Manipulation, cult groups, sects, and new religious movements
for General Inquirers
The cult phenomenon is a difficult area to understand.
Popular press analyses tend to offer limited insights. Cultic groups often deliberately
obscure their actual goals and practices. Few groups have been studied scientifically.
Affected persons are often reluctant to talk about their experiences, frequently because
doing so involves much pain. There is no simple, easily understood explanation for why
people join and remain in seemingly destructive groups. And public misconceptions about
cults and cult joining tend to invite misinterpretations of the available information.
The central public misconception about the cult phenomenon
is that only "sick" people from troubled families would join "weird"
groups. Tragedies, such as the Heavens Gate or Jonestown
suicides, are brushed off as deviant events that may make for interesting
news but dont affect average people. Few persons realize that the psychological
dynamics of control found in extreme groups, such as Jim Joness Peoples Temple, are
very similar to what is found in cultic groups that, though less destructive than the
extreme examples, nonetheless may cause considerable harm to many of their members. Many
people do not realize that cults, when conceptualized as highly manipulative and
exploitative groups, may be political,
and even commercial,
as well as religious. And few people realize that research studies indicate that several
million Americans have had at least a transient involvement with a cultic group, although
many, buying into common misconceptions, may not recognize the cultic nature of the
Most people who contact AFF are interested in a specific group. Often, we can
provide them with useful information . But there are so many thousands of groups about which
people have inquired over the years that we sometimes cannot provide information on the
group in question, (see research
services). Nevertheless, because the psychological dynamics of control is the
key factor in evaluating the "cultishness" and potential harmfulness of a group,
we can often help even these inquirers by directing them to resources that explain these
dynamics. Moreover, even when information on specific groups is available, this
information usually needs to be supplemented by explanations of how cultic groups gain
power over their members.
The informational guides
that follow this one direct specific categories of inquirers to resources that may be
especially useful to them. All inquirers, however, may benefit from the general
understanding of the cult phenomenon provided by the following resources, which we
consider the minimum educational package for interested citizens.
General inquirers should also examine the selected essays in this resource guide
for information on important topics
and general categories of groups.