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A critique of "Brainwashing" claims about new religious movements

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... will inevitably cause harm (Hassan, 1988(Hassan, , 2000Lalich and Tobias, 2006;Langone, 1993;Singer, 2003). The term NRM, on the other hand, allows for an examination of its members without the assumption that they are victims of coercive and unethical practices that will inevitably lead to harm (Barker, 1984;Richardson, 2004Richardson, , 2007. ...
... Extensive sociological literature evaluates the merits of brainwashing theories and most of it is critical. Rather than interpreting the group interactions in terms of brainwashing, sociologists argue that the intense interactions of members that contribute to conformity is not unusual but can be considered within the realm of 'normal' group dynamic or socialisation processes (Dawson, 2007a;Melton, 2007;Richardson, 2007). From this perspective, the changes observed in members are understood as the expected result of a shift in patterns of association (Howell, 1997;Lofland and Skonovd, 1981a,b;Long and Hadden, 1983;Richardson, 1989;Snow and Machalek, 1984). ...
... This literature describes membership as directed by the individual and motivated by numerous commonly reported benefits or 'direct rewards' of NRM participation such friendship and community, self-development, a sense of identity and certainty, improvement in health and happiness and a decrease in alcohol and drug use (Galanter, 1980(Galanter, , 1983(Galanter, , 1989Galanter et al., 1980;Levine, 1984Levine, , 1989Ross, 1983). Stressing that many members choose to leave after some time, it is argued that membership does not result from having fallen victim to powerful coercive techniques but is motivated by personal choice (Barker, 1981(Barker, , 1984Richardson, 2007). ...
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The ‘dependency inducing practices’, sometimes called ‘brainwashing’, that are commonly alleged to occur in deviant “religious” groups such as a cult movements or new religious movements are not well understood and have promoted considerable debate. There is a general agreement that many of these groups are controlled environments in which conformity to behavioural, emotive, cognitive and social expectations as determined by leadership is expected and enforced; however, whether conformity is the result of normal processes of socialisation or deviant practices such as brainwashing that cause harm continues to be disputed. To gain an increased understanding of the conformity and commitment inducing practices that occur in ‘cult movements’, the accounts of group life of 23 former members of 11 different groups were analysed. A conceptualisation of ‘brainwashing’ as on a continuum of social influence is proposed, and some legal implications are discussed.
... Singer provides six conditions that are typically required for brainwashing to take place: (i) the subject's lack of awareness that brainwashing is taking place; (ii) control of the immediate environment; (iii) a sense of dependency and powerlessness; (iv) a suppression of previously held attitudes; (v) promotion of new behaviours and beliefs and; (vi) a 'closed system of logic' (Singer, 2003, p. 152). Barker (1984) and Richardson (2003). Accordingly, the work of Singer is treated with scepticism by most prominent scholars in the field. ...
... In his study of the brainwashing thesis, Richardson (2003) is highly critical of the theory, arguing that it merely serves the interests of groups that wish to devalue, discredit, and undermine NRMs -notably the anti-cult movement. Describing the use of brainwashing theory as a 'a powerful "social weapon" for many partisans in the "cult controversy" ' (2003, p. 161), Richardson argues that early scholarly work on the brainwashing thesis was misrepresented by those in favour of the theory. ...
... He draws attention to the works of Schein et al. (1961, cited in Richardson, 2003 and Lifton (1963, cited in Richardson, 2003 which argue that brainwashing techniques offer nothing more than simple modifications of behaviour for a short period of time. Richardson (2003) also argues that sociological and psychological studies have been ignored by brainwashing theorists for their own purposes, suggesting that the theory only remains prominent due to the efforts of groups such as the anti-cult movement. ...
Thesis
This thesis is about a Scientologist practice called 'auditing'. Auditing is a hybrid practice that combines psychology with religious and mystical notions of esoteric knowledge and experience, and it is a technique that enables Scientologists to make progress through pre-specified levels of achievement. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the nuanced nature of auditing practice in a variety of Scientologies, ranging from the Church of Scientology (CoS) to the 'Free Zone', an umbrella term for groups and individuals that practise Scientology away from the institutionalized CoS, whether this is independently or part of an organized group. That auditing draws both from discourses of psychology and religious sources is a mark of contemporary Western cultures. Notionally impervious boundaries between religion and the secular-scientific have broken down, giving way to hybrid formations such as Scientology whose practices constitute negotiations of competing forces in Western societies. This research aims to assist scholarly understanding of Scientology as a varied belief system, featuring many practitioners with different understandings of what it means to be a Scientologist, and how the auditing process is practised accordingly. Additionally, this thesis aims to act as a framework for the study of similar movements formed in recent decades, allowing scholars of New Religious Movements (NRMs) and Scientology in particular to contrast highly institutionalized and hierarchical environments of practice on the one hand (such as the CoS) with unregulated and fluid ones (such as the Free Zone) on the other. This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge both empirically and conceptually. Firstly, although previous studies of auditing and more widely of Scientology exist, this study has enjoyed access to a range of auditing practitioners in types of Scientology beyond the CoS. This thesis will therefore provide an original account of auditing as it is practised in both the CoS and Free Zone spheres, examining the diverse nature of the auditing technique as a process that combines different series of procedures, material culture, and both religious and secular elements pertinent to particular ideas about the mind, body, and the self. Secondly, previous research on NRMs and Scientology in particular have tended to focus either on NRMs as indices of broad social processes such as secularization or globalization or (in earlier research) as exemplars of exotic processes such as charismatic authority and brainwashing. This research takes a completely different approach, seeking to use the auditing practice as a method of providing an in-depth case study of an NRM in transition and transformation in the 21st century.
... that people join through an exercise of their own volition; a volition they also use to leave after some time (Barker 1984;Richardson 2004). ...
... Even though it is recognized that cult commitment and obedience cannot be explained entirely in terms of brainwashing, and that other factors such as conformity play an important role, it is argued that ''deliberate cultic manipulations of personal convictions'' plays an important role (Zablocki 2001:162). Extensive sociological literature evaluates the merits of brainwashing theories and most of it is critical (Richardson 2007;Snow and Machalek 1983). Sociologists who have studied cults, on a whole, have found no evidence of ''brainwashing'' (Hunt 2003;Richardson 2007;Snow and Machalek 1983). ...
... Extensive sociological literature evaluates the merits of brainwashing theories and most of it is critical (Richardson 2007;Snow and Machalek 1983). Sociologists who have studied cults, on a whole, have found no evidence of ''brainwashing'' (Hunt 2003;Richardson 2007;Snow and Machalek 1983). Some sociologists argue that the brainwashing model of commitment has gained currency among the public COMMITMENT TO A NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT OR CULT 169 as it provides a convenient account for those who are at a loss to explain why individuals are attracted to such groups (Snow and Machalek 1984;Richardson 2007). ...
Article
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The experiences of involvement in a deviant “religious” group such as a cult or new religious movement is not well understood, with few qualitative studies having explored the experiences and perspectives of former members of such groups. To gain a better understanding of what compels individuals to be become committed to a cult or new religious movement, the current study is a qualitative investigation into “cult commitment” from the perspective of former members. Seven participants from four different groups were recruited, and in-depth interviews were conducted to explore the participants' accounts of their experience. This study found that participants' “decision” to remain in the group was influenced by both “direct rewards” of membership and levels of control exercised by the group and its leaders.
... For example, psychological distress, crisis or a period of transition, family relationship problems and abuse are all significant topics in the participants' accounts (cf. Barker 1984Barker , 2006Saroglou et al. 2006;Buxant et al. 2007;Dawson 2003;Richardson 2007;Coates 2011). However, from an IPT perspective, the findings suggest that these pre-involvement factors may be indicative for a preexisting identity-threat. ...
... Pre-involvement factors such as periods of transition, psychological distress, family relationship problems etc. (cf. Barker 1984Barker , 2006Saroglou et al. 2006;Buxant et al. 2007;Dawson 2003;Richardson 2007;Coates 2011) were therefore indicative for identity threat (cf. Jaspal and Breakwell 2014). ...
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ABSTRACT Previous research outlines a relationship between religiosity and increased mental and physical wellbeing. However, to date findings from quantitative and qualitative research do not offer an unambiguous explanation for this relationship. The study addresses this gap in knowledge by examining underlying identity construction processes in relation to religiosity and wellbeing in the light of Identity Process Theory. Eight Christian converts from different deep-faith groups were recruited via purposive and modified snowball sampling. Detailed descriptions of first-hand experiences were collected by biographic-narrative interviews and analysed by Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The findings suggest that religious elements are integrated into identity content as these respond to a set of motivational principles of identity construction. In doing so, religious elements in identity content contribute to the avoidance of identity threat and to the maintenance of a positive identity structure. The adoption of health-promoting behaviours that relate to the application of beliefs (i.e. practice forgiveness, love oneself and the other, stopping excessive drinking) are consequences thereof and improve mental and physical wellbeing. In conclusion, the relationship between religiosity and wellbeing may be explained by the way in that religious elements in identity impact on identity maintenance process.
... In relation to why people join charismatic groups, some researchers highlight the particular traits or predisposition that recruits bring to the group and stress the role of a search for meaning (Barker, 1984(Barker, , 2006Dawson, 2007;Lofland & Skonovd, 1981;Richardson, 2007;Zablocki, 2001), and identity (Singer, 1979(Singer, , 2003. Other researchers argue that even though some vulnerability factors may exist, anyone can be ''recruited'' into charismatic groups through the use of deceptive ''recruitment techniques'' (Hassan, 2000;Langone, 1993;Singer, 1979Singer, , 2003Singer & Ofshe, 1990). ...
... Others, in particular sociologists, do not simply explain this search within a developmental framework, but stress the cultural and spiritual dimensions. They interpret joining a charismatic group as a rejection of Western cultural values and institutions (Barker, 2006;Melton, 1992;Richardson, 2007). However, as a rejection of adult culture is not an uncommon feature of adolescence in western industrial societies, a rejection of cultural values could also be viewed within a developmental framework. ...
Article
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A majority of counsellors and other health professionals who work with former members of charismatic groups appear to give little consideration to pre-involvement variables such as reasons for initially joining the group and corresponding values. This study explores reasons for joining a charismatic group from the perspective of former members through the use of qualitative methods. Seven participants from four different groups were recruited via purposive sampling and modified snowball sampling. In-depth interviews were used to explore the participants’ accounts of why they joined a charismatic group. The findings of this study suggest that participants of this study joined charismatic groups because of the ability of such groups to provide ‘certainty’ and meet needs of friendship, meaning, and belonging. The need for health professionals to consider pre-involvement variables when working with former members is discussed.
... The competing theory, often provided from a Sociology background, is a model of 'social drift' (Long and Hadden, 1983), where the followers become committed to the group gradually through the influence of a number of social contacts. In this case, cult membership is really a normal form of socialization (Richardson, 2007). This commitment then is motivated by the direct rewards of membership, such as friendship and meaning (Gooren, 2007). ...
Article
The infamous ‘Heaven’s Gate cult’ committed a mass suicide in 1995 believing members of the group would achieve salvation through bodily transformation and departure aboard UFOs. The group left a large volume of writing available as a book and a website which outlined their belief structure. This writing, largely by the group’s leaders Ti and Do, is supplemented by ‘exit statements’ written by the group members. We analysed these writings and demonstrated how the texts evolve from accessible texts for recruiting individuals into the group through more complex texts for cementing the belief structure and reinforcing the ingroup. We also identify differences in the ‘exit statements’ that demonstrate the ideas and concepts that gained traction with the group members.
... One reviewer commented, '[l]acking psychological theory, the report resorts to sensationalism in the style of certain tabloids' (APA BSERP 1987). Moreover, empirical fieldwork of controversial movements tended to discredit anti-cult claims of the efficacy of mind control (Richardson 2003). For example, Eileen Barker's influential study of the Unification Church found that 4 per cent of those who attended a recruitment workshop were still affiliated with the group two years later, refuting the efficacy of mind control as a powerful recruitment strategy (Barker 1984: 146). ...
Article
A case study in the sociology of ideas, this article refines the theory of ‘discursive opportunities’ to examine how intellectual claims cross national and linguistic boundaries to achieve public prominence despite lacking academic credibility. Theories of ‘brainwashing’ and ‘mind control’ originally began in the United States in the 1960s as a response to the growth of new religious movements. Decades later in Japan, claims that so‐called ‘cults’ ‘brainwashed’ or ‘mind controlled’ their followers became prominent after March 1995, when new religion Aum Shinrikyō gassed the Tokyo subway using sarin, killing thirteen. Since then, brainwashing/mind control have both remained central in public discourse surrounding the ‘Aum Affair’ despite their disputed status within academic discourse. This article advances two arguments. Firstly, the transnational diffusion of brainwashing/mind control from the US to Japan occurred as a direct result of the 1995 Tokyo sarin attack, which acted as a ‘discursive opportunity’ for activists to successfully disseminate the theories in public debate. Secondly, brainwashing/mind control became successful in Japanese public discourse primarily for their normative content, as the theories identified ‘brainwashing/mind controlling cults’ as evil, violent and profane threats to civil society.
... There is, however, serious scientific criticism levelled against the concept of mind control (for an overview, see Richardson, 2007). First, it is unclear how to actually practice mind control and what activities it includes. ...
Article
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Psychological operations (PSYOP) implies a purposeful use of communication by a government or military organization to fulfill its mission and is one understanding of strategic communication. The present study focuses on PSYOP effects. The few studies available on this area indicate that the effects of PSYOP generally tend to be on a minor scale, while PSYOP may have a stronger impact in specific contexts. We discuss possible explanations and suggest that a number of psychological factors inhibit PSYOP success. One major example is that of human cognitive conservatism. Other psychological mechanisms, mostly emotional ones, may promote PSYOP, for example, strong identification with one’s own (national, ethnic or religious) group, a sense of threat to the resources, status and/or survival of own group, a perception of hostility from other groups, and the experience that another group has devalued or offended the in-group.
... In this scenario, new religious movements, which are often paradoxical expressions within traditional religions, result from such a transformation, revealing individuals' need for community (Namini and Murken 2009;Plante 2013;Stark and Bainbridge 1985). Sometimes, in these groups, intimidating techniques and manipulation are utilized in order to keep involved followers within the community (Coates 2016;Dawson 1997;Lalich and Tobias 2006), whereas in other contexts affiliation and disaffiliation are normal group processes (Richardson 2007). ...
Article
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Loss and its associated grief are important elements of many adverse life events. The focus of this study is centred on a particular form of mourning: the affliction derived from the social identity loss caused by the disaffiliation with a religious sect. In postmodern society, this phenomenon needs to be better evaluated because it may be causing severe distress in an increasing number of people. The literature describes the stress caused by switching from one religious group to another, but less analysis has been done on the potential deleterious effects of the loss of social identity because of the breaking down of relationships with people within the original group. Following the grounded theory approach, 14 former Jehovah’s Witnesses were interviewed with interpretative phenomenological analysis. Three main profiles emerged—born into the faith, converts to the faith, and inactive members—with different difficulties deriving from the loss of social identity and the relational network. The inquiry was focused on the effects of the identification versus individuation processes and also addressed the role of death anxiety. Results confirmed on the one hand a high level of distress that often caused death anxiety, alcoholism, panic attacks, and depression, as described in the literature. On the other hand, the importance of the individuation process emerged, following theologian Paul Tillich’s concept of “courage of self-affirmation” and Bernard Lonergan’s “self-appropriation,” whose development occurs in three phases: de-identification and loss, grieving and crisis, and the work of grief and complete self-affirmation or self-appropriation. The usefulness of communicating these specific themes to a broad audience by enhancing community education through widespread spiritual counseling is also addressed.
... The PAEGS optimal cut-off value and the high mean differences between the two samples may suggest that, whereas a large number of abusive behaviors were continuously and systematically employed in abusive groups, these same abusive practices were hardly or only occasionally used, and with low intensity, in the groups reported by the comparison sample. Therefore, the processes taking place in abusive groups go beyond normal group dynamics and should not be confused with them or with mere influence and socialization processes, as some authors have suggested (Coates, 2016;Melton, 2007;Richardson, 2007). ...
Article
The purpose of this study was to adapt the Psychological Abuse Experienced in Groups Scale (PAEGS) for use in the Japanese population. This scale evaluates the frequency with which an individual has experienced psychologically abusive behaviors within a group. A questionnaire was administered to 130 former members of abusive groups and to a comparison sample composed of 124 former members of non-abusive groups. The main results showed a one-dimensional factor structure and an adequate reliability score. Significant correlations were found between the PAEGS and a group abusiveness measure, providing evidence of convergent validity. In addition, high discriminatory power was found, determining an optimal cut-off point to distinguish between abusive experiences and non-abusive experiences within groups. The Japanese version of the PAEGS is able to overcome limitations of previous instruments intended to assess the phenomenon, as sufficient empirical evidence is found for its use in research. In addition, it can be useful in clinical and legal contexts to assess the degree of psychological abuse experienced by Japanese people during their involvement in certain groups.
... This notion that membership may reflect a desire for connectedness lacking in fast-paced and fragmented contemporary Western society is well established. A number of scholars have made sense of NRM membership in the light of the perceived limitations of Western cultural values and institutions in providing the individual with stable and enduring connections to others, arguing that contemporary society fails to meet the individual's need for belonging (Barker 1981(Barker , 2006Levine 2007;Melton 1992;Richardson 2007). While for the social selves in this study strong social connectedness is understood as supporting their existing selves, it is argued that for the protected selves, social connectedness reflected a desire for a sense belonging they did not experience in childhood. ...
Article
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Challenging the view that people join New Religious Movements because they have fallen victim to powerful brainwashing techniques, the analysis of in-depth life history interviews of 23 former members from 11 different Australian 'cults' suggests that membership was personally negotiated and motivated by a desire for stronger social connections, albeit for different reasons. While for some participants, a desire for social connectedness was related to a strong need for guidance and direction from 'stable' others, for others it reflected a desire for self-change or self-enhancement. To make sense of the participant narratives, symbolic interactionist understandings of the self are applied.
... Those who support the brainwashing theories argue that involvement in ''cults'' or NRMs can be attributed to psychological practices that are designed to increase members' dependency on the group and that result in a loss of free will (Hassan, 2000;Lalich & Tobias, 2006;Singer, 2003). While this model is the most popular model outside of sociological circles (Snow & Machalek, 1983), sociologists, on a whole, have found no evidence of ''brainwashing'' (Richardson, 2007;Snow & Machalek, 1983). A move away from a conceptualization of new recruits as passive recipients toward a more activist understanding of conversion followed an interest in NRMs by symbolic interactionists (Balch & Taylor, 1977;Festinger, Riecken, & Schachter, 1956;James, 1979James, [1902; Lofland, 1977;Lofland & Stark, 1965;Strauss, 1979). ...
Article
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The current chapter outlines the process through which New Religious Movement (NRM) membership is conceptualized as facilitating the development of increased reflexivity, in particular the development of an increased ability to connect to others. Based on the narratives of a subsample of 11 former members of NRMs for whom membership signified a desire for an increased ability to emotionally connect to others, a number of factors that are understood as having facilitated or inhibited this type of change were identified and are discussed. The findings extend previous theorizing of NRM as facilitating changes in the behaviors and beliefs of their members, and conceptualizes NRMs as possible avenues through which self-change at an emotional level can occur.
Article
Earlier research in America and elsewhere has shown considerable bias and misinformation in media coverage of so‐called “new religions”; (sometimes referred to as ‘cults'). This paper reports mostly qualitative research which raises questions about the overall objectivity and neutrality of journalists covering such groups. The paper includes discussion of specific episodes of media bias concerning new and minority religions in Australia, as well as other research from that country. A situation which involved an Australian journalist facing ethics charges in relation to a story written about a number of groups referred to as ‘cults’ is included, as a development with implications about how journalists treat such phenomena.
Chapter
This chapter focuses on regulation of minority religions in two important societies of the East—Japan and China.1 Attention will be on legal developments in those two societies, including legislative initiatives and legal cases, using a sociological perspective in the analysis. In the case of Japan, the focus will be on the impact of the tragedy involving Aum Shinrikyo, while in China the focus will be on efforts to control the Falun Gong.
Article
Peter B. Clarke's in-depth account explores the innovative character of new religious movements and new forms of spirituality from a global vantage point. Ranging from North America and Europe to Japan, Latin America, South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, it is the perfect introduction to NRMs such as Falun Gong, Aum Shirikyo, the Brahma Kumaris, the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood, Sufism, the Engaged Buddhist and Engaged Hindi movements, Messianic Judaism and Rastafarianism. Charting the cultural significance and global impact of NRMs, he discusses the ways in which various religious traditions are shaping, rather than displacing, each other's understanding of notions such as transcendence and faith, good and evil, of the meaning, purpose and function of religion, and of religious belonging. He then examines the responses of governments, churches, the media and general public to new religious movements, as well as the reaction to older, increasingly influential religions, such as Buddhism and Islam, in new geographical and cultural contexts. Taking into account the degree of continuity between old and new religions, each chapter contains not only an account of the rise of the NRMs and new forms of spirituality in a particular region, but also an overview of change in the regions' mainstream religions.
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(From 'Rogue: The Journal for Alternative Academia, Volume. 1, Issue 1, 2021 https://roguejournal.uk/2021/01/13/1-1/) This article is the product of discussions between the two authors concerning the status of 'new' religions in the wider academic study of religions. The authors outline the classical typologies and definitions of New Religious Movements (NRMs) that have dominated the field in recent decades and interrogate the ways in which the World Religions Paradigm has marginalised the field to a detrimental extent. As 'cultic rhetoric' continues to dominate media and public discourse surrounding 'new' religions, we propose that the field must be integrated within the centre ground of the wider study of religions. Wherein normally separated paradigms become the study of contemporary religion, which understands religion as the lived realities of everyday people. To this end, the authors call for the field of contemporary religion to become accessible to those outside the ivory tower of academia, in order to combat the dominant prejudiced narratives concerning minority forms of lived religion in public discourses.
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This cross disciplinary research study explores former cult members’ perspectives on what helped them to recover from an abusive-cult experience. Here the term ‘abusive-cult’ pre-supposes a psychologically restrictive, traumatic or abusive experience, which may be challenging to ‘recover’ from. As a psychotherapist and former cult member, the subject is of both professional and personal interest. Former cult members (former-members) are an under researched population, and therapeutic strategies for recovering from harm caused in an abusive-cult are underrepresented in the clinical literature. Little empirical research has been undertaken in the counselling profession in UK and worldwide, and evidence indicates that counsellors feel ill-prepared to work with former-members, and that accessing appropriate help is a challenge. This study examines the impact that abusive cults can have on their followers, in order to ascertain how survivors can be helped, through counselling and more generally, when recovering from cult abuse. The study is limited to individuals from UK and USA who self-identified as former-members of an abusive-cult, and who related to the notion of post-cult recovery. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 29 participants, 15 in one-to-one interviews and three focus groups. A qualitative, constructivist grounded theory methodology was used to facilitate inductive emergence. No pre-conceived theoretical framework or literatures were used before the analysis commenced. Nevertheless, the format of the thesis follows PhD conventions, and literatures are discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. Some findings are reflected in the literature chapters, and some literatures within the findings chapters, where they illuminate one another. A theoretical framework was developed based on 3 key sources: evidence from previous studies, that both ‘normal’ and ‘brainwashing’ psychological processes occur in an abusive-cult; Gestalt psychotherapy theory of self and personality (normal); and Lifton’s (1989) thought-reform theory (brainwashing). The findings indicate that the thought-reform environment-field restricts the individual and inhibits the authentic-self, which transmutes from being in the service of the health of the individual, to being in the service of the cult and the cult leader. ‘Freeing the authentic-self’ emerged as the ‘basic social process’ and objective, in answer to the question, ‘what helps?’ and is achieved through a complex process over time, evidenced to occur over four Phases of Recovery and Growth, identified as: Freeing the authentic self: • Phase One: The need to leave Physically & Psychologically • Phase Two: Cognitive Understanding Aspects of Building a Sense of Self • Phase Three: Emotional Healing Aspects of Building a Sense of Self • Phase Four: The Freed Self & Posttraumatic Growth As all research participants are survivors of an abusive-cult, ethical concerns are particularly significant and addressed throughout the thesis. A word of warning: this thesis contains traumatic, and in some places, graphic description of physical, psychological, emotional and mental abuse.
Article
This essay examines how American magazines have portrayed new religions since the World War II. Media depictions have changed dramatically from the 1950s to the present. Specifically, journalists in the 1950s and early 1960s used the dual Cold War themes of exoticism and subversion to depict new religions. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, subjects and themes began to change. Newsmagazines ambivalently reported on the gurus, Asian new religions, and occult spirituality attracting some in the burgeoning youth counterculture with a mixture of exoticism and wariness. By the mid-1970s, media images became more ominous. News, general interest, and entertainment media represented new religions as a growing “cult menace” and highlighted the dangers that brainwashing groups posed to unsuspecting followers. The 1978 Jonestown mass suicide seemed to confirm such negative cult stereotypes, leading to homogenous portrayals of new religions that continued through the 1990s. In explaining such changes over time, the essay ends by proposing five complimentary theses for understanding late-twentieth-century mass media representations of new religions.
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