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The Comet and Its Tail: Cultic Studies from Afar A Presentation to the October 15-16 2004 AFF (Now ICSA) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Presentation on theme: "The Comet and Its Tail: Cultic Studies from Afar A Presentation to the October 15-16 2004 AFF (Now ICSA) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Comet and Its Tail: Cultic Studies from Afar A Presentation to the October AFF (Now ICSA) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia

2 Introduction In this paper I will look at the field of cultic studies from a distance, focusing on broad issues, rather than the details that usually occupy us. My thesis is that the field is mainly concerned with unethical influence, that is, how one person or a group tries to influenceto changeanother person or group in ways that warrant condemnation, or at least critical examination. In this paper I will look at the field of cultic studies from a distance, focusing on broad issues, rather than the details that usually occupy us. My thesis is that the field is mainly concerned with unethical influence, that is, how one person or a group tries to influenceto changeanother person or group in ways that warrant condemnation, or at least critical examination. Those of us in the field direct most of our attention toward extreme instances of unethical influence, toward what are often called, "cults," although, as I have contended elsewhere, this term leaves much to be desired, even though we seem stuck with it. Those of us in the field direct most of our attention toward extreme instances of unethical influence, toward what are often called, "cults," although, as I have contended elsewhere, this term leaves much to be desired, even though we seem stuck with it. These extremesthe comet's head, so to speakgive the field its name. However, especially in recent years, inquirers, paper writers, and conference speakers have noted the connections between at least what some people see as unethical methods of influence and events, practices, and other phenomena in interpersonal settings that aren't extreme and that dont occur in groups typically thought to be "cults" or "cultic." These areas of attention are, to carry the metaphor forward, the "tail of the comet." Let us examine this comet and its tail. These extremesthe comet's head, so to speakgive the field its name. However, especially in recent years, inquirers, paper writers, and conference speakers have noted the connections between at least what some people see as unethical methods of influence and events, practices, and other phenomena in interpersonal settings that aren't extreme and that dont occur in groups typically thought to be "cults" or "cultic." These areas of attention are, to carry the metaphor forward, the "tail of the comet." Let us examine this comet and its tail.

3 What Are We About When AFF (American Family Foundation – in December 2004 renamed "International Cultic Studies Association," ICSA) was founded in 1979, its name reflected the primary concern of the organization's first board of directorsto help families concerned about a relative (usually a son or daughter) committed to a group that the family perceived to be deceptive, controlling, or otherwise harmful to their loved one.When AFF (American Family Foundation – in December 2004 renamed "International Cultic Studies Association," ICSA) was founded in 1979, its name reflected the primary concern of the organization's first board of directorsto help families concerned about a relative (usually a son or daughter) committed to a group that the family perceived to be deceptive, controlling, or otherwise harmful to their loved one. These groups were typically called cults, and their methods were compared to the "brainwashing" notions that became popular after the Korean War.These groups were typically called cults, and their methods were compared to the "brainwashing" notions that became popular after the Korean War. The original board sought to approach this problem scientifically, so research and professional training have always been important components of AFF's work.The original board sought to approach this problem scientifically, so research and professional training have always been important components of AFF's work. Obviously, successfully helping families meant that there would be former group members who needed help readjusting to mainstream society. This became AFF's second pillar and, during the past 15 years, the primary focus of our assistance efforts as more and more "walkaways" sought information from us ("walkaways" are people who come out of groupsthe vast majoritywithout a family-sponsored or other intervention).Obviously, successfully helping families meant that there would be former group members who needed help readjusting to mainstream society. This became AFF's second pillar and, during the past 15 years, the primary focus of our assistance efforts as more and more "walkaways" sought information from us ("walkaways" are people who come out of groupsthe vast majoritywithout a family-sponsored or other intervention). AFF has also devoted energy to preventive education, although the amount of effort has varied depending upon funding resources. The primary goal of preventive education efforts has been to make people more aware of the ways in which they can be manipulated to make choices they wouldn't ordinarily have made.AFF has also devoted energy to preventive education, although the amount of effort has varied depending upon funding resources. The primary goal of preventive education efforts has been to make people more aware of the ways in which they can be manipulated to make choices they wouldn't ordinarily have made.

4 What are We About - II Even in the early days of AFF, some workers in the field were acutely aware of the far-reaching ethical, legal, and social ramifications of what we were observing. Dr. John Clark, for example, used to call cult conversions "the impermissible experiment." Certain groups, in his view, were trying to change personalities by using methods that no psychology department would condone as an experimental protocol. These attempts to restructure identity, though impressive on the surface, were more pseudo than real. However, the maintenance of the altered pseudo-identity created great psychological stress, which accounted in part for the high turnover in such groups and for the high distress level among those who left.Even in the early days of AFF, some workers in the field were acutely aware of the far-reaching ethical, legal, and social ramifications of what we were observing. Dr. John Clark, for example, used to call cult conversions "the impermissible experiment." Certain groups, in his view, were trying to change personalities by using methods that no psychology department would condone as an experimental protocol. These attempts to restructure identity, though impressive on the surface, were more pseudo than real. However, the maintenance of the altered pseudo-identity created great psychological stress, which accounted in part for the high turnover in such groups and for the high distress level among those who left. The criticisms of these methods and the groups that employed them ran head-on into defenses based on notions of religious freedom. This collision draws our attention to fundamental questions affecting all democratic societies, for example:The criticisms of these methods and the groups that employed them ran head-on into defenses based on notions of religious freedom. This collision draws our attention to fundamental questions affecting all democratic societies, for example:

5 Legal/Social Implications How should society reconcile competing rights, obligations, and grievances? How should society reconcile competing rights, obligations, and grievances? How should society respond to harm resulting from religiously based practices? How should society respond to harm resulting from religiously based practices? How can society avoid negative backlash to extreme abuses – make remedy proportionate to harm? How can society avoid negative backlash to extreme abuses – make remedy proportionate to harm? How can society prevent abuses of the legal system by unfairly stifling criticism? How can society prevent abuses of the legal system by unfairly stifling criticism?

6 Key Terms unethical influence unethical influence conversion conversion manipulation manipulation mind-control - thought reform - brainwashing mind-control - thought reform - brainwashing exploitation exploitation cult cult charismatic group charismatic group new religious movement – alternative movement new religious movement – alternative movement psychological abuse psychological abuse harm harm

7 Overlapping Group Types Psy abuse Harm

8 Types of Concerns Psychological Psychological Ethical/Moral Ethical/Moral Theological Theological Social Social

9 Method, Intent, & Effects Choice-Respecting Methods Choice-Respecting Methods Influencee- Centered Intent Influencer- Centered Intent Compliance-Gaining Methods Self-Development Caretaker Invitation Exploitation Comets Head

10 Conclusions Complexity & subjectivity of evaluations Complexity & subjectivity of evaluations We should treat the word cult as a theoretical type or benchmark, NOT as an organizing structure that selects only information that confirms a stereotype."We should treat the word cult as a theoretical type or benchmark, NOT as an organizing structure that selects only information that confirms a stereotype." 4 areas of concern are distinct, though may overlap 4 areas of concern are distinct, though may overlap Appreciate extent of individual variation Appreciate extent of individual variation Extraction vs. Conflict Resolution Extraction vs. Conflict Resolution Ethical bottom line: Did A improperly influence B? Ethical bottom line: Did A improperly influence B? Some things are wrong, regardless of whether or not they hurt none, a few, some, most, or all people.Some things are wrong, regardless of whether or not they hurt none, a few, some, most, or all people.

11 Appendices

12 Singer's Six Conditions for Thought Reform 1. Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time. 2. Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time. 3. Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person. 4. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity. 5. Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. 6. Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.

13 Liftons Eight Themes for Thought Reform 1. Milieu Control 2. Mystical Manipulation 3. Demand for Purity 4. Confession 5. Sacred Science 6. Loading the Language 7. Doctrine over person 8. Dispensing of existence

14 Psychological Abuse Dishonoring MAID (opposite of Respect) Dishonoring MAID (opposite of Respect) MindMind AutonomyAutonomy IdentityIdentity DignityDignity

15 Definitions An ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and demanding total commitment. (Zablocki) An ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and demanding total commitment. (Zablocki) Cult (totalist type): 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 (totalist type): 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.


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