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List of anti-cult organizations and individuals

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List of anti-cult organizations and individuals

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

Publications of the International Cultic Studies Association have disputed the appropriateness of the term "Anti-cult movement"; (see for example Kropveld[3] ) with one writer preferring the label "cult critics" rather than "anti-cult" activists.[4]

The concept of an ACM

The anti-cult movement is conceptualized as a collection of individuals and groups, whether formally organized or not, who oppose some new religious movements (or "cults"). This countermovement has reportedly recruited from family members of "cultists"; former group members, (or apostates); church groups (including Jewish groups);[5] and associations of health professionals.[6] Although there is a trend towards globalization,[7] the social and organizational bases vary significantly from country to country according to the social and political opportunity structures in each place.[8]

As are many aspects of the social sciences, the movement is variously defined. A significant minority opinion suggests that analysis should treat the secular anti-cult movement separately from the religiously motivated (mainly Christian) groups.[9][10]

The anti-cult movement might be divided into four classes:

  • secular counter-cult groups;
  • Christian evangelical counter-cult groups;
  • groups formed to counter a specific cult;
  • organizations that offer some form of exit counseling.[11]

Most, if not all, the groups involved express the view that there are potentially deleterious effects associated with some new religious movements.[12]

Religious and secular critics

Commentators differentiate two main types of opposition to "cults":

  • religious opposition (related to theological issues).
  • secular opposition (related to emotional, social, financial, and economic consequences of cultic involvement, where "cult" can refer to a religious or to a secular group).

Barker's five types of cult-watching groups

According to sociologist Eileen Barker, cult-watching groups (CWGs) disseminate information about "cults" with the intent of changing public and government perception as well as of changing public policy regarding NRMs.

Barker has identified five types of CWG:[13]

  1. cult-awareness groups (CAGs) focusing on the harm done by "destructive cults"
  2. counter-cult groups (CCGs) focusing on the (heretical) teaching of non-mainstream groups
  3. research-oriented groups (ROGs) focusing on beliefs, practices and comparisons
  4. human-rights groups (HRGs) focusing on the human rights of religious minorities
  5. cult-defender groups (CDGs) focusing on defending cults and exposing CAGs

Hadden's taxonomy of the anti-cult movement

Jeffrey K. Hadden sees four distinct classes in the organizational opposition to "cults":[14]

  1. Religiously grounded opposition
    • opposition usually defined in theological terms
    • cults viewed as engaging in heresy
    • sees its mission as exposing the heresy and correcting the beliefs of those who have strayed from a truth
    • prefers metaphors of deception rather than of possession
    • opposition serves two important functions:
      • protects members (especially youth) from heresy
      • increases solidarity among the faithful
  2. Secular opposition
    • regards individual autonomy as the manifest goal — achieved by getting people out of groups using mind control and deceptive proselytization.
    • identifies the struggle as about control, not as about theology.
    • organized around families who have or have had children involved in a cult.
    • has a latent goal of disabling or destroying NRMs organizationally.
  3. Apostates
    • apostasy = the renunciation of a religious faith
    • apostate = one who engages in active opposition to their former faith
    • the anti-cult movement has actively encouraged former members to interpret their experience in a "cult" as one of being egregiously wronged and encourages participation in organized anti-cult activities.
  4. Entrepreneurial opposition
    • individuals who take up a cause for personal gain
    • ad hoc alliances or coalitions to promote shared views
    • broadcasters and journalists as leading examples.
    • a few "entrepreneurs" have made careers by setting up organized opposition.

Cult-watching groups and individuals, and other opposition to cults

Family-members of adherents

Some opposition to cults (and to some new religious movements) started with family-members of cult-adherents who had problems with the sudden changes in character, lifestyle and future plans of their young adult children who had joined NRMs. Ted Patrick, widely known as "the Father of deprogramming", exemplifies members of this group. The former Cult Awareness Network (old CAN) grew out of a grassroots-movement by parents of cult-members. The American Family Foundation (today the International Cultic Studies Association) originated from a father whose daughter had joined a high-control group.

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists

From the 1970s onwards some psychiatrists and clinical psychologists accused "cults" of harming some of their members. These accusations were sometimes based on observations made during therapy, and sometimes were related to theories regarding brainwashing or mind-control.

Former members

Anson Shupe, David G. Bromley and Joseph Ventimiglia coined the term atrocity tales in 1979,[15] which Bryan R. Wilson later took up in relation to former members' narratives. Bromley and Shupe defined an "atrocity tale" as the symbolic presentation of action or events (real or imaginary) in such a context that they come flagrantly to violate the (presumably) shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should take place. The recounting of such tales has the intention of reaffirming normative boundaries. By sharing the reporter's disapproval or horror, an audience reasserts normative prescription and clearly locates the violator beyond the limits of public morality.[16][17]

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 among Christians as cults.[18] They are also known as discernment ministries.[19]

The countercult movement asserts that non-fundamental Christian sects whose beliefs are partially or wholly not in accordance with the Bible are erroneous. It also states that a religious sect can be considered a cult if its beliefs involve a denial of what they view as any of the essential Christian teachings such as salvation, the Trinity, Jesus himself as a person, his works and his miracles, his crucifixion, his death, his resurrection, his return, and the Rapture.[20][21][22]

Countercult literature usually expresses doctrinal or theological concerns and a missionary or apologetic purpose.[23] It presents a rebuttal by emphasizing the teachings of the Bible against the beliefs of non-fundamental Christian sects. Christian countercult activist writers also emphasize the need for Christians to evangelize to followers of cults.[24][25][26] Some Christians also share concerns similar to those of the secular anti-cult movement.[27][28]

National and international entities

For more details see: Governmental lists of cults and sects

The secular opposition to cults and to some new religious movements operates internationally, though a number of sizable and sometimes expanding groups originated in the United States. Some European countries, such as France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have introduced legislation or taken other measures against cults or "cultic deviations."

Anti-cult movement in Russia

In Russia “anticultism” appeared in early 1990s. Some Russian protestants used to take part in criticizing of foreigner missionaries, sects and new religious movements. Their chiefs hoped that taking part in anti-cult declarations could demonstrate that they were not “sectarians”. Some religious studies have shown that anti-cult movements, especially with support of the government, can provoke serious religious conflicts in Russian society.[29] In 2008 the Russian Interior Ministry prepared a list of "extremist groups." At the top of the list were Islamic groups outside of "traditional Islam," which is supervised by the Russian government. Next listed were "Pagan cults".[30] In 2009 the Russian Ministry of Justice created a council which it named "Council of Experts Conducting State Religious Studies Expert Analysis." The new council listed 80 large sects which it considered potentially dangerous to Russian society, and mentioned that there were thousands of smaller ones. Large sects listed included: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, and what were called "neo-Pentecostals." [31]


Polarized views among scholars

Social scientists, sociologists, religious scholars, psychologists and psychiatrists have studied the modern field of cults and new religious movements since the early 1980s. Cult debates about certain purported cults and about cults in general often become polarized with widely divergent opinions, not only among current followers and disaffected former members, but sometimes even among scholars as well.

All academics agree that some groups have become problematic and sometimes very problematic; but they disagree over the extent to which new religious movements in general cause harm.

Several scholars have questioned Hadden's attitude towards NRMs and cult critics as one-sided.[32]

Scholars in the field of new religious movements confront many controversial subjects:

Janet Jacobs expresses the range of views on the membership of the perceived ACM itself, ranging from those who comment on "the value of the Cult Awareness Network, the value of exit therapy for former members of new religious movements, and alternative modes of support for family members of individuals who have joined new religions" and extending to "a more critical perspective on [a perceived] wide range of ACM activities that threaten religious freedom and individual rights."[33]

Brainwashing and mind-control

Over the years various theories of conversion and member retention have been proposed that link mind control to NRMs, and particularly those religious movements referred to as "cults" by their critics. These theories resemble the original political brainwashing theories with some minor changes. Philip Zimbardo discusses mind control as "the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes",[34] and he suggests that any human being is susceptible to such manipulation.[35] In a 1999 book, Robert Lifton also applied his original ideas about thought reform to Aum Shinrikyo, concluding that in this context thought reform was possible without violence or physical coercion. Margaret Singer, who also spent time studying the political brainwashing of Korean prisoners of war, agreed with this conclusion: in her book Cults in Our Midst she describes six conditions which would create an atmosphere in which thought reform is possible.[36]

James Richardson observes that if the NRMs had access to powerful brainwashing techniques, one would expect that NRMs would have high growth rates, yet in fact most have not had notable success in recruitment. Most adherents participate for only a short time, and the success in retaining members is limited.[37] For this and other reasons, sociologists of religion including David Bromley and Anson Shupe consider the idea that "cults" are brainwashing American youth to be "implausible."[38] In addition to Bromley, Thomas Robbins, Dick Anthony, Eileen Barker, Newton Maloney, Massimo Introvigne, John Hall, Lorne Dawson, Anson Shupe, Gordon Melton, Marc Galanter, Saul Levine (amongst other scholars researching NRMs) have argued and established to the satisfaction of courts, of relevant professional associations and of scientific communities that there exists no scientific theory, generally accepted and based upon methodologically sound research, that supports the brainwashing theories as advanced by the anti-cult movement.[39]

Deprogramming and exit-counseling

For details, see Deprogramming, Exit counseling

Some members of the secular opposition to cults and to some new religious movements have argued that if brainwashing has deprived a person of their free will, treatment to restore their free will should take place — even if the "victim" initially opposes this.

Precedents for this exist in the treatment of certain mental illnesses: in such cases medical and legal authorities recognize the condition(s) as depriving sufferers of their ability to make appropriate decisions for themselves. But the practice of forcing treatment on a presumed victim of "brainwashing" (one definition of "deprogramming") has constantly proven controversial, and courts have frequently adjudged it illegal. Human-rights organizations (including the ACLU and Human Rights Watch) have also criticized deprogramming. While only a small fraction of the anti-cult movement has had involvement in deprogramming, several deprogrammers (including a deprogramming-pioneer, Ted Patrick) have served prison-terms for acts sometimes associated with deprogramming including kidnapping and rape, while courts have acquitted others.

The anti-cult movement in the USA has apparentlyTemplate:Or abandoned deprogramming in favor of the voluntary practice of exit counseling. However, this remains a subject of controversy between sympathizers and critics of some new religious movements, who continue to debate deprogramming's basic assumptions and its relation to rights of freedom of religion.

Responses of targeted groups and scholars

The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities, associated with the Adidam NRM, sees the use of terms "cult" and "cult leader" as detestable and as something to avoid at all costs. The Foundation regards such usage as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them in the same manner as the words "nigger" and "commie" served in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.[40]

CESNUR’s president Massimo Introvigne, writes in his article "So many evil things: Anti-cult terrorism via the Internet",[41] that fringe and extreme anti-cult activists resort to tactics that may create a background favorable to extreme manifestations of discrimination and hate against individuals that belong to new religious movements. Critics of CESNUR, however, call Introvigne a cult-apologist who defends harmful religious groups and cults. Professor Eileen Barker points out in an interview that the controversy surrounding certain new religious movements can turn violent by a process called deviancy amplification spiral.[42]

In a paper presented at the 2000 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Anson Shupe and Susan Darnell argued that although the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA, formerly known as AFF or American Family Foundation) has presented "slanted, stereotypical images and language that has inflamed persons to perform extreme actions," the extent to which one can classify the ICSA and other anti-cult organizations as "hate-groups" (as defined by law in some jurisdictions or by racial/ethnic criteria in sociology) remains open for debate. In 2005, the Hate Crimes Unit of the Edmonton Police Service confiscated anti-Falun Gong materials distributed at the annual conference of the ICSA by staff members of the Calgary Chinese Consulate (Province of Alberta, Canada). The materials, including the calling of Falun Gong a "cult," were identified as having breached the Criminal Code, which bans the wilful promotion of hatred against identifiable religious groups.[43] See also Verbal violence in hate groups.

An article on the categorization of new religious movements in US media published by The Association for the Sociology of Religion (formerly the American Catholic Sociological Society, criticizes the print media for failing to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of new religious movements, and its tendency to use anti-cultist definitions rather than social-scientific insight, and asserts that The failure of the print media to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of religious movement organizations (as our previous research [van Driel and Richardson, 1985] also shows) impels us to add yet another failing mark to the media report card Weiss (1985) has constructed to assess the media's reporting of the social sciences.[44]

See also



  • Amitrani, Alberto and di Marzio, Raffaella: "Mind Control" in New Religious Movements and the American Psychological Association, Cultic Studies Journal Vol 17, 2000.
  • Beckford, James A., Cult Controversies: The Societal Response to New Religious Movements, London, Tavistock, 1985, p. 235
  • Bromley, David G. & Anson Shupe, Public Reaction against New Religious Movements article that appeared in Cults and new religious movements: a report of the Committee on Psychiatry and Religion of the American Psychiatric Association, edited by Marc Galanter, M.D., (1989) ISBN 0-89042-212-5
  • [1]
  • Langone, Michael: Secular and Religious Critiques of Cults: Complementary Visions, Not Irresolvable Conflicts, Cultic Studies Journal, 1995, Volume 12, Number 2 [2]
  • Langone, Michael, On Dialogue Between the Two Tribes of Cultic Researchers Cultic Studies Newsletter Vol. 2, No. 1, 1983, pp. 11–15 [3]
  • Robbins, Thomas. (2000). “Quo Vadis” the Scientific Study of New Religious Movements? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39(4), 515-523.
  • Thomas Robbin and Dick Anthony, Cults in the late Twentieth Century in Lippy, Charles H. and Williams, Peter W. (edfs.) Encyclopedia of the American Religious experience. Studies of Traditions and Movements. Charles Scribner's sons, New York (1988) Vol II pp. ISBN 0-684-18861-9
  • Victor, J. S. (1993). Satanic panic: The creation of a contemporary legend. Chicago: Open Court Publishing. In J. T. Richardson, J. Best, & D. G. Bromley (Eds.), The satanism scare (pp. 263–275). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
  • Wilson, Brian R., Apostates and New Religious Movements, Oxford, England 1994
  • Robbins, Thomas and Zablocki, Benjamin, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8020-8188-6

Further reading

  • Anthony, D. Pseudoscience and Minority Religions: An Evaluation of the Brainwashing Theories of Jean-Marie Abgrall. Social Justice Research, Kluwer Academic Publishers, December 1999, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 421–456(36)
  • Bromley, David G. & Anson Shupe Public Reaction against New Religious Movements article that appeared in Cults and new religious movements: a report of the Committee on Psychiatry and Religion of the American Psychiatric Association, edited by Marc Galanter, M.D., (1989) ISBN 0-89042-212-5
  • [4]
  • Introvigne, Massimo The Secular Anti-Cult and the Religious Counter-Cult Movement: Strange Bedfellows or Future Enemies?, in Eric Towler (Ed.), New Religions and the New Europe, Aarhus University Press, 1995, pp. 32–54.
  • Thomas Robbins and Benjamin Zablocki, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for objectivity in a controversial field, 2001, ISBN 0-8020-8188-6
  • AD Shupe Jr, DG Bromley, DL Olive, The Anti-Cult Movement in America: A Bibliography and Historical Survey, New York: Garland 1984.
  • Langone, Michael D. Ph.D., (Ed.), Recovery from cults: help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse (1993), a publication of the American Family Foundation, W.W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-31321-2

Template:New Religious Movements, Cults, and Sects

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