Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article does not discuss "cult" in its original sense of "religious practice"; for that usage see cult (religion). See Cult (disambiguation) for more meanings of the term "cult".
In religion and sociology, a cult is a group of people devoted to beliefs and goals which are not held by the majority of society, often religious in nature. Its marginal status may come about either due to its novel belief system or due to idiosyncratic practices that cause the surrounding culture to regard it as far outside the mainstream.
See also List of purported cults for a list of groups that have been referred to as cults by diverse sources.
4.1 Stigmatization and discrimination
In English-speaking countries since about the 1960s, especially in North America, the term cult has taken on a pejorative and sometimes offensive connotation. This largely originated with highly publicized cults which purportedly exploited their members psychologically and financially, or which allegedly utilized group-based persuasion and conversion techniques. These techniques, include "brainwashing", "thought reform", "love bombing", and "mind control". The discourse on whether these techniques are scientifically valid, if these offer a better explanation for religious conversion, and whether they are in use, or effective, is addressed within their own articles.
Because of the increasingly pejorative connotation of the word cult, most members of these groups find the word offensive when applied to them. . On the other hand, some skeptics have questioned the distinction between a cult and a mainstream religion. They say that the only difference between a cult and a religion is that the latter is older and has more followers and, therefore, seems less controversial because society has become used to it. See also anti-cult movement and Opposition to cults and new religious movements.
Problems surrounding the definitions of a cult
See also: Definitions of cult
The literal and traditional meanings of the word cult, which are more fully explored at the entry Cult (religion), derive from the Latin cultus, meaning "care" or "adoration," as "a system of religious belief or ritual; or: the body of adherents to same."
In French or Spanish, culte or culto simply means "worship" or "religious attendance"; thus an association cultuelle is an association whose goal is to organize religious worship and practices (not to be mistaken for an association culturelle or "cultural association"). The word for "cult" in the popular English meaning is secte (French) or secta (Spanish). (See false cognate.)
In formal English use, and in non-English European terms, the cognates of the English word "cult" are neutral, and refer mainly to divisions within a single faith, a case where English speakers might use the word "sect". Hence Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism are cults within Christianity. In English, it remains perfectly neutral to refer to the "cult of Artemis at Ephesus" and the "cult figures" that accompanied it, or to "the importance of the Ave Maria in the cult of the Virgin."
However, in common usage, "cult" has a very negative connotation, and is generally applied to a group in order to criticize it. Understandably, most groups, if not all, that are called "cults" deny this qualification. Some groups called "cults" by some critics may consider themselves not to be "cults", but may consider some other groups to be "cults".
Definition of "cult" by the anti-cult movement
Although anti-cult activists and scholars did not agree on precise criteria that new religions should meet to be considered "cults," two of the definitions formulated by anti-cult activists are:
- Cults are groups that often exploit members psychologically and/or financially, typically by making members comply with leadership's demands through certain types of psychological manipulation, popularly called mind control, and through the inculcation of deep-seated anxious dependency on the group and its leaders 
- Cult: 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 . . . designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. 
Cult, NRM and the sociology and psychology of religion
The problem with defining the word cult is that (1) purported cult members generally resist being called a cult, and (2) the word cult is often used to marginalize religious groups with which one does not agree or sympathize. Some serious researchers of religion and sociology prefer to use terms such as new religious movement (NRM) in their research on cults. Such usage may lead to confusion because some religious movements are "new" but not necessarily cults, and some purported cults are not religious or overtly religious. Where a cult practices physical or mental abuse, some psychologists and other mental health professionals use the terms cult, abusive cult, or destructive cult. The popular press also commonly uses these terms. However, not all cults function abusively or destructively, and among those that psychologists believe are abusive, few members would agree that they suffer abuse. Other researchers like David V. Barrett hold the view that classifying a religious movement as a cult is generally used as a subjective and negative label and has no added value; instead, he argues that one should investigate the beliefs and practices of the religious movement. 
The field of cults and new religious movements is studied by sociologists, religious scholars, and psychologists and psychiatrists. The debates about a certain purported cult and cults in general are often polarized with widely divergent opinions, not only among current followers of a purported cult and disaffected former members, but sometimes even among scholars and social scientists. For example, the American religious scholar J. Gordon Melton holds the view that cults rarely do serious harm and that stories of apostates cannot be relied upon. In correspondence with this view, he went to a trip to Japan paid by Aum Shinrikyo after the sarin gas attack and erroneously declared there that Aum Shinrikyo was innocent.  Other scholars challenging the validity of apostate testimonies include Brian R. Wilson, David G. Bromley, Massimo Introvigne, Anson Shupe, amongst others. Opponents of this view are among others, the scholars David C. Lane, Benjamin Zablocki , and Stephen Kent . See also Apostates and Apologists.
Psychologists, among them those specialised in group psychology, studied what cognitive and emotional traits make people accept to join a cult and to stay loyal to it, see an analysis in the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology
Some groups, particularly those labeled by others as cults, view the designation as insensitive, and feel persecuted by their opponents whom they often believe to be part of the "anti-cult movement".
Such groups often defend their position by comparing themselves to more established, mainstream religious groups such as Catholicism and Judaism. The argument offered in this case can usually be simplified as, "Christianity and Judaism can also be defined as cults under some definitions of the term, and therefore the term cult is superfluous and useless." Members of groups referred to as cults have been known to engage in long discussions over the definition of the word "cult." Critics of alleged cult groups state that by doing so, these persons have been known to waste large amounts of time and effort that would be better spent examining the actions of the groups in question, in order to reveal why these groups are referred to as cults.
Another problem with writing about cults comes about because they generally hold belief systems that give answers to questions about the meaning of life and morality. This makes it difficult not to write in biased terms about a certain cult, because writers are rarely neutral about these questions. Some writers who deal with the subject choose to explicitly state their ethical values and belief systems to deal with this difficulty.
For many scholars and professional commentators, the usage of the word "cult" applies to maleficent or abusive behavior, and not to a belief system. For members of competing religions, use of the word remains pejorative and applies primarily to rival beliefs (see memes), and only incidentally to behavior.
In the sociology of religion, the term cult is a part of the subdivision of religious groups into sects, cults, denominations and ecclesias. In these terms, it is a neutral term, referring to a religious movement with novel beliefs and a high degree of tension with the surrounding society. Cults, in this sense, may or may not be dangerous, abusive, etc. By this definition, most of the groups which have been popularly labeled cults are indeed cults.
Definition of "cult" in dictionaries and other points of view
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines cult as:
- "a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents" 
Lloyd Eby calls this definition problematic, because:
- "...then we must ask: regarded as spurious or unorthodox by whom? Who has or was given this authority to decide what beliefs or practices are orthodox or genuine, and what are unorthodox or spurious? In the realm of religion and belief, one person's or group's norm is another's anathema, and what is regarded as false or counterfeit by one person or group is regarded as genuine and authentic by another." (emphasis added) 
This definition is entirely subjective: it means that if you think a religion is unorthodox, then you will call it a cult.
Indeed, any religion involving unconditional worship and unquestioning obedience to God could be labelled as a cult (using the pejorative connotation of the word), since such a religion would have that high level of dependency, obedience, and unwavering compliance ascribed to cults by definition. Many mainstream religions still require their members to believe in God unquestioningly, to have faith that he is good and that what he does is good (even in light of problems of theodicy that make it reasonable to question this), to consider one's own wants and needs as unimportant while accepting the will of God as paramount. All of these are certainly characteristics commonly attributed to cults, but while it would not be unreasonable to apply this definition of a cult to any dogmatic religion that requires strict compliance with God's word and will as a condition of membership, the notion of applying the word "cult" to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other major world religion today is considered absurd. There are those (e.g., Maltheists) who make this very claim: that those who worship God fit the classic depiction of cult members in their dogmatism, unswerving obedience, and denial of self. This highlights the problematic nature of defining what is and is not a cult.
Christianity and Cults
Since at least the 1940s, the approach of orthodox or conservative or fundamentalist Christians was to apply the meaning of cult such that it included those religious groups who used (possibly exclusively) non-standard translations of the Bible, put additional revelation on a similar or higher level than the Bible or had practices deviant from those of traditional Christianity. Some examples of sources (with published dates where known) that documented this approach are:
- Heresies and Cults, by J.Oswald Sanders, pub.1948.
- Cults and Isms, by J.Oswald Sanders, pub.1962, 1969, 1980 (Arrowsmith), ISBN 0 551 00458 4.
- Chaos of the Cults, by J.K.van Baalen.
- Heresies Exposed, by W.C.Irvine.
- Confusion of Tongues, by C.W.Ferguson.
- Isms New and Old, by Julius Bodensieck.
- Some Latter-Day Religions, by G.H.Combs.
These unorthodox groups can be rather large (e.g. Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the "LDS Church"; see also Mormon), or small, such as the Swedenborgian church.
Understandably, these groups, including the Mormons, deny that they are cults.
Theories about the reasons for joining a cult
According to Gallanter11, typical reasons why people join cults include a search for community and a spiritual quest.
Jeffrey Hadden summarizes a lecture named "Why Do People Join NRMs?" (a lecture in a series related to the sociology of new religious movements12) as follows:
- Belonging to groups is a natural human activity;
- People belong to religious groups for essentially the same reasons they belong to other groups;
- Conversion is generally understood as an emotionally charged experience that leads to a dramatic reorganization of the convert's life;
- Conversion varies enormously in terms of the intensity of the experience and the degree to which it actually alters the life of the convert;
- Conversion is one, but not the only reason people join religious groups;
- Social scientists have offered a number of theories to explain why people join religious groups;
- Most of these explanations could apply equally well to explain why people join lots of other kinds of groups;
- No one theory can explain all joinings or conversions;
- What all of these theories have in common (deprivation theory excluded) is the view that joining or converting is a natural process.
Stark and Bainbridge have questioned the utility of the concept of conversion. They suggest, instead, that the concept of affiliation is a more useful concept for understanding how people join religious groups.13
Cults: genuine concerns and exaggerations
The stigma surrounding the classification of a group as a cult stems from the purported ill effect the group's influence has on its members. The narratives of ill effect include threats presented by a cult to its members (whether real or perceived), and risks to the physical safety of its members and to their mental and spiritual growth. Much of the actions taken against cults and alleged cults have been in reaction to the harm experienced by some members due to their affiliation with the groups in question. Members of alleged cult groups have taken pains to emphasize that not all groups called cults are dangerous. Over a period of time, some minority religious organizations that were at one point in time considered cults have been accepted by mainstream society, such as Mormonism, Christian Science in the USA, and the Amish. Certain fringe groups, such as Heaven's Gate, Aum Shinrikyo, and the Peoples Temple have demonstrated by their actions that they do pose a threat to the well-being of both their own members and to society in general; these organizations are often referred to as destructive cults.
It is worth noting that despite the emphasis on narratives of "doomsday cults" by the media and the counter-cult movement, the number of cults that fall under that category are approximately ten, which is very little when compared with the total number of new religious movements worldwide, which E. Barker estimates to be tens of thousands10.
According to the professor in sociology at the Rutgers University Benjamin Zablocki, cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members, in part because members' adulation of charismatic leaders contributes to their becoming corrupted by the power they seek and are accorded. Zablocki defines a cult here as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and demanding total commitment. 17
There is no reliable, generally accepted way to determine what groups will harm its members. In an attempt to predict the probability of harm, popular but non-scientific cult checklists have been created by anti-cultists for this purpose. One checklist by Eileen Barker claims to be based on empirical research.
Barker, Barrett, and the anti-cult activist Steven Hassan all advise seeking information from various sources about a certain group before getting deeply involved, though these sources differ in the urgency they suggest.
Stigmatization and discrimination
Some feel that the terms "cult" and "cult leader" are used pejoratively by anti-cultists, asserting that they are to be avoided to prevent harm. A website affiliated with Adi Da Samraj  sees the activities of anti-cult activists as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them, and regards the use of the words "cult" and "cult leader" as similar to the manner in which "nigger" and "commie" were used in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.
Leaving a cult, reasons and empirical evidence
According to Barker (1989), the biggest worry about possible harm concerns the relatively few dedicated followers of a new religious movement (NRM). Barker also mentions that some former members may not take new initatives for quite a long time after disaffiliation from the NRM. This generally does not concern the many superficial, or short-lived, or peripheral supporters of a NRM. Membership in a cult usually does not last forever: 90% or more of cult members ultimately leave their group 2,4
According to Hadden and Bromley, proponents of the brainwashing model such as Singer and others, lack empirical evidence to support their theory of brainwashing. They also affirm that there is lack of empirical support for alleged consequences of having been a member of a cult or sect, and that their accounts of what happens to ex-members is contradicted by substantial empirical evidence such as, the fact that the overwhelming proportion of people who get involved in NRMs do leave, most short of two years, the overwhelming proportion of people leave of their own volition, and that two-thirds (67%) felt "wiser for the experience"14.
According to Barret, in many cases the problems do not happen while in a cult, but when leaving a cult which can be difficult for some members and may include a certain amount of trauma. Reasons for this trauma may include conditioning by the religious movement, avoidance of uncertainties about life and its meaning, having had powerful religious experiences, love for the founder of the religion, emotional investment, fear of losing salvation, bonding with other members, anticipation of the realization that time, money and efforts donated to the group were a waste, and the new freedom with its corresponding responsibilities, especially for people who lived in a community. Those reasons may prevent a member from leaving even if the member realizes that some things in the NRM are wrong. According to Kranenborg, in some religious groups, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, members have all their social contacts within the group, which makes disaffection and disaffiliation very traumatic. 15 According to F. Derks and J. van der Lans psychological and social problems upon resignation are not rare but their character and intensity are greatly dependent on the personal history and on the traits of the person, and on the reasons for and way of resignation. 16
See also Shunning
Some allegations made by former members of purported cults
Allegations against cults are mostly based on the testimonies of former members. The role of former members, also known as apostates, in the controversy surrounding cults, has been widely studied by social scientists. Apostates in this context are those individuals that leave controversial groups and become public opponents against their former movements. The apostates' motivations, the roles they play in the anti-cult movement, the validity of their testimony, and the kinds of narratives they construct, are highly controversial. See also Apostasy in new religious movements.
- Failed promises to followers, allegation made by scholar and former member Robert Priddy and by former member Sharon Purcell with regards to Sathya Sai Baba ;
- Sexual abuse and rape, by several Indian newspapers with regards to the convicted Swami Premananda but who continues to have an international following and by skeptic Basava Premanand, Robert Priddy and other former followers of Sathya Sai Baba;
- Failed prophecy, allegation made by former Jehovah Witnesses with regards to the suggested end of the world in 1975;
- Causing suicides by abuse, neglect or by direct encouragement see cult suicide, allegations made by Robert Priddy and some other former members of Sathya Sai Baba;
- Not admitting, let alone apologizing for mistakes committed by the leaders, allegations made by Robert Priddy with regards to Sathya Sai Baba. See Allegations against Sathya Sai Baba;
- False, irrational or even contradictory teachings sometimes including a false biography of the leader by former members of Eckankar with regards to Paul Twitchell  and by critics of Scientology with regards to L. Ron Hubbard;
- Teachings with mere platitudes, allegations, financial exploitation, excessive devotion or surrender to an unreliable living leader, allegations made by dissafected ex-followers of Prem Rawat. See Criticism of Prem Rawat;
- Discouraging critical thinking to maintain loyalty to the group, for example former followers of Prem Rawat;
- Deception in recruitment (by using "front groups"), allegations made by Steven Hassan ex- member of the Unification Church, and former members of The Family;
- Discouraging professional education, allegations made by disenchanted second generation members of The Family ;
- Interference in private matters by the leadership, allegations made by former follower André van der Braak with regards to Andrew Cohen in his book Enlightenment Blues;
- Isolation of members from family and the rest of society, allegations made by Nori Muster, former member of ISKCON ;
- Demonizing people and life outside the cult, allegations made by former members of the Children of God that called the outside world the system and by former member Steven J. Gelberg of ISKCON ;
- Plagiarism, allegations made by former members of Eckankar ;
- Child abuse, for example the neglect and abuse of children of children on some boarding schools of ISKCON in the USA in the 1970s, by former follower Nori Muster, also described in salon.com and also admitted by ISKCON itself ;
- Naively allowing a hierarchical organizational structure with no checks and balances, opening the door for leaders to abuse their power or maintain leadership positions even in case of proven incompetence, allegations made by former member Nori Muster with regards to ISKCON in the USA after the death of Prabhupada, also admitted by some current ISKCON members   ;
- Discrimination of women, allegations made by former member Nori Muster of ISKCON ;
- Causing long-lasting emotional pain, depression or psychological trauma upon disaffection and disaffiliation, allegations made by the late Jan Groenveld ex-Jehovah Witnesses , and Steven Hassan (ex-member of the Unification Church), Sharon (full name is well known to people involved) ex-member of Eckankar , and by Conny Larsson in the Danish Radio documentary Seduced by Sai Baba , and B.N. (full name well known) both ex-followers of Sathya Sai Baba ;
- Shunning of former members, allegations made by the late former follower of the Jehovah Witnesses Jan Groenveld ;
- Exclusivism, claiming to be the only true church or group, for example former members of the International Churches of Christ ;
- Pedophilia alleged by a son A.R. of a former follower of Sathya Sai Baba, (full name well known to people involved) who appeared in the BBC documentary Secret Swami;
- Blackmail of the local police and forcing them to commit murder, alleged by Robert Priddy and Basava Premanand with regards to high ranking members of Sathya Sai Baba's organization;
- Quackery alleged by the late former follower M. Krishna with regards to Sathya Sai Baba as described in the book Miracles are my visiting cards by Erlendur Haraldsson Ph.D., chapter 17;
- A guru called Swami Balyogi Premvarni in Rishikesh  telling a follower to have an abortion very late in her pregancy to hide the fact that he had sex with her for his other followers and donors, alleged by Mary Garden in her book The Serpent Rising: A journey of spiritual seduction ;
- Unnecessary secrecy of the leadership for the professed goal of a religious or spiritual organization, alleged by former follower Robert Priddy with regards to Sathya Sai Baba's organization and alleged by former members of The Family;
- Using propaganda for recruitment, alleged by Conny Larsson on the internet, ex-Sathya Sai Baba;
Allegations made by scholars and skeptics
- False, irrational or even contradictory teaching made by scholar Dr. David C. Lane with regards to Paul Twitchell;
- False miracles performed or endorsed by the leadership, made by the skeptics the late Abraham Kovoor, H. Narasimhaiah, and Basava Premanand for a variety of gurus and fakirs;
- Discouraging regular medical care but instead relying on faith healing, made by the magazine salon.com with regards to Christian Science;
- Plagiarism, allegations made by David C. Lane;
- Child abuse, for example subjecting blindfolded children to many hours of meditation, as documented by the scholar Dr. David C. Lane with regards to Thakar Singh .
Prevalence of purported cults
By one measure, between 3,000 and 5,000 purported cults existed in the United States in 1995.  While some of the more well-known and influential of these groups are frequently labelled as cults, the majority of these groups vigorously protest the label and refuse to be classified as such, and often expend great efforts in public relations campaigns to rid themselves of the stigma associated with of the term cult.
In order to maintain a neutral point of view, a list of purported cults presents a listing of groups labeled as cults by various non-related, reasonably unbiased sources.
Cults and governments
In many countries there exists a separation of church and state and freedom of religion. Some governments are however worried about cults and have taken restrictive measures against some of their activities. Those measures were generally motivated by various crimes committed inside cults, especially by a string of murderous incidents involving doomsday cults circa 1995. However, critics of those measures hypothezise 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.
In Belgium, the Belgian Parliamentary Commission on Cults submitted a report to the Belgian Parliament in 1997 that included a list of 189 organizations that it labeled "cults". The list that had no legal status covered a wide range of religious groups, including the Amish Mission in Belgium, Buddhism, several Catholic groups such as Opus Dei, some Evangelical Christian denominations, Hasidic Judaism, Quakers, and Satanists.
The Quakers complained to Deputy Prime Ministers about their inclusion on the list, pointed out their humanitarian aid programs, and requested to see the evidence against them which had been presented the federal police in a closed session to the Parliamentary Commission. They were unsuccessful in their appeal.
As a consequence of the advice of the commission to the parliament, a law was accepted to observe cults that possibly break the law. This resulted in the foundation of a centre on June 2, 1998 for the information and advice on harmful cults, located in Brussels.[
An extreme form of measures against "cults" is the case of Falun Gong in China. The government of the People's Republic of China consider Falun Gong a dangerous cult and seeks to dismantle it; Falun Gong followers have been jailed, and occurrences of torture have been reported. Many anti-cult activists feel that, even if Falun Gong deserves the negative connotations associated with the term cult, the Chinese government took disproportionate measures against it.
The People's Republic of China has also engaged in repression against Buddhist worshippers, especially monks and nuns, in Tibet, on suspicions that they work for the end of the Chinese domination of Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama as ruler of Tibet.
Controversies have erupted concerning the reaction of various foreign governments with respect to the Chinese anti-Falun Gong and anti-Tibetan actions, or, rather, the lack thereof. Some foreign governments, including the French, were criticized for complacency with respect to Chinese authorities, especially for restricting demonstrations against the Chinese government during official Chinese visits and ceremonies organized in collaboration with the Chinese government.  
On May 22, 1984 the European Parliament passed a resolution with the title "New Organizations Operating Under the Protection Afforded to Religious Beliefs" that expressed the parliament's concern about the recruitment and treatment of the members of these new organizations. 
On March 1997, a "Resolution on cults in Europe" by the European Parliament, reaffirmed its attachment to the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, such as tolerance, and freedom of conscience, religion, thought, association and assembly, as well as calling on its Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs to meet and work on collecting and sharing information that would enable conclusions to be drawn on the best way to restrain undesirable activities by sects and on strategies to raise public awareness about them. 
On December 22, 1997 the Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs released an ammended resolution named "Resolution on Cults in the European Union" that was originally to be voted by the European Parliament in Strasbourg during the session of January 1998. The text of the resolution was rejected by the plenary of the European Parliament in July 1998 by a coalition of anti-cultists and religious liberties activists (the former complaining that it was too weak, and the latter considering it out of the scope of the European Parliament to decide). The resolution was sent back to the Commission for further consideration.
Main article: French legislation on cult abuses.
Following from the constatation of the criminal excesses of certain cults in 1995, the French government has encouraged public caution toward some minority religious groups that it considers to be cults. As a consequence, reports on alleged sectes (cults) were published, and legislation making it easier to prosecute alleged crimes committed by these groups was adopted; both the reports and the legislation have been controversial.
The French parliament passed a law (the About-Picard law), declared by its proponents to be aimed at repressing the excesses of groups infringing on human rights and fundamental freedoms. The law makes it possible to prosecute organizations, rather than individuals, for a number of crimes; in the case of established criminal behavior by an organization, courts may disband the organization. A controversial provision criminalizing "mental manipulation", included in early drafts, was not included in the final law, because of concerns about the vagueness of this notion.
This legislation attracted some critical remarks, but no condemnation, from the Helsinki International Federation for Human Rights (See index of documents), the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe , an Investigatory Commission for Violations of Human Rights hosted by the Omnium des Liberté, and from minority religious groups. The US government under the Clinton administration was also critical. The criticism argued that, if legislation was applied improperly, it could result in the arbitrary banning of unpopular religious groups; and that the legislation fostered in the public and officials an atmosphere of discrimination against members of emerging religions.
The German federal government does not accept Scientology's claim to be a religion but asserts that it is a business disguised as a religion and puts restrictions on its activities. . The United States Congress failed to pass a resolution in 1997 related to "discrimination by the German Government against members of minority religious groups" that mentioned only Scientology related examples of discrimination .
In the United Kingdom a charity named INFORM was founded in 1988 by professor Eileen Barker of the London School of Economics, with the funding from the Home Office and the support of mainstream Churches. According to their website, their primary aim is "... to help people through providing them with accurate, balanced, up-to-date information about new and/or alternative religious or spiritual movements."
United States of America
The United States Department of State's travel warning for India mentions "inappropriate sexual behavior by a prominent local religious leader".  Upon request they confirm that they refer to the guru Sathya Sai Baba. 
- Anti-cult movement
- Cognitive dissonance
- Cult Awareness Network
- Cult suicide
- Freedom of religion
- Hate group and new religious movements
- Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT)
- Legalism (theology)
- List of purported cults
- New religious movement
- Opposition to cults and new religious movements
- Religious conversion to new religious movements and cults
- Religious pluralism
- Sociology of religion (currently treating only one theory)
- True-believer syndrome
- Wikipedia as a cult (from BJAODN)
- Cult Awareness Network website of the Cult Awareness Network, affiliated with Scientology that tries to fight, what they see as, unjustified stigmatization, hate and prejudice against "cults" and NRMs
- The Death Cults or Media Treatment of Failed New Religious Movements article by Gavin Parks, a student of Rice University, who argues that the media are biased against NRMs and that the Peoples Temple's mass suicide should not overshadow their earlier struggle for civil rights.
- "Cult Watch" by Institute for the Study of American Religion led by J. Gordon Melton.
- Apologetics Index: research resources on cults, sects, and related issues Large website published by Anton Hein , who operates from an evangelical Christian point of view, but links to and presents a variety of viewpoints.
- Guru Ratings The Guru Rating site-a list of spiritual leaders, self appointed and otherwise, with examination of their beliefs and conduct, maintained by a follower of Osho
- How to rate a guru? Another guru scale This one dealing with safety and cultlike behaviour
- CultFAQ.org Definitions of terms such as cult, sect, anti-cult, counter-cult, cult apologists, et cetera
- ReligionNewsBlog.com Current news articles about religious cults, sects, and related issues, collected by Anton Hein
- Cult Apologists Counter cult activist Anton Hein's critical entry on "Alternative religions and their academic defenders"
- Traumatic abuse in cults Long, scholarly, psychological essay by the psychotherapist Daniel Shaw, an ex-follower of Siddha Yoga, founded by Muktananda
- Cults a.k.a. new religious movmement This site argues that the stigma that surround many "cults" is often based on unjustified generalizations and prejudice
- Cult Index. An anti-cult site of the American Family Foundation , a major American anti-cult organization
- IT HURTS A poem about losing faith and leaving a "cult" by the late Mrs. Jan Groenveld, an ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, The poem is popular among ex-members of many different groups
- Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups an essay by Jim Moyers, MA, MFT originally written for psychotherapists working with ex-fundamentalists
- University of Virginia Religious Movements Homepage Extensive website with entries on definitions, controversies and many religious groups, mostly written by the late sociologist Jeffrey Hadden and his former students, now edited by Douglas E. Cowan(old entries of individual religious groups have not been updated in the last two years)
- Cults Robert Todd Carroll's skeptic dictionary entry on cults
- Ex-cult support Restricted anonymous Yahoo! recovery group for ex-members of cults and high-demand or abusive groups
- "So Many Evil Things": Anti-Cult Terrorism via the Internet Article by Massimo Introvigne, the president of CESNUR (a network of scholars working in the field of NRMs), discussing anti-cult activism on the internet and its dangers
- Cults in our Midst Excerpts from the anti-cult book of the same name by Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D.
- Beyond belief - Cults (audio file, choose date 2004 9 Aug) A BBC radio debate between David V. Barrett, an anti-cult activist, and a member of The Family that is often branded as a cult by its detractors
- AbusiveChurches.org Information about "cults that masquerade as churches" from a private website of two ex-followers of the Christian Fellowship Church Ministries, International
- On the psychology of spiritual movements long article by Michael Rogge
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Extensive library of articles and essays, promoting religious understanding, tolerance and freedom.
- Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF), by Isaac Bonewits. A 15-point checklist of the factors that the author suggests can be used for personal evaluation of groups that may be classified as cults.
- The effect of leaving a cult according to late Mrs. Jan Groenveld, A popular description among ex-members of many different groups
- Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups by Jim Moyers, MA, MFT originally written for psychotherapists working with ex-fundamentalists
- University of Virginia Religious Movements Homepage, old entries of individual religious groups have not been updated in the last two years
- Robert Todd Carroll's skeptic dictionary entry on cults
- Restricted anonymous Yahoo! recovery group for ex-members of cults and high-demand or abusive groups
- "Traumatic abuse in cults" Long, scholarly, rather pscyhological essay by ex-follower of Muktananda Daniel Shaw
- Article about Anti-cult terrorism (from CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, an international network of associations of scholars working in the field of new religious movements, based in Italy)
- Excerpts from the book Cults in our Midst by Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D. 
- BBC radio programme, choose date 2004 9 Aug - Cults
- Centre d'information et d'avis sur les organisations sectaires nuisibles Dutch and french language website of the offical centre of the Belgian federal government for information and advice about harmful cults
- William Chambers, Michael Langone, Arthur Dole & James Grice, The Group Psychological Abuse Scale: A Measure of the Varieties of Cultic Abuse, Cultic Studies Journal', 11(1), 1994. The definition of a cult given above is based on a study of 308 former members of 101 groups.
- Barker, E. The Ones Who Got Away: People Who Attend Unification Church Workshops and Do Not Become Moonies. In: Barker E, ed. Of Gods and Men: New Religious Movements in the West'. Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press; 1983.
- Barker, E. (1989) New Religious Movements: A Practical Introduction, London, HMSO
- Galanter M. Unification Church ('Moonie') dropouts: psychological readjustment after leaving a charismatic religious group. American Journal of Psychiatry. 1983;140(8):984-989.
- Enroth, Ronald. Churches that Abuse
- Singer, M with Lalich, J (1995). Cults in Our Midst, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Aronoff, Jodi; Lynn, Steven Jay; Malinosky, Peter. Are cultic environments psychologically harmful?, Clinical Psychology Review, 2000, Vol. 20 #1 pp. 91-111
- West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1985). Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, September 9–11. Weston, MA: American Family Foundation.
- Barrett, D. V. The New Believers - A survey of sects, cults and alternative religions 2001 UK, Cassell & Co. available online
- Barker, E., The Making of a Moonie, Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1984), p. 147.
- Galanter, Marc M.D.(Editor) (1989) Cults and new relgious movements: a report of the committee on psychiatry and religion of the American Psychiatric Association ISBN 0-89042-212-5
- Hadden, Jeffrey K. SOC 257: New Religious Movements Lectures, University of Virginia, Department of Sociology.
- Bader, Chris & A. Demaris, A test of the Stark-Bainbridge theory of affiliation with religious cults and sects. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 285-303. (1996)
- Hadden, J and Bromley, D eds. (1993), The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., pp. 75-97.
- Kranenborg, Reender Dr. (Dutch language) Sekten ... gevaarlijk of niet?/Cults... dangerous or not? published in the magazine Religieuze bewegingen in Nederland/Religious movements in the Netherlands nr. 31 Sekten II by the Free university Amsterdam (1996) ISSN 0169-7374 ISBN 90-5383-426
- F. Derks and professor Jan van der Lans (Dutch language) Post-cult-syndroom; feit of fictie?/Post-cult syndrome: fact or fiction?. published in the magazine Religieuze bewegingen in Nederland/Religious movemements in the Netherlands nr. 6 pages 58-75 published by the Free university Amsterdam (1983)
- Dr. Zablocki, Benjamin  Paper presented to a conference, Cults: Theory and Treatment Issues, May 31, 1997 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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