

In the late 1980s, psychologists and sociologists started to abandon theories like brainwashing and mind-control. While scholars may believe that various less dramatic coercive psychological mechanisms could influence group members, they came to see conversion to new religious movements principally as an act of a rational choice.[13][14] Most sociologists and scholars of religion also began to reject the word “cult” altogether because of its negative connotations in mass culture. Some began to advocate the use of new terms like “new religious movement”, “alternative religion” or “novel religion” to describe most of the groups that had come to be referred to as “cults”,[15] yet none of these terms have had much success in popular culture or in the media. Other scholars have pushed to redeem the word as one fit for neutral academic discourse,[16] while researchers aligned with the Anti-cult movement have attempted to reduce the negative connotations being associated with all such groups by classifying only some as “destructive cults“.

The study of cults

While most scholars no longer refer to any new religious movements as cults, some sociologists still favor retaining the word as it was used in church-sect typologies. For this value-neutral use of the word, please refer to new religious movements. Other scholars and non-academic researchers who use the word do so from explicitly critical perspectives which focus on the relationship between cult groups and the individual people who join them. These perspectives share the assumption that some form of coercive persuasion or mind control is used to recruit and maintain members by suppressing their ability to reason, think critically, and make choices in their own best interest. However, most social scientists believe that mind control theories have no scientific merit in relation to religious movements.

Mind control

Studies have identified a number of key steps in coercive persuasion:[17][18]

  1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations;
  2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized;
  3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group;
  4. They get a new identity based on the group;
  5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled.[19]

This view is disputed by scholars such as James Gene[20] and Bette Nove Evans.[21] Society for the Scientific Study of Religion[22] stated in 1990 that there was not sufficient research to permit a consensus on the matter and that “one should not automatically equate the techniques involved in the process of physical coercion and control with those of nonphysical coercion and control”.

Potential for harm

In the opinion of Benjamin Zablacki, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, groups that have been characterized as 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 as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and the demand of total commitment.[23] According to Barrett, the most common accusation made against groups referred to as cults is sexual abuse (See some allegations made by former members). According to Kranenborg, some groups are risky when they advise their members not to use regular medical care.[24]


Michael Langone, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, gives three different models for conversion. Under Langone’s deliberative model, people are said to join cults primarily because of how they view a particular group. Langone notes that this view is most favored among sociologists and religious scholars. Under the “psychodynamic model,” popular with some mental health professionals, individuals choose to join for fulfillment of subconscious psychological needs. Finally, the “thought reform model” states that people do not join because of their own psychological needs, but because of the group’s influence through forms of psychological manipulation. Langone claims that those mental health experts who have more direct experience with large numbers of cultists tend to favor this latter view.[25]

Some scholars favor one particular view, or combined elements of each. According to Marc Galanter, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU,[26] typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest. Sociologists Stark and Bainbridge, in discussing the process by which individuals join new religious groups, have even questioned the utility of the concept of conversion, suggesting that affiliation is a more useful concept.[27]

In the 1960s sociologist John Lofland lived with Unification Church missionary Young Oon Kim and a small group of American church members in California and studied their activities in trying to promote their beliefs and win new members. Lofland noted that most of their efforts were ineffective and that most of the people who joined did so because of personal relationships with other members, often family relationships.[28] Lofland published his findings in 1964 as a doctorial thesis entitled: “The World Savers: A Field Study of Cult Processes,” and in 1966 in book form by Prentice-Hall as Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization, and Maintenance of Faith. It is considered to be one of the most important and widely cited studies of the process of religious conversion.[29][30]


There are several ways people leave a cult:[31][32] Popular authors Conway and Siegelman conducted a survey and published it in the book Snapping regarding after-cult effects and deprogramming and concluded that people deprogrammed had fewer 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”.[33]

Ronald Burks, 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 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).[34]

Sociologists Bromley and Hadden note a lack of empirical support for claimed consequences of having been a member of a “cult” or “sect”, and substantial empirical evidence against it. These include the fact that the overwhelming proportion of people who get involved in NRMs leave, most short of two years; the overwhelming proportion of people who leave do so of their own volition; and that two-thirds (67%) felt “wiser for the experience.”[35]

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 uncommon, 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.[36]

The report of the “Swedish Government’s Commission on New Religious Movements” (1998) states that the great majority of members of new religious movements derive positive experiences from their subscription to ideas or doctrines which correspond to their personal needs, and that withdrawal from these movements is usually quite undramatic, as these people leave feeling enriched by a predominantly positive experience. Although the report describes that there are a small number of withdrawals that require support (100 out of 50,000+ people), the report did not recommend that any special resources be established for their rehabilitation, as these cases are very rare.[37]

Stuart A. Wright explores the distinction between the apostate narrative and the role of the apostate, asserting that the former follows a predictable pattern, in which the apostate utilizes a “captivity narrative” that emphasizes manipulation, entrapment and being victims of “sinister cult practices”. These narratives provide a rationale for a “hostage-rescue” motif, in which cults are likened to POW camps and deprogramming as heroic hostage rescue efforts. He also makes a distinction between “leavetakers” and “apostates“, asserting that despite the popular literature and lurid media accounts of stories of “rescued or recovering ‘ex-cultists'”, empirical studies of defectors from NRMs “generally indicate favorable, sympathetic or at the very least mixed responses toward their former group.”[38]

According to the anti-cult movement

Secular cult opponents like those belonging to the anti-cult movement tend to define a “cult” as a group that tends to manipulate, exploit, and control its members. Specific factors in cult behavior are said to include manipulative and authoritarian mind control over members, communal and totalistic organization, aggressive proselytizing, systematic programs of indoctrination, and perpetuation in middle-class communities.[39]

While acknowledging the issue of multiple definitions of the word,[40] Michael Langone states that: “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.”[41] A similar definition is given by Louis Jolyon West:

“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 judgment, 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.”[42]

In each, the focus tends to be on the specific tactics of conversion, the negative impact on individual members, and the difficulty in leaving once indoctrination has occurred.[43]

Criticism by former members

The role of former members, or “apostates,” has been widely studied by social scientists. At times, these individuals become outspoken public critics of the groups they leave. Their motivations, the roles they play in the anti-cult movement, the validity of their testimony, and the kinds of narratives they construct, are controversial. Some scholars like David G. Bromley, Anson Shupe, and Brian R. Wilson have challenged the validity of the testimonies presented by critical former members. Wilson discusses the use of 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.[44] The hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents.[45]

Stigmatization and discrimination

Because of the increasingly pejorative use of the words “cult” and “cult leader” since the cult debate of the 1970s, some scholars, in addition to groups referred to as cults, argue that these are words to be avoided.[46][47]

Catherine Wessinger (Loyola University New Orleans) has stated that the word “cult” represents just as much prejudice and antagonism as racial slurs or derogatory words for women and homosexuals.[48] She has argued that it is important for people to become aware of the bigotry conveyed by the word, drawing attention to the way it dehumanises the group’s members and their children.[48] Labeling a group as subhuman, she says, becomes a justification for violence against it.[48] At the same time, she adds, labeling a group a “cult” makes people feel safe, because the “violence associated with religion is split off from conventional religions, projected onto others, and imagined to involve only aberrant groups.”[48] This fails to take into account that child abuse, sexual abuse, financial extortion and warfare have also been committed by believers of mainstream religions, but the pejorative “cult” stereotype makes it easier to avoid confronting this uncomfortable fact.[48]

The concept of “cult” as an epithet was legally tested in the United Kingdom when a protester refused to put down a sign that read, “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult”, citing a 1984 high court judgment describing the organization as a cult. The London police issued a summons to the protester for violating the Public Order Act by displaying a “threatening, abusive or insulting” sign. The Crown Prosecution Service ruled that the word “cult” on a sign, “…is not abusive or insulting and there is no offensiveness, as opposed to criticism, neither in the idea expressed nor in the mode of expression.” There was no action taken against the protester, and police would allow future such demonstrations.[49] In Scotland, an official of the Edinburgh City Council told inquiring regular protesters, “I understand that some of the signs you use may display the word ‘cult’ and there is no objection to this.”[50]

Sociologist Amy Ryan has argued for the need to differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign.[51] Ryan notes the sharp differences between definition from cult opponents, who tend to focus on negative characteristics, and those of sociologists, who aim to create definitions that are value-free. The movements themselves may have different definitions of religion as well. George Chryssides also cites a need to develop better definitions to allow for common ground in the debate.

These definitions have political and ethical impact beyond just scholarly debate. In Defining Religion in American Law, 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.”[52]

Some authors in the cult opposition dislike the word cult to the extent it implies that there is a continuum with a large gray area separating “cult” from “noncult” which they do not see.[52] Others authors, e.g. Steven Hassan, differentiate by using words and terms like “Destructive cult,” or “Cult” (totalitarian type) vs. “benign cult.”

Doomsday cults

An additional commonly used subcategory of cult movements are the doomsday cults, characterized by the central role played by eschatology in these groups’ belief systems. Although most religions adhere to some beliefs about the eventual end of the world as we know it, in doomsday cults, these tend to take the form of concrete prophesies and predictions of specific catastrophic events being imminent, or in some cases, even expected to occur on a particular calendar date. This category of religious movements includes some well-known cases of extremely destructive behavior by adherents in anticipation of the end of times, such as the mass suicide by members of the Peoples Temple in 1978, the Branch Davidians in 1993 and the Heaven’s Gate in 1997, although many examples are known of doomsday cults that do not become nearly as destructive. This latter class of doomsday cults are of theoretical interest to the scholarly study of cults, because of the often paradoxical response of adherents to the failure of doomsday prophesies to be confirmed. Social psychologist Leon Festinger and his collaborators performed a detailed case study of one such group in 1954, subsequently documented in “When Prophecy Fails“. The members of a small, obscure UFO cult in question were very quick to amend their world-view so as to rationalize the unexpected outcome without losing their conviction about the validity of the underlying belief system, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. The authors explained this phenomenon within the framework of the cognitive dissonance theory, which states that people are in general motivated to adjust their beliefs so as to be consistent with their behavior, in order to avoid the painful experience of a dissonance between the two. On this account, the more committed one is at the behavioral level to their beliefs being true, the more driven one is to reduce the tension created by dis-confirming evidence. An important implication of this theory is that common, universal psychological factors contribute to the persistence of what otherwise appear to be bizarre and even absurd sets of beliefs.

Relation to governments

The difference between the negative and the neutral definition of the word cult has also had political implications. In the 1970s, the scientific status of the “brainwashing theory” became a central topic in U.S. court cases where the theory was instrumental in justifying the use of the forceful “deprogramming” of cult members.[53][54] Meanwhile, sociologists critical of these theories assisted advocates of religious freedom in defending the legitimacy of new religious movements in court. While the official response to new religious groups has been mixed across the globe, some governments aligned more with the critics of these groups to the extent of distinguishing between “legitimate” religion and “dangerous”, “unwanted” cults in public policy.[8][55] France and Belgium have taken policy positions which accept “brainwashing” theories uncritically, while other European nations, like Sweden and Italy, are cautious about brainwashing and have adopted more neutral responses to new religions.[56] Scholars have suggested that outrage following the mass murder/suicides perpetuated by the Solar Temple[8][57] as well as the more latent xenophobic and anti-American attitudes have contributed significantly to the extremity of European anti-cult positions.[58]

Since 1949, the People’s Republic of China has been classifying dissenting groups as xiéjiào(邪教.)[59] In the Chinese language, the word xiéjiào translates to “Evil Religion” [邪 (xié) = Evil 教 (jiào)= Religion]. The word xiéjiào as a whole is used to describe what is known in the Western world as a cult.[60] In recent years, the Chinese government has allied with Western anti-cult scholars in order to lend legitimacy to its crackdown on practitioners of Falun Gong. In 2009, Rabbi Binyamin Kluger and Raphael Aron, director of the Cult Counseling Australia, spoke at a four-day conference in southern China on cult-fighting strategies.[61] Aron is a Lubavitch Jew, a group which might be considered a cult in that its members believe their former rabbi to be the Messiah.[62]

Sociologists critical to this negative politicized use of the word “cult” argue that it may adversely impact the religious freedoms of group members.[54][63][64][65]

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 groups they deem 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 the fundamental liberties, inordinate emphasis on finances, and/or disregard for appropriate medical care.[66]

The application of the labels “cult” or “sect” to religious movements in government documents signifies the popular and negative use of the term “cult” in English and a functionally similar use of words translated as “sect” in several European languages.[67][68] While these documents utilize similar terminology they do not necessarily include the same groups nor is their assessment of these groups based on agreed criteria.[67][68] Other governments and world bodies also report on new religious movements but do not use these terms to describe the groups.[67] (see: List of groups referred to as cults or sects in government documents)

In literature and popular culture

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


1.       ^ OED, citing American Journal of Sociology 85 (1980), p. 1377: “Cults[…], like other deviant social movements, tend to recruit people with a grievance, people who suffer from a some variety of deprivation.”

2.       ^ Swatos Jr., William H. (1998). “Church-Sect Theory”. In William H. Swatos Jr. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. pp. 90–93. ISBN 978-0761989561.

3.       ^ Campbell., Colin (1998). “Cult”. In William H. Swatos Jr. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0761989561.

4.       ^ Richardson, 1993 p. 349

5.       ^ Stark and Bainbridge, 1987 p. 25

6.       ^ Stark and Bainbridge, 1987 p. 124

7.       ^ Cowan, 2003

8.       ^ a b c Richardson and Introvigne, 2001

9.       ^ Shupe, Anson (1998). “Anti-Cult Movement”. In William H. Swatos Jr. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. p. 27. ISBN 978-0761989561.

10.    ^ Hill, Harvey, John Hickman and Joel McLendon (2001). “Cults and Sects and Doomsday Groups, Oh My: Media Treatment of Religion on the Eve of the Millennium”. Review of Religious Research 43 (1): 24–38. doi:10.2307/3512241. JSTOR 3512241.

11.    ^ van Driel, Barend and J. Richardson (1988). “Cult versus sect: Categorization of new religions in American print media”. Sociological Analysis 49 (2): 171–183. doi:10.2307/3711011. JSTOR 3711011.

12.    ^ Richardson, James T. (1993). “Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative”. Review of Religious Research (Religious Research Association, Inc.) 34 (4): 348–356. doi:10.2307/3511972. JSTOR 3511972.

13.    ^ Ayella, Marybeth (1990). “They Must Be Crazy: Some of the Difficluties in Researching ‘Cults'”. American Behavioral Scientist 33 (5): 562–577. doi:10.1177/0002764290033005005.

14.    ^ Cowan, 2003 ix

15.    ^ Goldman, Marion (2006). “Review Essay: Cults, New Religions, and the Spiritual Landscape: A Review of Four Collections”. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 45 (1): 87–96. doi:10.1111/j.1468-5906.2006.00007.x.

16.    ^ Bainbridge, William Sims (1997). The Sociology of Religious Movements. New York: Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 0415912024.

17.    ^ Galanter, 1989; Mithers, 1994; Ofshe & Watters, 1994; Singer, Temerlin, & Langone, 1990; Zimbardo & leipper, 1991

18.    ^ Cordón, Popular Psychology 46–47

19.    ^ Psychology 101, Carole Wade et al., 2005

20.    ^ Gene G. James, Brainwashing: The Myth and the Actuality Fordham University Quarterly, Volume LXI, June 1986

21.    ^ Novit Evas, Bette Interpreting the Free Exercise of Religion: The Constitution and American Pluralism, () pp. 91–3, UNC Press, ISBN 0-8078-4674-0

22.    ^ Council meeting on 7 November 1990 (Online)

23.    ^ Dr. Zablocki, Benjamin [1] Paper presented to a conference, Cults: Theory and Treatment Issues, 31 May 1997 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

24.    ^ 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

25.    ^ Langone, Michael, “Clinical Update on Cults”, Psychiatric Times July 1996 Vol. XIII Issue 7 [2]

26.    ^ Galanter, Marc (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

27.    ^ 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)

28.    ^ Conversion, Unification Church, Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary

29.    ^ Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America: African diaspora traditions and other American innovations, Volume 5 of Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, W. Michael Ashcraft, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 ISBN 0275987175, 9780275987176, page 180

30.    ^ Exploring New Religions, Issues in contemporary religion, George D. Chryssides, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001 ISBN 0826459595, 9780826459596 page 1

31.    ^ 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

32.    ^ Giambalvo, Carol, Post-cult problems

33.    ^ BBC News 20 May 2000: Sect leavers have mental problems

34.    ^ Burks, Ronald, Cognitive Impairment in Thought Reform Environments

35.    ^ Hadden, J and Bromley, D eds. (1993), The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., pp. 75–97.

36.    ^ 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)

37.    ^ Report of the Swedish Government’s Commission on New Religious Movements (1998), 1.6 The need for support (Swedish),English translation
The great majority of members of the new religious movements derive positive experience from their membership. They have subscribed to an idea or doctrine which corresponds to their personal needs. Membership is of limited duration in most cases. After two years, the majority have left the movement. This withdrawal is usually quite undramatic, and the people withdrawing feel enriched by a predominantly positive experience. The Commission does not recommend that special resources be established for the rehabilitation of withdraws. The cases are too few in number and the problem picture too manifold for this: each individual can be expected to need help from several different care providers or facilitators.

38.    ^ Wright, Stuart, A., Exploring Factors that Shatpe the Apostate Role, in Bromley, David G., The Politics of Religious Apostasy, pp. 95–114, Praeger Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-275-95508-7

39.    ^ T. Robbins and D. Anthony (1982:283, quoted in Richardson 1993:351) (“…certain manipulative and authoritarian groups which allegedly employ mind control and pose a threat to mental health are universally labeled cults. These groups are usually 1) authoritarian in their leadership; 2)communal and totalistic in their organization; 3) aggressive in their proselytizing; 4) systematic in their programs of indoctrination; 5)relatively new and unfamiliar in the United States; 6)middle class in their clientele”)

40.    ^ The Definitional Ambiguity of “Cult” and ICSA’s Mission

41.    ^ 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.

42.    ^ West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1985). Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, 9–11 September. Weston, MA: American Family Foundation.

43.    ^ A discussion and list of ACM (anti-cult movement) groups can be found at

44.    ^ Wilson, Bryan R. Apostates and New Religious Movements, Oxford, England, 1994

45.    ^ Melton, Gordon J., Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory, 1999

46.    ^ Pilgrims of Love: The Anthropology of a Global Sufi Cult. By Pnina Werbner. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. xvi, 348 pp “…the excessive use of “cult” is also potentially misleading. With its pejorative connotations”

47.    ^ Definitions of Cult: From Sociological-Technical to Popular-Negative, James T. Richardson, Review of Religious Research, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Jun. 1993), pp. 348–356 “the word cult is useless, and should be avoided because of the confusion between the historic meaning of the word and current pejorative use”

48.    ^ a b c d e Wessinger, Catherine Lowman (2000). How the Millennium Comes Violently. New York, NY/London, UK: Seven Bridges Press. p. 4. ISBN 1889119245.

49.    ^ Schoolboy avoids prosecution for branding Scientology a ‘cult’ Daily Mail, 23 May 2008

50.    ^ Protesters celebrate city’s ‘cult’ stance – Edinburgh Evening News, 27 May 2008

51.    ^ Amy Ryan: New Religions and the Anti-Cult Movement: Online Resource Guide in Social Sciences (2000) [3]

52.    ^ a b Casino. Bruce J., Defining Religion in American Law, 1999

53.    ^ Lewis, 2004

54.    ^ a b Davis, Dena S. 1996 “Joining a Cult: Religious Choice or Psychological Aberration” Journal of Law and Health.

55.    ^ Edelman, Bryan and Richardson, James T. (2003). “Falun Gong and the Law: Development of Legal Social Control in China”. Nova Religio 6 (2): 312–331. doi:10.1525/nr.2003.6.2.312.

56.    ^ Richardson and Introvigne, 2001 pp. 144–146

57.    ^ Robbins, Thomas (2002). “Combating ‘Cults’ and ‘Brainwashing’ in the United States and Europe: A Comment on Richardson and Introvigne’s Report”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (2): 169–76. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00047.

58.    ^ Beckford, James A. (1998). “‘Cult’ Controversies in Three European Countries”. Journal of Oriental Studies 8: 174–84.

59.    ^ Irons, Edward (2003). “Falun Gong and the Sectarian Religion Paradigm”. Nova Religio 6 (2): 244–62. doi:10.1525/nr.2003.6.2.244.

60.    ^ Google Translate

61.    ^

62.    ^ Yardley, Jim (29 June 1998). “Messiah Fervor for Late Rabbi Divides Many Lubavitchers”. The New York Times.

63.    ^ Richardson, 1993

64.    ^ Barker, Eileen (2002). “Watching for Violence: A comparative Analysis of the Roles of Five Types of Cult-watching Groups”. In David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton (Eds.). Cults, Religion and Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052166898.

65.    ^ T. Jeremy Gunn, The Complexity of Religion and the Definition of “Religion” in International Law

66.    ^ Kent, Stephen A. Brainwashing in Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), 1997 [4]

67.    ^ a b c Richardson, James T. and Introvigne, Massimo (2001). “‘Brainwashing’ Theories in European Parliamentary and Administrative Reports on ‘Cults’ and ‘Sects'”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (2): 143–168. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00046.

68.    ^ a b Robbins, Thomas (2002). “Combating ‘Cults’ and ‘Brainwashing’ in the United States and Europe: A Comment on Richardson and Introvigne’s Report”. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40 (2): 169–76. doi:10.1111/0021-8294.00047.


Apostasy (əˈpɒstəsi/; Greek: ἀποστασία (apostasia), ‘a defection or revolt’, from ἀπό, apo, ‘away, apart’, στάσις, stasis, ‘stand, ‘standing’) is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy (or who apostatises) is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday use. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation. Continue reading “Apostasy”

Anti-cult Movement

The anti-cult movement (abbreviated ACM and sometimes called the countercult movement) is a term used by academics and others to refer to groups and individuals who oppose cults and new religious movements. Sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe initially defined the ACM in 1981 as a collection of groups embracing brainwashing-theory,[1] but later observed a significant shift in ideology towards a “medicalization” of the memberships of new religious movements (NRMs).[2]

Continue reading “Anti-cult Movement”