Cult
Overview
This article gives a general cultural account of "cult". For its usage in the original sense of "veneration" or "religious practice", see Cult (religious practice)
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

. For its use in a scientific, sociological context see New religious movement
New religious movement
A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

. For other uses, see Cult (disambiguation)
Cult (disambiguation)
A cult references a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange.Cult may also refer to:* Cult , the original usage, referring to the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impietyCult also commonly refers to highly devoted...

.


The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices.
Quotations

It is both disquieting and even embarrassing that scholars supposedly studying the same phenomenona could have such strong differences of opinion.

James T. Richardson, Ph.D., J.D., University of Nevada professor of sociology, "The Psychology of Induction: A Review and Interpretation"; Cults and New Religious Movements (1989), Marc Galanter, ed., American Psychiatric Association

We conclude . . . that the vast bulk of scientific findings — whatever clinical, field observation or survey methodologies used — never supported the ACM [anti-cult movement] perspective that most "cult" members were duped or psychologically shanghaied into membership, coercively maintained in subservience as slaves or impaired in any meaningful way through their membership.

Shupe, Bromley and Oliver, The Anti-Cult Movement in America

Cult leaders succeed in dominating their followers because they have mastered the cruel art of exploiting universal human dependency and attachment needs in others.

"Traumatic abuse in cults" by Daniel Shaw|Daniel Shaw, ex-member of Siddha Yoga|Siddha Yoga, founded by Swami Muktananda|Swami Muktananda

We often seem most comfortable with people whose religions consist of nothing but a few private sessions of worship and prayer, but who are too secularized to let their faiths influence the rest of the week. This attitude exerts pressure to treat religion as a hobby.

Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion

If Jones' People's Temple wasn't a cult, then the term has no meaning.

Scott McLemee, "Rethinking Jonestown"

I have been a victim of it, despite my rigorous scientific and philosophical training and reams of critical writings. I have published about the methodological failings of various sciences and others systems of thought. So come on, you are not alone.

Robert Priddy|Robert Priddy, ex-follower of Sathya Sai Baba

Encyclopedia
This article gives a general cultural account of "cult". For its usage in the original sense of "veneration" or "religious practice", see Cult (religious practice)
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

. For its use in a scientific, sociological context see New religious movement
New religious movement
A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

. For other uses, see Cult (disambiguation)
Cult (disambiguation)
A cult references a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange.Cult may also refer to:* Cult , the original usage, referring to the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impietyCult also commonly refers to highly devoted...

.


The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. 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
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 cultus, ‘worship’, from cult-, ‘inhabited, cultivated, worshipped,’ from the verb colere, 'care, cultivation'.

Origins in sociology

The concept of "cult" was introduced into sociological
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 classification in 1932 by American sociologist Howard P. Becker
Howard P. Becker
Howard Paul Becker was for many years professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.-Biography:...

 as an expansion of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch was a German Protestant theologian and writer on philosophy of religion and philosophy of history, and an influential figure in German thought before 1914...

's church-sect typology. Troeltsch's aim was to distinguish between three main types of religious behavior: churchly, sectarian
Sectarianism
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.The ideological...

 and mystical
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

. Becker created four categories out of Troeltsch's first two by splitting church into "ecclesia
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

" and "denomination
Religious denomination
A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.The term describes various Christian denominations...

", and sect into "sect
Sect
A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and...

" and "cult". Like Troeltsch's "mystical religion", Becker's cults were small religious groups lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs. 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". 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. Sociologists still maintain that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 and therefore maintain a continuity with tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

al beliefs and practices, "cults" arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

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
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 Christian sects crystallized into a more organized "Christian countercult movement
Christian countercult movement
The Christian countercult movement is a social movement of Christian ministries and individual Christian countercult activists who oppose religious sects thought to either partially abide or do not at all abide by the teachings that are written within the Bible. These religious sects are also known...

" in the United States. For those belonging to the movement, all new religious groups deemed outside of Christian orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 were considered "cults". 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
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 or exotic new beliefs and those with charisma
Charisma
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

tic, authoritarian leaders.

In the early 1970s, a secular opposition movement to "cult" groups had taken shape. The organizations that formed the secular "Anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

" (ACM) often acted on behalf of relatives of "cult" converts
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 who did not believe their loved ones could have altered their lives so drastically by their own free will. A few psychologist
Psychologist
Psychologist is a professional or academic title used by individuals who are either:* Clinical professionals who work with patients in a variety of therapeutic contexts .* Scientists conducting psychological research or teaching psychology in a college...

s 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. 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
Deprogramming
Deprogramming refers to actions that attempt to force a person to abandon allegiance to a religious, political, economic, or social group. Methods and practices may involve kidnapping and coercion...

" of "cult members" becoming standard practice.

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
Jonestown
Jonestown was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, an intentional community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones. It became internationally notorious when, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby...

, Guyana, and the Manson Family murders are perhaps the most prominent examples in American popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

. 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
Kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

, brainwashing, psychological abuse
Psychological abuse
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder...

, sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 and other criminal activity
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, and mass suicide
Mass suicide
- Examples :Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious or cultic settings. Defeated groups may resort to mass suicide rather than being captured. Suicide pacts are a form of mass suicide unconnected to cults or war that are sometimes planned or carried out by small groups of frustrated people...

. 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.

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
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

 psychological mechanisms could influence group members, they came to see conversion to new religious movements principally as an act of a rational choice. 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", 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, 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 political implications of definition

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. 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
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

. 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. Scholars have suggested that outrage following the mass murder/suicides perpetuated by the Solar Temple
Order of the Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple also known as Ordre du Temple Solaire in French, and the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition or simply as The Solar Temple was a secret society based upon the modern myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar...

 as well as the more latent xenophobic and anti-American attitudes have contributed significantly to the extremity of European anti-cult positions.

Since 1949, the People's Republic of China has been classifying dissenting groups as xiéjiào(邪教.) In the Chinese language, the word xiéjiào translates to "Evil Education" [邪 (xié) = Evil 教 (jiào)= Education]. The word xiéjiào as a whole is used to describe what is known in the Western world as a cult. 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
Falun Gong
Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline first introduced in China in 1992 by its founder, Li Hongzhi, through public lectures. It combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with the moral philosophy...

. 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. Aron is a Lubavitch Jew
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

, a group which might be considered a cult in that its members believe their former rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 to be the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

.

Sociologists critical to this negative politicized use of the word "cult" argue that it may adversely impact the religious freedoms of group members.

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
Typology (theology)
Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments...

. 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 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 performed by those who believe that some religious groups do practice mind control have identified a number of key steps in coercive persuasion:
  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.


This view is disputed by scholars such as James Gene and Bette Nove Evans. Society for the Scientific Study of Religion 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 Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

, 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
Charismatic authority
The sociologist Max Weber defined charismatic authority as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him." Charismatic authority is one of three forms of authority laid out...

 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. According to Barrett, the most common accusation made against groups referred to as cults is sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 (See some allegations made by former members). According to Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg was an editor of the magazine Religious Movement in the Netherlands published by the institute of religious studies of the Free University in Amsterdam....

, some groups are risky when they advise their members not to use regular medical care.

Joining

Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association
International Cultic Studies Association
The International Cultic Studies Association , formerly the American Family Foundation, describes itself as an "interdisciplinary network of academicians, professionals, former group members, and families who study and educate the public about social-psychological influence and control,...

, 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

. Langone claims that those mental health experts who have more direct experience with large numbers of cultists tend to favor this latter view.

Some scholars favor one particular view, or combined elements of each. According to Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter is the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School and LSE Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He teaches South Asian Law, Law and Social Science, Legal Profession, Religion and...

, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU, typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest. Sociologists Stark
Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion. He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the U.S. Army and worked as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies at The University of California, Berkeley...

 and Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

, 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.

Leaving

There are several ways people leave a cult: 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
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 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".

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).

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."

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.

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 doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

s 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.

Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright is Professor of Sociology and Director of Research in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Lamar University with primary research interests in religious and political movements, sectarian conflict, violence and terrorism...

 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
Captivity narrative
Captivity narratives are stories of people captured by "uncivilized" enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life. Barbary captivity narratives, stories of Englishmen captured by Barbary pirates, were popular...

" 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
Apostasy
Apostasy , '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 is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

", 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."

According to the anti-cult movement

Secular cult opponents like those belonging to the anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 over members, communal and totalistic organization, aggressive proselytizing, systematic programs of indoctrination, and perpetuation in middle-class communities.

While acknowledging the issue of multiple definitions of the word, Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders." A similar definition is given by Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West was an American psychiatrist, human rights activist and expert on brainwashing, mind control, torture, substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and violence....

:
"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."


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
Indoctrination
Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology . It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned...

 has occurred.

Criticism by former members

See also: Apostasy: Other religious movements and Anti-cult movement: 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
David G. Bromley
David G. Bromley is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He has written extensively about "cults", new religious movements, apostasy, and the anti-cult movement.- Education and career :Bromley received his...

, Anson Shupe
Anson Shupe
Anson D. Shupe is an American sociologist noted for his studies of religious groups and their countermovements, family violence and clergy misconduct.-Work:...

, and Brian R. Wilson have challenged the validity of the testimonies presented by critical former members. Wilson discusses the use of the atrocity story
Atrocity story
The term atrocity story as defined by the American sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe refers to the symbolic presentation of action or events in such a context that they are made flagrantly to violate the shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should be...

 that is rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

, or deceit
Deception
Deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, bad faith, and subterfuge are acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth . Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand. It can employ distraction, camouflage or concealment...

, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. The hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Bromley and Shupe similarly discuss "captivity narratives" that depict the time in the group as involuntary and point out that the apostate is likely to present a caricature
Caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

 of his former group. Introvigne found in his study of the New Acropolis
New Acropolis
New Acropolis , New Acropolis (NA), New Acropolis (NA), (official name - Asociación Cultural Nueva Acrópolis. is a worldwide non-profit organisation founded in 1957 by Jorge Angel Livraga Rizzi (died 1991)...

 in France, that public negative testimonies and attitudes were only voiced by a minority of the ex-members, who he describes as becoming "professional enemies" of the group they leave. Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

 performed an empirical study that concludes that the reliability of former members was equal to that of those who stayed in one particular group.

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.

Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger is a professor of religious studies at Loyola University New Orleans with a main research focus on millennialism, new religions, women and religion and religions of India...

 (Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans is a private, co-educational and Jesuit university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Originally established as Loyola College in 1904, the institution was chartered as a university in 1912. It bears the name of the Jesuit patron, Saint Ignatius of Loyola...

) has stated that the word "cult" represents just as much prejudice and antagonism as racial slurs or derogatory words for women and homosexuals. 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. Labeling a group as subhuman, she says, becomes a justification for violence against it. 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." 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.

The concept of "cult" as an epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 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. 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."

Sociologist Amy Ryan has argued for the need to differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign. 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."

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. Others authors, e.g. Steven Hassan
Steven Hassan
Steven Alan Hassan is a licensed mental health counselor and an exit counselor. Hassan was an early advocate of exit counseling, and is the author of two books on the subject of "cults", and what he describes as their use of mind control, thought reform, and the psychology of influence in order...

, differentiate by using words and terms like "Destructive cult
Destructive cult
A destructive cult is a religion or other group which has caused or has a high probability of causing harm to its own members or to others. Some researchers define "harm" in this case with a narrow focus, specifically groups which have deliberately physically injured or killed other individuals,...

," or "Cult" (totalitarian type) vs. "benign cult."

An additional commonly used subcategory of cult movements are the doomsday cults, characterized by the central role played by eschatology
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

 in these groups' belief systems. Although most religious movements 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
Peoples Temple
Peoples Temple was a religious organization founded in 1955 by Jim Jones that, by the mid-1970s, included over a dozen locations in California including its headquarters in San Francisco...

 in 1978, the Branch Davidians in 1993 and the
Heaven's Gate
Heaven's Gate (religious group)
Heaven's Gate was an American UFO religion based in San Diego, California, founded and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles...

 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
When Prophecy Fails
When Prophecy Fails is a 1956 classic book in social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter about a UFO religion that believes the end of the world is at hand.- Cognitive dissonance :...

". 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
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 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 set of beliefs.

Relation to governments

In many countries, there exists a separation of church and state
Separation of church and state
The concept of the separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state....

 and freedom of religion
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

. 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
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

, violations of the fundamental liberties, inordinate emphasis on finances, and/or disregard for appropriate medical care.

In literature and popular culture

Cults have been a subject or theme in literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 and popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 since ancient times. There were many references to it in the 20th century.

See also

This article gives a general cultural account of "cult". For its usage in the original sense of "veneration" or "religious practice", see Cult (religious practice)
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

. For its use in a scientific, sociological context see New religious movement
New religious movement
A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

. For other uses, see Cult (disambiguation)
Cult (disambiguation)
A cult references a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange.Cult may also refer to:* Cult , the original usage, referring to the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impietyCult also commonly refers to highly devoted...

.


The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. 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
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 cultus, ‘worship’, from cult-, ‘inhabited, cultivated, worshipped,’ from the verb colere, 'care, cultivation'.

Origins in sociology

The concept of "cult" was introduced into sociological
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 classification in 1932 by American sociologist Howard P. Becker
Howard P. Becker
Howard Paul Becker was for many years professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.-Biography:...

 as an expansion of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch was a German Protestant theologian and writer on philosophy of religion and philosophy of history, and an influential figure in German thought before 1914...

's church-sect typology. Troeltsch's aim was to distinguish between three main types of religious behavior: churchly, sectarian
Sectarianism
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.The ideological...

 and mystical
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

. Becker created four categories out of Troeltsch's first two by splitting church into "ecclesia
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

" and "denomination
Religious denomination
A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.The term describes various Christian denominations...

", and sect into "sect
Sect
A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and...

" and "cult". Like Troeltsch's "mystical religion", Becker's cults were small religious groups lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs. 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". 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. Sociologists still maintain that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 and therefore maintain a continuity with tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

al beliefs and practices, "cults" arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

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
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 Christian sects crystallized into a more organized "Christian countercult movement
Christian countercult movement
The Christian countercult movement is a social movement of Christian ministries and individual Christian countercult activists who oppose religious sects thought to either partially abide or do not at all abide by the teachings that are written within the Bible. These religious sects are also known...

" in the United States. For those belonging to the movement, all new religious groups deemed outside of Christian orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 were considered "cults". 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
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 or exotic new beliefs and those with charisma
Charisma
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

tic, authoritarian leaders.

In the early 1970s, a secular opposition movement to "cult" groups had taken shape. The organizations that formed the secular "Anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

" (ACM) often acted on behalf of relatives of "cult" converts
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 who did not believe their loved ones could have altered their lives so drastically by their own free will. A few psychologist
Psychologist
Psychologist is a professional or academic title used by individuals who are either:* Clinical professionals who work with patients in a variety of therapeutic contexts .* Scientists conducting psychological research or teaching psychology in a college...

s 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. 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
Deprogramming
Deprogramming refers to actions that attempt to force a person to abandon allegiance to a religious, political, economic, or social group. Methods and practices may involve kidnapping and coercion...

" of "cult members" becoming standard practice.

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
Jonestown
Jonestown was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, an intentional community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones. It became internationally notorious when, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby...

, Guyana, and the Manson Family murders are perhaps the most prominent examples in American popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

. 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
Kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

, brainwashing, psychological abuse
Psychological abuse
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder...

, sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 and other criminal activity
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, and mass suicide
Mass suicide
- Examples :Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious or cultic settings. Defeated groups may resort to mass suicide rather than being captured. Suicide pacts are a form of mass suicide unconnected to cults or war that are sometimes planned or carried out by small groups of frustrated people...

. 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.

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
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

 psychological mechanisms could influence group members, they came to see conversion to new religious movements principally as an act of a rational choice. 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", 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, 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 political implications of definition

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. 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
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

. 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. Scholars have suggested that outrage following the mass murder/suicides perpetuated by the Solar Temple
Order of the Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple also known as Ordre du Temple Solaire in French, and the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition or simply as The Solar Temple was a secret society based upon the modern myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar...

 as well as the more latent xenophobic and anti-American attitudes have contributed significantly to the extremity of European anti-cult positions.

Since 1949, the People's Republic of China has been classifying dissenting groups as xiéjiào(邪教.) In the Chinese language, the word xiéjiào translates to "Evil Education" [邪 (xié) = Evil 教 (jiào)= Education]. The word xiéjiào as a whole is used to describe what is known in the Western world as a cult. 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
Falun Gong
Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline first introduced in China in 1992 by its founder, Li Hongzhi, through public lectures. It combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with the moral philosophy...

. 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. Aron is a Lubavitch Jew
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

, a group which might be considered a cult in that its members believe their former rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 to be the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

.

Sociologists critical to this negative politicized use of the word "cult" argue that it may adversely impact the religious freedoms of group members.

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
Typology (theology)
Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments...

. 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 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 performed by those who believe that some religious groups do practice mind control have identified a number of key steps in coercive persuasion:
  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.


This view is disputed by scholars such as James Gene and Bette Nove Evans. Society for the Scientific Study of Religion 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 Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

, 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
Charismatic authority
The sociologist Max Weber defined charismatic authority as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him." Charismatic authority is one of three forms of authority laid out...

 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. According to Barrett, the most common accusation made against groups referred to as cults is sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 (See some allegations made by former members). According to Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg was an editor of the magazine Religious Movement in the Netherlands published by the institute of religious studies of the Free University in Amsterdam....

, some groups are risky when they advise their members not to use regular medical care.

Joining

Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association
International Cultic Studies Association
The International Cultic Studies Association , formerly the American Family Foundation, describes itself as an "interdisciplinary network of academicians, professionals, former group members, and families who study and educate the public about social-psychological influence and control,...

, 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

. Langone claims that those mental health experts who have more direct experience with large numbers of cultists tend to favor this latter view.

Some scholars favor one particular view, or combined elements of each. According to Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter is the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School and LSE Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He teaches South Asian Law, Law and Social Science, Legal Profession, Religion and...

, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU, typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest. Sociologists Stark
Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion. He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the U.S. Army and worked as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies at The University of California, Berkeley...

 and Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

, 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.

Leaving

There are several ways people leave a cult: 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
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 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".

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).

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."

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.

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 doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

s 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.

Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright is Professor of Sociology and Director of Research in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Lamar University with primary research interests in religious and political movements, sectarian conflict, violence and terrorism...

 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
Captivity narrative
Captivity narratives are stories of people captured by "uncivilized" enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life. Barbary captivity narratives, stories of Englishmen captured by Barbary pirates, were popular...

" 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
Apostasy
Apostasy , '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 is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

", 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."

According to the anti-cult movement

Secular cult opponents like those belonging to the anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 over members, communal and totalistic organization, aggressive proselytizing, systematic programs of indoctrination, and perpetuation in middle-class communities.

While acknowledging the issue of multiple definitions of the word, Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders." A similar definition is given by Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West was an American psychiatrist, human rights activist and expert on brainwashing, mind control, torture, substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and violence....

:
"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."


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
Indoctrination
Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology . It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned...

 has occurred.

Criticism by former members

See also: Apostasy: Other religious movements and Anti-cult movement: 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
David G. Bromley
David G. Bromley is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He has written extensively about "cults", new religious movements, apostasy, and the anti-cult movement.- Education and career :Bromley received his...

, Anson Shupe
Anson Shupe
Anson D. Shupe is an American sociologist noted for his studies of religious groups and their countermovements, family violence and clergy misconduct.-Work:...

, and Brian R. Wilson have challenged the validity of the testimonies presented by critical former members. Wilson discusses the use of the atrocity story
Atrocity story
The term atrocity story as defined by the American sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe refers to the symbolic presentation of action or events in such a context that they are made flagrantly to violate the shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should be...

 that is rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

, or deceit
Deception
Deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, bad faith, and subterfuge are acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth . Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand. It can employ distraction, camouflage or concealment...

, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. The hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Bromley and Shupe similarly discuss "captivity narratives" that depict the time in the group as involuntary and point out that the apostate is likely to present a caricature
Caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

 of his former group. Introvigne found in his study of the New Acropolis
New Acropolis
New Acropolis , New Acropolis (NA), New Acropolis (NA), (official name - Asociación Cultural Nueva Acrópolis. is a worldwide non-profit organisation founded in 1957 by Jorge Angel Livraga Rizzi (died 1991)...

 in France, that public negative testimonies and attitudes were only voiced by a minority of the ex-members, who he describes as becoming "professional enemies" of the group they leave. Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

 performed an empirical study that concludes that the reliability of former members was equal to that of those who stayed in one particular group.

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.

Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger is a professor of religious studies at Loyola University New Orleans with a main research focus on millennialism, new religions, women and religion and religions of India...

 (Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans is a private, co-educational and Jesuit university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Originally established as Loyola College in 1904, the institution was chartered as a university in 1912. It bears the name of the Jesuit patron, Saint Ignatius of Loyola...

) has stated that the word "cult" represents just as much prejudice and antagonism as racial slurs or derogatory words for women and homosexuals. 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. Labeling a group as subhuman, she says, becomes a justification for violence against it. 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." 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.

The concept of "cult" as an epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 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. 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."

Sociologist Amy Ryan has argued for the need to differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign. 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."

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. Others authors, e.g. Steven Hassan
Steven Hassan
Steven Alan Hassan is a licensed mental health counselor and an exit counselor. Hassan was an early advocate of exit counseling, and is the author of two books on the subject of "cults", and what he describes as their use of mind control, thought reform, and the psychology of influence in order...

, differentiate by using words and terms like "Destructive cult
Destructive cult
A destructive cult is a religion or other group which has caused or has a high probability of causing harm to its own members or to others. Some researchers define "harm" in this case with a narrow focus, specifically groups which have deliberately physically injured or killed other individuals,...

," or "Cult" (totalitarian type) vs. "benign cult."

An additional commonly used subcategory of cult movements are the doomsday cults, characterized by the central role played by eschatology
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

 in these groups' belief systems. Although most religious movements 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
Peoples Temple
Peoples Temple was a religious organization founded in 1955 by Jim Jones that, by the mid-1970s, included over a dozen locations in California including its headquarters in San Francisco...

 in 1978, the Branch Davidians in 1993 and the
Heaven's Gate
Heaven's Gate (religious group)
Heaven's Gate was an American UFO religion based in San Diego, California, founded and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles...

 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
When Prophecy Fails
When Prophecy Fails is a 1956 classic book in social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter about a UFO religion that believes the end of the world is at hand.- Cognitive dissonance :...

". 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
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 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 set of beliefs.

Relation to governments

In many countries, there exists a separation of church and state
Separation of church and state
The concept of the separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state....

 and freedom of religion
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

. 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
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

, violations of the fundamental liberties, inordinate emphasis on finances, and/or disregard for appropriate medical care.

In literature and popular culture

Cults have been a subject or theme in literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 and popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 since ancient times. There were many references to it in the 20th century.

See also

This article gives a general cultural account of "cult". For its usage in the original sense of "veneration" or "religious practice", see Cult (religious practice)
Cult (religious practice)
In traditional usage, the cult of a religion, quite apart from its sacred writings , its theology or myths, or the personal faith of its believers, is the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impiety. Cult in this primary sense is...

. For its use in a scientific, sociological context see New religious movement
New religious movement
A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

. For other uses, see Cult (disambiguation)
Cult (disambiguation)
A cult references a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange.Cult may also refer to:* Cult , the original usage, referring to the totality of external religious practice and observance, the neglect of which is the definition of impietyCult also commonly refers to highly devoted...

.


The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. 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
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 cultus, ‘worship’, from cult-, ‘inhabited, cultivated, worshipped,’ from the verb colere, 'care, cultivation'.

Origins in sociology

The concept of "cult" was introduced into sociological
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 classification in 1932 by American sociologist Howard P. Becker
Howard P. Becker
Howard Paul Becker was for many years professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.-Biography:...

 as an expansion of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch
Ernst Troeltsch was a German Protestant theologian and writer on philosophy of religion and philosophy of history, and an influential figure in German thought before 1914...

's church-sect typology. Troeltsch's aim was to distinguish between three main types of religious behavior: churchly, sectarian
Sectarianism
Sectarianism, according to one definition, is bigotry, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group, such as between different denominations of a religion, class, regional or factions of a political movement.The ideological...

 and mystical
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

. Becker created four categories out of Troeltsch's first two by splitting church into "ecclesia
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

" and "denomination
Religious denomination
A religious denomination is a subgroup within a religion that operates under a common name, tradition, and identity.The term describes various Christian denominations...

", and sect into "sect
Sect
A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and...

" and "cult". Like Troeltsch's "mystical religion", Becker's cults were small religious groups lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs. 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". 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. Sociologists still maintain that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

 and therefore maintain a continuity with tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

al beliefs and practices, "cults" arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

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
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 Christian sects crystallized into a more organized "Christian countercult movement
Christian countercult movement
The Christian countercult movement is a social movement of Christian ministries and individual Christian countercult activists who oppose religious sects thought to either partially abide or do not at all abide by the teachings that are written within the Bible. These religious sects are also known...

" in the United States. For those belonging to the movement, all new religious groups deemed outside of Christian orthodoxy
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 were considered "cults". 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
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

 or exotic new beliefs and those with charisma
Charisma
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

tic, authoritarian leaders.

In the early 1970s, a secular opposition movement to "cult" groups had taken shape. The organizations that formed the secular "Anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

" (ACM) often acted on behalf of relatives of "cult" converts
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 who did not believe their loved ones could have altered their lives so drastically by their own free will. A few psychologist
Psychologist
Psychologist is a professional or academic title used by individuals who are either:* Clinical professionals who work with patients in a variety of therapeutic contexts .* Scientists conducting psychological research or teaching psychology in a college...

s 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. 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
Deprogramming
Deprogramming refers to actions that attempt to force a person to abandon allegiance to a religious, political, economic, or social group. Methods and practices may involve kidnapping and coercion...

" of "cult members" becoming standard practice.

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
Jonestown
Jonestown was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, an intentional community in northwestern Guyana formed by the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones. It became internationally notorious when, on November 18, 1978, 918 people died in the settlement as well as in a nearby...

, Guyana, and the Manson Family murders are perhaps the most prominent examples in American popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

. 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
Kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

, brainwashing, psychological abuse
Psychological abuse
Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder...

, sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 and other criminal activity
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, and mass suicide
Mass suicide
- Examples :Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious or cultic settings. Defeated groups may resort to mass suicide rather than being captured. Suicide pacts are a form of mass suicide unconnected to cults or war that are sometimes planned or carried out by small groups of frustrated people...

. 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.

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
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

 psychological mechanisms could influence group members, they came to see conversion to new religious movements principally as an act of a rational choice. 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", 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, 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 political implications of definition

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. 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
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

. 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. Scholars have suggested that outrage following the mass murder/suicides perpetuated by the Solar Temple
Order of the Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple also known as Ordre du Temple Solaire in French, and the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition or simply as The Solar Temple was a secret society based upon the modern myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar...

 as well as the more latent xenophobic and anti-American attitudes have contributed significantly to the extremity of European anti-cult positions.

Since 1949, the People's Republic of China has been classifying dissenting groups as xiéjiào(邪教.) In the Chinese language, the word xiéjiào translates to "Evil Education" [邪 (xié) = Evil 教 (jiào)= Education]. The word xiéjiào as a whole is used to describe what is known in the Western world as a cult. 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
Falun Gong
Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline first introduced in China in 1992 by its founder, Li Hongzhi, through public lectures. It combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with the moral philosophy...

. 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. Aron is a Lubavitch Jew
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

, a group which might be considered a cult in that its members believe their former rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 to be the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

.

Sociologists critical to this negative politicized use of the word "cult" argue that it may adversely impact the religious freedoms of group members.

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
Typology (theology)
Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the relationship between the Old and New Testaments...

. 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 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 performed by those who believe that some religious groups do practice mind control have identified a number of key steps in coercive persuasion:
  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.


This view is disputed by scholars such as James Gene and Bette Nove Evans. Society for the Scientific Study of Religion 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 Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

, 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
Charismatic authority
The sociologist Max Weber defined charismatic authority as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him." Charismatic authority is one of three forms of authority laid out...

 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. According to Barrett, the most common accusation made against groups referred to as cults is sexual abuse
Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse, also referred to as molestation, is the forcing of undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. When that force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The offender is referred to as a sexual abuser or molester...

 (See some allegations made by former members). According to Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg
Reender Kranenborg was an editor of the magazine Religious Movement in the Netherlands published by the institute of religious studies of the Free University in Amsterdam....

, some groups are risky when they advise their members not to use regular medical care.

Joining

Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association
International Cultic Studies Association
The International Cultic Studies Association , formerly the American Family Foundation, describes itself as an "interdisciplinary network of academicians, professionals, former group members, and families who study and educate the public about social-psychological influence and control,...

, 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

. Langone claims that those mental health experts who have more direct experience with large numbers of cultists tend to favor this latter view.

Some scholars favor one particular view, or combined elements of each. According to Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter
Marc Galanter is the John and Rylla Bosshard Professor of Law and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School and LSE Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He teaches South Asian Law, Law and Social Science, Legal Profession, Religion and...

, Professor of Psychiatry at NYU, typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest. Sociologists Stark
Rodney Stark
Rodney Stark is an American sociologist of religion. He grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota in a Lutheran family. He spent time in the U.S. Army and worked as a journalist before pursuing graduate studies at The University of California, Berkeley...

 and Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge
William Sims Bainbridge is an American sociologist who currently resides in Virginia. He is co-director of Human-Centered Computing at the National Science Foundation and also teaches sociology as a part-time professor at George Mason University. He is the first Senior Fellow to be appointed by...

, 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.

Leaving

There are several ways people leave a cult: 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
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 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".

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).

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."

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.

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 doctrine
Doctrine
Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system...

s 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.

Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright
Stuart A. Wright is Professor of Sociology and Director of Research in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Lamar University with primary research interests in religious and political movements, sectarian conflict, violence and terrorism...

 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
Captivity narrative
Captivity narratives are stories of people captured by "uncivilized" enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life. Barbary captivity narratives, stories of Englishmen captured by Barbary pirates, were popular...

" 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
Apostasy
Apostasy , '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 is known as an apostate. These terms have a pejorative implication in everyday...

", 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."

According to the anti-cult movement

Secular cult opponents like those belonging to the anti-cult movement
Anti-cult movement
The anti-cult 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...

 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
Mind control
Mind control 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, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 over members, communal and totalistic organization, aggressive proselytizing, systematic programs of indoctrination, and perpetuation in middle-class communities.

While acknowledging the issue of multiple definitions of the word, Michael Langone
Michael Langone
Michael D. Langone, is an American counseling psychologist who specialises in research about "cultic groups" and alleged psychological manipulation. He is executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association, editor of the journal Cultic Studies Review.Langone is author and co-author...

 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
Psychological manipulation
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative,...

, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders." A similar definition is given by Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West
Louis Jolyon West was an American psychiatrist, human rights activist and expert on brainwashing, mind control, torture, substance abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and violence....

:
"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."


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
Indoctrination
Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology . It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned...

 has occurred.

Criticism by former members

See also: Apostasy: Other religious movements and Anti-cult movement: 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
David G. Bromley
David G. Bromley is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. He has written extensively about "cults", new religious movements, apostasy, and the anti-cult movement.- Education and career :Bromley received his...

, Anson Shupe
Anson Shupe
Anson D. Shupe is an American sociologist noted for his studies of religious groups and their countermovements, family violence and clergy misconduct.-Work:...

, and Brian R. Wilson have challenged the validity of the testimonies presented by critical former members. Wilson discusses the use of the atrocity story
Atrocity story
The term atrocity story as defined by the American sociologists David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe refers to the symbolic presentation of action or events in such a context that they are made flagrantly to violate the shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should be...

 that is rehearsed by the apostate to explain how, by manipulation, coercion
Coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

, or deceit
Deception
Deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, bad faith, and subterfuge are acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth . Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand. It can employ distraction, camouflage or concealment...

, he was recruited to a group that he now condemns. The hostile ex-members would invariably shade the truth and blow out of proportion minor incidents, turning them into major incidents. Bromley and Shupe similarly discuss "captivity narratives" that depict the time in the group as involuntary and point out that the apostate is likely to present a caricature
Caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

 of his former group. Introvigne found in his study of the New Acropolis
New Acropolis
New Acropolis , New Acropolis (NA), New Acropolis (NA), (official name - Asociación Cultural Nueva Acrópolis. is a worldwide non-profit organisation founded in 1957 by Jorge Angel Livraga Rizzi (died 1991)...

 in France, that public negative testimonies and attitudes were only voiced by a minority of the ex-members, who he describes as becoming "professional enemies" of the group they leave. Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki
Benjamin Zablocki is and American professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements and cults....

 performed an empirical study that concludes that the reliability of former members was equal to that of those who stayed in one particular group.

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.

Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger
Catherine Wessinger is a professor of religious studies at Loyola University New Orleans with a main research focus on millennialism, new religions, women and religion and religions of India...

 (Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans is a private, co-educational and Jesuit university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Originally established as Loyola College in 1904, the institution was chartered as a university in 1912. It bears the name of the Jesuit patron, Saint Ignatius of Loyola...

) has stated that the word "cult" represents just as much prejudice and antagonism as racial slurs or derogatory words for women and homosexuals. 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. Labeling a group as subhuman, she says, becomes a justification for violence against it. 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." 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.

The concept of "cult" as an epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

 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. 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."

Sociologist Amy Ryan has argued for the need to differentiate those groups that may be dangerous from groups that are more benign. 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."

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. Others authors, e.g. Steven Hassan
Steven Hassan
Steven Alan Hassan is a licensed mental health counselor and an exit counselor. Hassan was an early advocate of exit counseling, and is the author of two books on the subject of "cults", and what he describes as their use of mind control, thought reform, and the psychology of influence in order...

, differentiate by using words and terms like "Destructive cult
Destructive cult
A destructive cult is a religion or other group which has caused or has a high probability of causing harm to its own members or to others. Some researchers define "harm" in this case with a narrow focus, specifically groups which have deliberately physically injured or killed other individuals,...

," or "Cult" (totalitarian type) vs. "benign cult."

An additional commonly used subcategory of cult movements are the doomsday cults, characterized by the central role played by eschatology
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

 in these groups' belief systems. Although most religious movements 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
Peoples Temple
Peoples Temple was a religious organization founded in 1955 by Jim Jones that, by the mid-1970s, included over a dozen locations in California including its headquarters in San Francisco...

 in 1978, the Branch Davidians in 1993 and the
Heaven's Gate
Heaven's Gate (religious group)
Heaven's Gate was an American UFO religion based in San Diego, California, founded and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles...

 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
When Prophecy Fails
When Prophecy Fails is a 1956 classic book in social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter about a UFO religion that believes the end of the world is at hand.- Cognitive dissonance :...

". 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
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 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 set of beliefs.

Relation to governments

In many countries, there exists a separation of church and state
Separation of church and state
The concept of the separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state....

 and freedom of religion
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

. 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
Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

, violations of the fundamental liberties, inordinate emphasis on finances, and/or disregard for appropriate medical care.

In literature and popular culture

Cults have been a subject or theme in literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 and popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 since ancient times. There were many references to it in the 20th century.

See also

  • Classifications of cults and new religious movements
  • Destructive cult
    Destructive cult
    A destructive cult is a religion or other group which has caused or has a high probability of causing harm to its own members or to others. Some researchers define "harm" in this case with a narrow focus, specifically groups which have deliberately physically injured or killed other individuals,...

  • Cult suicide
    Cult suicide
    A cult suicide is a term used to describe the mass suicide by the members of groups that have been considered cults. In some cases, all or nearly all members have committed suicide at the same time and place. Groups that have committed such mass suicides and that have been called cults include...

  • List of groups referred to as cults in government documents
  • New religious movement
    New religious movement
    A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

  • Opposition to cults and new religious movements
  • Religious Conversion
  • Sect
    Sect
    A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and...



External links

  • CESNUR See CESNUR
    CESNUR
    CESNUR , is an organization based in Turin, Italy. It was established in 1988 by a group of religious scholars from universities in Europe and the Americas, working in the field of new religious movements. Its director is the Italian sociologist and attorney Massimo Introvigne...

     (the works of some scholars in the area of new religious movements NRMs
    New religious movement
    A new religious movement is a religious community or ethical, spiritual, or philosophical group of modern origin, which has a peripheral place within the dominant religious culture. NRMs may be novel in origin or they may be part of a wider religion, such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, in...

    )
  • Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance – articles and essays about religious groups and related subjects.
  • University of Virginia Religious Movements Homepage – Website featuring the opinions and collected papers of the late sociologist Jeffrey Hadden, regarding new religious movements, now edited by Douglas E. Cowan
    Douglas E. Cowan
    Douglas E. Cowan is a Canadian academic in religious studies and the sociology of religion and currently holds a teaching position at Renison College, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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