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Is the New Age Movement Harmless? Critics Versus Experts

Cultic Studies Journal
Psychological Manipulation and Society
Vol. 10, No. 1, 1992

Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
American Family Foundation
Steve K. Dubrow-Eichel, Ph.D.
RETIRN

 

Abstract
Following an earlier study of the views of critics of the New Age Movement (Dole, Langone, & Dubrow-Eichel, 1990), in this article we examine the opinions of a panel of 85 "Experts" believed to be sympathetic to the New Age. The panel consisted of executives from New Age publications and other companies, astrologers, psychics, teacher/trainers, chiropractors, and others. Experts responded to a questionnaire inquiring into their familiarity with New Age, cult and occult terms, their beliefs, their opinions on definitional statements concerning the New Age, their opinions on the importance of scientific research to understanding the New Age, and their opinions on practices commonly associated with New Age, cult, or occult groups. When compared with 58 Critics, Experts disagreed substantially and significantly on 21 out of 26 factor scores derived from the questionnaire. Critics were uniformly negative toward factor scores measuring practices, beliefs, and cult, occult, and related terms; Experts tended toward neutral or moderately negative ratings. Implications of these findings are discussed.

"We request your participation in a research project designed to measure knowledgeable opinions about the New Age Movement. As a result of your standing as a leader who understands New Age activities, your considered opinion would be highly valuable to the outcome of this study."

We mailed this request to selected experts on the New Age: astrologers, palmists, psychic mediums, publishers, executives of organizations, writers, channelers, and so forth. Our intent was to compare their replies to a Likert-type questionnaire with those of a panel of Critics: advisory board members of the American Family Foundation (AFF) and fellows of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

"The New Age is big business," our cover letter to both Experts and Critics continued. "Its publications pervade the media; its proponents appear frequently on television; its topics are common in workshops for business executives, for church members, for professionals, for college and high school students. Can the New Age be clearly defined? How constructive, destructive, or merely entertaining are its activities? How do particular activities influence children and youth? Which groups are involved? How true are their claims?"

In a previous study (Dole et al., 1990), we developed a survey instrument and applied it to a panel of AFF and CSICOP leaders. This panel, we reported, defined the New Age as cult-like: "an eclectic collection of psychological and spiritual techniques that are rooted in eastern mysticism, lack scientific evaluative data, and are promoted zealously by followers of diverse idealized leaders claiming transformative visions" (p. 69). In general, this panel (Critics) rated practices, terms, and philosophies associated with the New Age as somewhat harmful.

When we generated a list of over 1,500 citations to cult and occult topics, only 7% concerned the New Age. Distinctions between cult and occult, between Satanism, the new religions, and New Age were often not clear. There were relatively few attempts to define New Age, evaluate it, and verify its claims. Such critical analyses as have been published—whether from the perspectives of theology (LeBar, 1989; Alexander, 1987), religious studies (Lewis & Melton, 1992), philosophy (Kurtz, 1989), social psychology (Langone, 1989), business (Raschke, 1989), law (Rosedale, 1989), popular journalism (Gordon, 1988; Hoyt, 1987), clinical observation (Dubrow-Eichel, 1988; Garvey, 1993), or even from our own study of skeptics and anti-cultists (Dole et al., 1990)—may have been one-sided and unfair.

In the present study, then, we were concerned with the extent, if any, to which a second panel, designated the Experts—many of them proponents or practitioners of the New Age Movement—would concur with the Critics.

Method Design
In this design, we analyzed the responses of two panels—Critics versus Experts—to a Likert-type survey. Dependent measures were factor scores developed from separate analyses by type of response scale.

Participants
One hundred forty-three persons completed usable surveys. The panel designated as Critics included 58 individuals nationally recognized as leading cult critics or skeptics about occult and paranormal phenomena. Of 90 members of AFF's advisory board, 42 (47%) participated in this study, and of 56 fellows of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, 16 (29%) were included in the Critics panel. A nonprofit nondenominational organization, AFF sponsors education, publications, and research about cultic groups. (The authors are associated with AFF, the sponsor of this research.) CSICOP "attempts to encourage the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and to disseminate factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public."

The 85 Experts were selected as leaders, practitioners, and observers assumed to be knowledgeable about the New Age and sympathetic to it. In order to form the Expert panel, we first solicited 50 people after reviewing literature from approximately 280 organizations and 100 authors and advertisers in New Age publications. We then mailed surveys to 938 names supplied by the PCS Mailing List Company in response to our request for "people who are proponents of and have expertise about the New Age Movement." Although the estimated response rate of about 10% is low and probably not representative of the population, we reasoned that the opinions of an expert panel are still meaningful for our purposes, since this is the first study to investigate the meaning of "New Age" in a systematic way.

Panel Characteristics
Members of both panels were close to 50 years old on average and included more men than women, especially in the Critics group (Table 1). When respondents were classified by religious preference, the Experts belonged in larger proportion to off-beat groups. There were more executives and teacher/trainers and fewer psychologists among Experts. As might be expected, the Experts, but not the Critics, included self-styled astrologers and chiropractors; and there was one each of the following: naturopath, psychic consultant, health and fitness advocate, graphologist, head creator, seminal leader, and clairvoyant.


 

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Table 1. Characteristics: Critics Versus Experts

Gender   Critics Experts
  Male 38 39
  Female 20 42
  Not indicated -- 4
Age      
  Mean 50.0 47.5
  Standard deviation 13.1 11.1
Religion      
  Mainline 34 32
  No preference 17 22
  Not indicated 4 5
  Off-beat 3 26
Title   Critics Experts
  Executive 11 23
  Psychologist 8 1
  Professor 6 4
  Writer/ editor 6 6
  Therapist, Social worker 6 3
  Lawyer 2 --
  Clergy 2 4
  Physician 2 4
  Chiropractor -- 8
  Teacher/trainer -- 7
  Astrologer -- 6
  Other/not   indicated 15 19

 

 

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Questionnaire
The instrument used in this study was developed on the basis of a longer form used in two preceding surveys of AFF and CSICOP panels (Dole et al., 1990). The final questionnaire, which contained 196 self-report items, had been reviewed by three specialists on the New Age.

In accumulating the original pool of items, we drew on our observations, experience, and the suggestions of a focus group of AFF members. After collecting a substantial body of New Age publications, we prepared a list of items. For example, we consulted Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine (1983), The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson (1980), and The New Consciousness Sourcebook (Khalsa, 1982). We reviewed issues of 10 New Age periodicals and 27 catalogues and brochures from New Age institutes and publishers. We examined packets of clippings from the popular press assembled by the Cult Awareness Network and AFF, as well as our own gleanings. We visited bookstores and conversed with proponents. We preferred, when possible, to use exact quotations. In order to investigate whether or not prospective respondents distinguished New Age terms, beliefs, and practices, we added items sampled from cultic, occult and Satanic sources. In total we collected 340 items.

In our study of 20 AFF and 8 CSICOP leaders, we used a Delphic procedure in two surveys of the same AFF subgroup (n = 7) (Dole et al., 1990). We were thus able to analyze each of 340 items for consistency and respondent interagreement. We discarded items with large "no response" or "cannot say" responses, with substantial differences from first to second testing, or with a lack of consensus among three subgroups of panelists.

Besides these item analyses, we invited and considered written critical comments. The final form comprised 196 self-report items grouped as 82 terms, 59 beliefs, 10 definitions, 6 aspects of scientific research, and 39 practices.

Terms. For each term, respondents were asked to "indicate the extent of your acquaintance": from 1—not acquainted to 5—very well acquainted; and "the extent to which you think the term represents something beneficial or harmful": 5—very beneficial, 4—beneficial, 3— neutral/cannot say, 2—harmful, 1—very harmful. Examples of terms are "New Age Times," "crystals," and "astral influence." A few terms were presented twice as a check on reliability.

Beliefs. Panelists were instructed to "indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statements": 5—strongly agree, 4—agree, 3—neutral/cannot say, 2—disagree, and 1—strongly disagree. Examples of statements are "The New Age is dangerous," "The New Age is fun," and "Channeling is a skill that can be used by anyone who wants to connect with universal needs, higher self, or spirit guide." Positive and negative statements were presented randomly.

New Age defined. Respondents were instructed "The following criteria have been suggested as defining the New Age . . . Rate each: 5—very characteristic, 4—characteristic, 3—cannot say, 2—not characteristic, 1—not at all characteristic." Examples of criteria are "Idealization of a leader who claims a unique transformative vision," and "New Age enhances human productivity."

Scientific study. Panel members were asked "In a scientific study of the effectiveness of a New Age program to what extent are the following important": 5—very important, 4—important, 3—cannot say, 2—not important, and 1—not very important. "Source of funding" and "sample selected at random" are examples of statements. Respondents were told, "Please feel free to add additional terms."

Practices. Panelists were instructed "Each of the following statements describes a practice involving a child, teenager, or youth. Please rate": 5—very beneficial, 4—beneficial, 3—neutral/cannot say, 2—harmful, and 1—very harmful. Examples are "Woman invites college students to attend her group where she promises to channel ascended masters," "A teenager is brainwashed by the Creative Community Project," and "Social worker uses Tarot reading to reach 15-year-old truants as part of an accredited high school dropout program."

 

 

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Procedure
Following the development of the short, 196-item survey form (Dole et al., 1990), we again solicited 51 AFF advisory board members who had not previously participated. We solicited these persons at a meeting of the board and by mail: "As a result of your standing as an expert on cults, as well as your active membership in the American Family Foundation, your considered opinion would be highly valuable to the outcome of the study." Name, age, gender, professional title, and religious preference, plus comments, were requested at the end of the survey form and board members were assured, "Your identity is, of course, confidential."

After a second tickler mailing, usable responses totaled 42. Thus, most AFF advisory board members participated either in this survey or its predecessors. (It should be noted that we departed from customary survey procedures in order to encourage consensus by informing AFF board members about the mean response per item of their peers in the preceding study.)

To this subgroup of Critics we added 16 fellows of CSICOP. The names and addresses of CSICOP fellows were obtained with the cooperation of CSICOP. In the cover letter each was addressed as "an expert on pseudoscience, as well as an active member in CSICOP."

The 85 persons in the Expert group responded to a similar cover letter adapted as follows: "As a result of your standing as a leader who understands New Age activities." A first mailing to approximately 50 names obtained by scanning New Age publications for authors, executives, and practitioners yielded 8 usable replies; 12 of our letters were returned by the post office.

To increase the panel, we purchased a mailing list of people who are proponents of and have expertise about the New Age Movement: astrologers, palmists, psychic mediums, yoga instructors, meditation instructors, holistic practitioners, parapsychologists, chiropractors. This mailing harvested 77 more usable replies, approximately 10% of the questionnaires that were mailed out and not returned by the post office (N = 837).

The survey generated a number of telephone calls and letters, plus the written comments requested on the form. Since these indicated that not all the Experts were proponents of the New Age or that several were quite critical of certain aspects, we verified the extent to which these panelists would differ in their opinions by analyzing the items "New Age," "cult," and "occult," and the extent of their acquaintance with these terms (Table 2).

We conclude that the Experts were indeed knowledgeable about the New Age, that many were involved with New Age practices, yet, as a group, were not necessarily zealots or undiscerning observers.

Table 2. "New Age," "Cult," and "Occult" Rated by Critics

Versus Experts: Extent of Acquaintance and Harmfulness

  Term % Not Acquainted % Harmful and Very Harmful
  Critics Experts Critics Experts
New Age 5.4 5.3 75.4** 11.2
Cult 5.4* 16.3 90.8** 58.5
Occult 5.3 7.9 87.0** 25.6

Note: * p < .05; ** p < .01

 

 

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Analyses

The following statistical analyses were conducted:

1. Frequencies, means, and standard deviations for each item by group with appropriate tests for significance (Chi-square or t).

2. Intercorrelations of all items. Categorical variables (gender, religious preference) were dummy coded. Participants were assigned 1, indicating the presence of the characteristic, or 0, indicating its absence.

3. Six separate factor analyses of item groupings (Terms Set A, Terms Set B, Characteristics of the New Age, Importance for Research, Practices, and Beliefs) were executed in four different analyses. Principal components and verimax were first applied to the Expert and CSICOP groups (n = 90). The AFF subjects were omitted because a similar previous sample was used in item development. Principal components and verimax were repeated for the entire group. By inspection, factors were retained if they satisfied criteria for consistency across the four analyses. Unit-weighted scores for the extracted factors were computed.

4. Internal consistencies (coefficient alpha) of the unit-weighed composites were calculated.

5. Means and standard deviations of the unit-weighted composites were calculated and analysis of variance applied to test the probability of differences between Experts and Critics. Multivariate analyses and correlation were used to examine the relationship of age, gender, and religious preference to each composite.

Six Analyses
We have separated the findings by six methods of analysis: item analysis, factor analysis, alpha coefficients, correlational analysis, mutivariate analysis, and analysis of variance.

Item analysis. To identify the most and least endorsed among the 196 items by panels, we calculated frequencies, means, and standard deviations. For instance, according to Table 2, only about 1 in 20 of the Critics and Experts reported that they were not acquainted with the terms "New Age" and "occult"; but the Experts had less acquaintance with "cult" than did the Critics. Although many more of the Critics considered these terms harmful, more than half the Experts considered "cult" harmful as compared to 1 in 10 who ranked "New Age" harmful.

Factor analysis. In order to reduce the large number of items, to identify major response patterns common to all participants, and to define factor unit scores, we conducted a series of factor analyses. We then designated 26 factor scores as follows:

9 factor scores from two sets of terms;

2 factor scores for characteristics of the New Age;

2 for aspects important for a research study;

4 factor scores describing practices involving children and youth; and 8 factor scores comprising beliefs about the New Age, cults, and the occult. We found clear factors associated with the New Age, as distinguished from cults and the occult.

Alpha coefficients. To determine the internal reliabilities of the factor scores, we calculated alpha coefficients. These, which ranged from 0.58 to 0.98, were considered acceptable for group comparisons.

Correlational analyses. To examine the extent of associations among variables, we intercorrelated the 26 factor scores, along with measures of age and gender. New Age factors were by and large independent of cult factors as well as gender. Younger participants tended to be more positive toward New Age factors.

Multivariate analyses. In order to further examine the interaction with age, gender, and religious preference on each of the factor scores, we conducted a series of multivariate analyses. There were relatively few significant effects for age and gender. However, panelists classified as off-beat in reported religious preference, whether Expert or Critic, tended to be more positive on New Age and cult factors than did those panelists assigned to a mainline category (Catholic, Protestant, etc.).

Analyses of variance. To compare the means and standard deviations on factor scores, we calculated univariate (F) statistics.

Because of the very large amount of data, we concentrate here on the results of a comparison between Critics and Experts on the 26 factor scores treated as dependent measures. Detailed findings for the other analyses, and a summary of panelists' written comments, will be reported separately (Dole, 1993).

Results and Discussion
The Experts, when compared with the Critics on 26 factor scores, disagreed substantially and significantly on all but 5 factors (Table 3). They defined the New Age differently. Whereas the Critics panel was uniformly negative, on average the Experts were only moderately positive toward New Age terms, practices, and beliefs. On factor scores measuring terms (cult, occult, and related), practices, and beliefs, these Experts tended toward neutral or moderately negative ratings. The Critics, in contrast, were very negative. Consistent with prior samples from the same AFF and CSICOP populations (Dole et al., 1990), the Critics responded to the survey as we expected. However, we were surprised by the Experts' discriminating judgments. They did not endorse a closed-minded, fanatic-like set of positions, indicative of blindly following some exploitative leader. Nor did they endorse an across-the- board undiscriminating enthusiasm for New Age, cult, and occult factors. We noted considerable evidence that many of these participants were executives, owners, practitioners, and brokers in relation to the New Age Movement. Their beliefs and practices were probably informed by day-to-day pragmatic exposure and restrained by ethics and a sense of responsibility.

 

 

 

6/12

Questionnaire
The instrument used in this study was developed on the basis of a longer form used in two preceding surveys of AFF and CSICOP panels (Dole et al., 1990). The final questionnaire, which contained 196 self-report items, had been reviewed by three specialists on the New Age.

In accumulating the original pool of items, we drew on our observations, experience, and the suggestions of a focus group of AFF members. After collecting a substantial body of New Age publications, we prepared a list of items. For example, we consulted Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine (1983), The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson (1980), and The New Consciousness Sourcebook (Khalsa, 1982). We reviewed issues of 10 New Age periodicals and 27 catalogues and brochures from New Age institutes and publishers. We examined packets of clippings from the popular press assembled by the Cult Awareness Network and AFF, as well as our own gleanings. We visited bookstores and conversed with proponents. We preferred, when possible, to use exact quotations. In order to investigate whether or not prospective respondents distinguished New Age terms, beliefs, and practices, we added items sampled from cultic, occult and Satanic sources. In total we collected 340 items.

In our study of 20 AFF and 8 CSICOP leaders, we used a Delphic procedure in two surveys of the same AFF subgroup (n = 7) (Dole et al., 1990). We were thus able to analyze each of 340 items for consistency and respondent interagreement. We discarded items with large "no response" or "cannot say" responses, with substantial differences from first to second testing, or with a lack of consensus among three subgroups of panelists.

Besides these item analyses, we invited and considered written critical comments. The final form comprised 196 self-report items grouped as 82 terms, 59 beliefs, 10 definitions, 6 aspects of scientific research, and 39 practices.

Terms. For each term, respondents were asked to "indicate the extent of your acquaintance": from 1—not acquainted to 5—very well acquainted; and "the extent to which you think the term represents something beneficial or harmful": 5—very beneficial, 4—beneficial, 3— neutral/cannot say, 2—harmful, 1—very harmful. Examples of terms are "New Age Times," "crystals," and "astral influence." A few terms were presented twice as a check on reliability.

Beliefs. Panelists were instructed to "indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statements": 5—strongly agree, 4—agree, 3—neutral/cannot say, 2—disagree, and 1—strongly disagree. Examples of statements are "The New Age is dangerous," "The New Age is fun," and "Channeling is a skill that can be used by anyone who wants to connect with universal needs, higher self, or spirit guide." Positive and negative statements were presented randomly.

New Age defined. Respondents were instructed "The following criteria have been suggested as defining the New Age . . . Rate each: 5—very characteristic, 4—characteristic, 3—cannot say, 2—not characteristic, 1—not at all characteristic." Examples of criteria are "Idealization of a leader who claims a unique transformative vision," and "New Age enhances human productivity."

Scientific study. Panel members were asked "In a scientific study of the effectiveness of a New Age program to what extent are the following important": 5—very important, 4—important, 3—cannot say, 2—not important, and 1—not very important. "Source of funding" and "sample selected at random" are examples of statements. Respondents were told, "Please feel free to add additional terms."

Practices. Panelists were instructed "Each of the following statements describes a practice involving a child, teenager, or youth. Please rate": 5—very beneficial, 4—beneficial, 3—neutral/cannot say, 2—harmful, and 1—very harmful. Examples are "Woman invites college students to attend her group where she promises to channel ascended masters," "A teenager is brainwashed by the Creative Community Project," and "Social worker uses Tarot reading to reach 15-year-old truants as part of an accredited high school dropout program."

Procedure
Following the development of the short, 196-item survey form (Dole et al., 1990), we again solicited 51 AFF advisory board members who had not previously participated. We solicited these persons at a meeting of the board and by mail: "As a result of your standing as an expert on cults, as well as your active membership in the American Family Foundation, your considered opinion would be highly valuable to the outcome of the study." Name, age, gender, professional title, and religious preference, plus comments, were requested at the end of the survey form and board members were assured, "Your identity is, of course, confidential."

After a second tickler mailing, usable responses totaled 42. Thus, most AFF advisory board members participated either in this survey or its predecessors. (It should be noted that we departed from customary survey procedures in order to encourage consensus by informing AFF board members about the mean response per item of their peers in the preceding study.)

To this subgroup of Critics we added 16 fellows of CSICOP. The names and addresses of CSICOP fellows were obtained with the cooperation of CSICOP. In the cover letter each was addressed as "an expert on pseudoscience, as well as an active member in CSICOP."

The 85 persons in the Expert group responded to a similar cover letter adapted as follows: "As a result of your standing as a leader who understands New Age activities." A first mailing to approximately 50 names obtained by scanning New Age publications for authors, executives, and practitioners yielded 8 usable replies; 12 of our letters were returned by the post office.

To increase the panel, we purchased a mailing list of people who are proponents of and have expertise about the New Age Movement: astrologers, palmists, psychic mediums, yoga instructors, meditation instructors, holistic practitioners, parapsychologists, chiropractors. This mailing harvested 77 more usable replies, approximately 10% of the questionnaires that were mailed out and not returned by the post office (N = 837).

The survey generated a number of telephone calls and letters, plus the written comments requested on the form. Since these indicated that not all the Experts were proponents of the New Age or that several were quite critical of certain aspects, we verified the extent to which these panelists would differ in their opinions by analyzing the items "New Age," "cult," and "occult," and the extent of their acquaintance with these terms (Table 2).

We conclude that the Experts were indeed knowledgeable about the New Age, that many were involved with New Age practices, yet, as a group, were not necessarily zealots or undiscerning observers.

 

 

7/12

Table 2. "New Age," "Cult," and "Occult" Rated by Critics

Versus Experts: Extent of Acquaintance and Harmfulness

  Term % Not Acquainted % Harmful and Very Harmful
  Critics Experts Critics Experts
New Age 5.4 5.3 75.4** 11.2
Cult 5.4* 16.3 90.8** 58.5
Occult 5.3 7.9 87.0** 25.6

Note: * p < .05; ** p < .01

Analyses

The following statistical analyses were conducted:

1. Frequencies, means, and standard deviations for each item by group with appropriate tests for significance (Chi-square or t).

2. Intercorrelations of all items. Categorical variables (gender, religious preference) were dummy coded. Participants were assigned 1, indicating the presence of the characteristic, or 0, indicating its absence.

3. Six separate factor analyses of item groupings (Terms Set A, Terms Set B, Characteristics of the New Age, Importance for Research, Practices, and Beliefs) were executed in four different analyses. Principal components and verimax were first applied to the Expert and CSICOP groups (n = 90). The AFF subjects were omitted because a similar previous sample was used in item development. Principal components and verimax were repeated for the entire group. By inspection, factors were retained if they satisfied criteria for consistency across the four analyses. Unit-weighted scores for the extracted factors were computed.

4. Internal consistencies (coefficient alpha) of the unit-weighed composites were calculated.

5. Means and standard deviations of the unit-weighted composites were calculated and analysis of variance applied to test the probability of differences between Experts and Critics. Multivariate analyses and correlation were used to examine the relationship of age, gender, and religious preference to each composite.

 

 

8/12

Six Analyses
We have separated the findings by six methods of analysis: item analysis, factor analysis, alpha coefficients, correlational analysis, mutivariate analysis, and analysis of variance.

Item analysis. To identify the most and least endorsed among the 196 items by panels, we calculated frequencies, means, and standard deviations. For instance, according to Table 2, only about 1 in 20 of the Critics and Experts reported that they were not acquainted with the terms "New Age" and "occult"; but the Experts had less acquaintance with "cult" than did the Critics. Although many more of the Critics considered these terms harmful, more than half the Experts considered "cult" harmful as compared to 1 in 10 who ranked "New Age" harmful.

Factor analysis. In order to reduce the large number of items, to identify major response patterns common to all participants, and to define factor unit scores, we conducted a series of factor analyses. We then designated 26 factor scores as follows: 9 factor scores from two sets of terms; 2 factor scores for characteristics of the New Age; 2 for aspects important for a research study; 4 factor scores describing practices involving children and youth; and 8 factor scores comprising beliefs about the New Age, cults, and the occult. We found clear factors associated with the New Age, as distinguished from cults and the occult.

Alpha coefficients. To determine the internal reliabilities of the factor scores, we calculated alpha coefficients. These, which ranged from 0.58 to 0.98, were considered acceptable for group comparisons.

Correlational analyses. To examine the extent of associations among variables, we intercorrelated the 26 factor scores, along with measures of age and gender. New Age factors were by and large independent of cult factors as well as gender. Younger participants tended to be more positive toward New Age factors.

Multivariate analyses. In order to further examine the interaction with age, gender, and religious preference on each of the factor scores, we conducted a series of multivariate analyses. There were relatively few significant effects for age and gender. However, panelists classified as off-beat in reported religious preference, whether Expert or Critic, tended to be more positive on New Age and cult factors than did those panelists assigned to a mainline category (Catholic, Protestant, etc.).

Analyses of variance. To compare the means and standard deviations on factor scores, we calculated univariate (F) statistics.

Because of the very large amount of data, we concentrate here on the results of a comparison between Critics and Experts on the 26 factor scores treated as dependent measures. Detailed findings for the other analyses, and a summary of panelists' written comments, will be reported separately (Dole, 1993).

Results and Discussion
The Experts, when compared with the Critics on 26 factor scores, disagreed substantially and significantly on all but 5 factors (Table 3). They defined the New Age differently. Whereas the Critics panel was uniformly negative, on average the Experts were only moderately positive toward New Age terms, practices, and beliefs. On factor scores measuring terms (cult, occult, and related), practices, and beliefs, these Experts tended toward neutral or moderately negative ratings. The Critics, in contrast, were very negative. Consistent with prior samples from the same AFF and CSICOP populations (Dole et al., 1990), the Critics responded to the survey as we expected. However, we were surprised by the Experts' discriminating judgments. They did not endorse a closed-minded, fanatic-like set of positions, indicative of blindly following some exploitative leader. Nor did they endorse an across-the- board undiscriminating enthusiasm for New Age, cult, and occult factors. We noted considerable evidence that many of these participants were executives, owners, practitioners, and brokers in relation to the New Age Movement. Their beliefs and practices were probably informed by day-to-day pragmatic exposure and restrained by ethics and a sense of responsibility.

 

 

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Table 3.
Means and Standard Deviations on Factors: Critics Versus Experts

  Factor Critics Experts
  X SD X SD F
Terms—Set A (Harmful/Beneficial)
New Age 1 2.4 0.5 3.6 0.6 89.83**
Cult 1 1.6 0.7 3.1 0.3 224.54***
Extraterres- trial 2.3 0.6 3.1 0.7 33.72**
Unitarianism 3.0 0.3 3.2 0.7 4.24*
Psychology 4.1 0.5 3.7 0.7 11.10**
Religion 2.9 0.7 2.8 0.8 0.15
Terms—Set B (Harmful/Beneficial)
New Age 2 2.3 0.5 3.6 0.7 89.86**
Cult 2 2.1 0.5 3.3 0.5 112.45**
Humanism 4.5 0.5 3.4 0.5 21.46**
Characteristics of the New Age

(Not Characteristic/Characteristic)

Effects 4.0 0.6 2.7 0.9 92.26**
Eclectic 4.2 0.2 4.0 0.6 4.18*
Importance for Research (Not Important/Important)
Method 4.2 0.6 4.1 0.8 0.21
Influence 4.2 0.7 4.1 1.1 0.93
Practices (Harmful/Beneficial)
New Age 1.8 0.4 3.1 0.7 152.81**
Satanism 1.1 0.3 1.3 0.5 2.91
Occult 1.8 0.6 2.3 0.6 11.67**
Evangelism 1.9 0.6 2.1 0.8 2.29
Beliefs (Disagree/Agree)
Pro–New Age 2.0 0.6 3.4 0.8 119.34**
Con–New Age 3.6 0.7 1.8 9.7 208.15**
God 1.7 0.7 3.1 1.2 63.32**
Relativism 2.0 0.9 2.8 1.1 18.50**
Spiritualism 1.4 0.5 2.4 0.8 62.16**
Channeling 2.0 0.7 3.0 0.7 65.52**
Responsibility 2.0 0.7 3.3 0.8 116.98**
Civil Liberty 2.3 0.7 3.1 0.9 38.01

Note: * p < .05; ** p < .01

Note: Means and standard deviations adjusted for number of items. Terms were rated from 1—very harmful to 5—very beneficial; characteristics of New Age from 1—not characteristic to 5—very characteristic; importance for a scientific study from 1—not very important to 5—very important; practices involving children and youth from 1—very harmful to 5—very beneficial; and statements of belief about New Age from 1—strongly disagree to 5—strongly agree.

 

 

 

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Terms

Our survey presented a large enough number of items that we could develop two sets of roughly equivalent items and thus gauge consistency in response to the major factors. On both New Age 1 and New Age 2 (see Exhibit 1 for items), the Experts tended toward a rating of mildly "beneficial," whereas the Critics averaged in the "harmful" range. On Cult 1 and Cult 2, the Experts overall were "neutral/cannot say," in part perhaps because they were not well acquainted with certain items on those factors, such as CUT, CARP, the Forum, or Da Free John. As one would expect, the Critics' average rating of cultic groups fell in the "very harmful" to "harmful" range. (In a separate paper we will present comparative ratings of the specific controversial groups.)

Additionally, in Set A, the factor designated Extraterrestrial was considered neither "harmful" nor "beneficial" by the Experts, but "harmful" by the Critics. The Experts were slightly more favorable, but not at all strongly, on Unitarianism, while the Critics thought Psychology (which included both psychiatry, neurology, and Judaism) was "beneficial." It is important to note that neither group was antireligious overall, an accusation cult defenders often charge against AFF and CSICOP. Finally, the Critics were slightly more approving of Humanism than the Experts. Relatively few in either group endorsed the fundamentalist opposition to secular humanism.

Characteristics of the New Age
Whereas the Critics were consistent with previous findings about their peers (Dole et al., 1990) in rating various alleged effects (for example, "Casualties, People get hurt") as characteristic of the New Age movement, the Experts scored toward "not characteristic." However, both panels, the Critics slightly more, responded to the factor Eclectic as "characteristic."

Importance
Both panels agreed in rating the factors Method and Influence (that is, freedom from bias) as "important" in conducting research on the New Age. In one sense, we as investigators have violated the Influence criteria because we are ourselves critics (Langone, 1989) of certain New Age practices and are sponsored by AFF. It is interesting to note that in their written and sometimes oral comments, several participants, both among the Critics and Experts, questioned our objectivity, as discussed in Dole (1993). With regard to the methods used for this study, we also recognize that the sample of Experts was not randomly selected and that we probably excluded (though not deliberately) certain subgroups of New Age proponents.

Practices Involving Children and Youth
Consistent with the Terms and Beliefs sections of this survey, the Experts were on average "neutral/cannot say" in contrast to the Critics, who rated as "harmful" such New Age practices as courses on human potential, using extrasensory perception creatively, channeling, Tarot card reading, and so on. Note that this factor score included a number of practices associated with cultic groups such as Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, Hare Krishna, and the Creative Community Project.

It is likely that the Experts were less sensitive than the Critics to the misuse of New Age practices by destructive and manipulative groups. In a future report on our findings we consider how the panelists rated each practice separately. This detailed item analysis gives further support to the preceding "wolf's clothing" interpretation.

Both panels rated Occult practices as "harmful," with the Critics being significantly more negative about children and youth who play Dungeons and Dragons, read curio catalogs, and fantasize elves and dwarfs. Both panels agreed that Satanism was "very harmful" and Evangelism "harmful." Thus, in evaluating New Age proponents such as these experts, it is important to distinguish advocacy of—for example, channeling, astrology, chiropractic or holistic health—from Satanism, occultism, evangelism, or destructive religious or political groups. One can promote an off-beat neospiritualism, without necessarily endorsing totalistic, sadistic, or illegal behaviors.

Experts and Critics (some of whom are evangelicals) appear to view Satanism and occultism as dubious and also rate "evangelism" negatively, possibly because of a common misidentification of evangelism (which is very much in the mainstream) with extremist fundamentalists and certain TV preachers (cf. Enroth, 1985).

Beliefs
The Expert panel averaged at the "neutral/cannot say" step of the response scale on factor scores designated Pro–New Age, God, Channeling, Responsibility, and Civil Liberty. The two groups differed in the same direction on Relativism but not so sharply. In comparison the Critics fell at the "do not agree" step on these factors. As expected, the Critics, much more than the Experts, tended to agree with Con–New Age statements, such as "muddle-headed," "a fraud, a rip off," and "superstitious nonsense," and to disagree with the notion of an "evolutionary leap of consciousness" or a benign "force in the universe." The Critics strongly disagreed on the Spiritualism factor, but the Experts also tended to disagree.

The Experts tended toward the agreement direction (mean = 3.4) in responding to Pro–New Age statements such as ". . . exercises can make a person spiritually advanced," "The New Age is fun," "The world needs new techniques for raising consciousness." They were "neutral" on average, but with considerable variability, on the factor titled God: for example, "Thinking that one is God . . . is ridiculous," and "Once you realize you are God, you understand all." All the statements comprising this factor were adapted from Shirley MacLaine and her associates (MacLaine, 1983).

The Experts were slightly critical as a group but with variations of opinion on Relativism: "Truth depends solely on the person's perspective." These statements were adapted from various critiques of New Age thought (Groothuis, 1986; Hoyt, 1989; LeBar, 1989).

The Experts' mean score on Spiritualism tended toward disagreement with statements such as "Spiritually advanced people succeed at everything they do," and "Before making a major decision world leaders should consult a major astrologer." They were "neutral" about the Channeling factor which included "Holistic channeling of the kundalini maximizes synchronicity," a meaningless statement the investigators concocted in the belief that some subjects would respond positively to a nonsensical linking of fashionable terms.

"People are responsible for everything that happens to them" had the highest loading on the factor we titled, Responsibility, which the Experts tended to agree with rather slightly. They were close to "neutral," however, on Civil Liberty: "The American Civil Liberties Union is perfectly justified in defending the rights of cultists and occultists."

Except for Relativism, the Critics differed by at least one average standard deviation from the Experts on the Beliefs factors and, excluding Con-New Age, their mean scores fell in the "do not agree" or "do not agree strongly" response categories.

In interpreting these findings, it is helpful to recall how the survey questionnaire was developed. We selected the items primarily from observation and New Age publications, and then retained the most consistent (reliable) ones in surveys of AFF and CSICOP leaders. Hence, it could be said that the Experts were responding to the Critics' conceptions of the New Age.

When we consider in future reports the results of the factor analyses and item analyses of the Beliefs section, we will note that the extraction of eight factors suggests that conceptions about the New Age among the participants, considered as a total group, were complex rather than simple. When assigned to Experts or Critics panels, participants did not respond monolithically. Furthermore, the presence of both negative and positive loadings on Con–New Age and God makes these factor scores more difficult to interpret without examining single items. In order to expand the knowledge of critics, alleged victims, proponents, exponents, opponents, and practitioners, both quantitative, experimental, and qualitative studies are needed.

Concluding Comment
In this report we have concentrated on the reactions of an Expert panel to terms, practices, and beliefs associated with New Age, cult, and occult, as well as to characteristics of the New Age Movement and issues important to researching the New Age Movement. We will postpone our consideration of the overall implications of the survey for practice, theory, and research until in subsequent reports we present our detailed findings about the responses to the individual items, the cognitive structures of the participants, and the relationships of the factors we extracted to one another and to the age, gender, and religious preferences of the panelists.

We found that the panel of Experts tended to rate New Age terms and practices in the neutral to mildly beneficial range and to agree rather mildly with New Age beliefs. In contrast, the Critics were consistent with our previous study (Dole et al., 1990) in reflecting a severely negative view of the New Age. The Experts agreed with the Critics about the essential aspects of research, with the harmfulness of the occult, and with the eclectic character of the New Age, but rejected an essentially negative definition of it. However, they tended toward the mildly negative in responding to cult items and seemed to be more discriminating than the Critics' negative view of the New Age would suggest.

Perhaps, from the Experts' perspective, the Critics' definition of the New Age (cited at the beginning of this article) is too specific and constraining. The New Age may simply be a spiritual movement that rejects traditional religion and tends to be open to a wide variety of mystical and occult views. Identifying the New Age with gnosticism or pantheism (Groothuis, 1986) may only be valid for certain subgroups within the New Age. The New Age is perhaps best viewed as neopaganism, but not the disciplined paganism of Greece and Rome when they were at their height. Rather the New Age Movement may be a resurgence of the prolific pagan "marketplace" that characterized Rome during its decline.

We conclude by reminding the reader of two facts about this survey. First, the questionnaire was sponsored by AFF and developed from the perspective of the Critics; it was not the product of evenhanded, objective scientists (if such a group could be found for this topic). Second, we found, as we struggled to assemble the Expert panel, that people associated with the New Age are heterogeneous and mobile. Our sample was a collection of diverse individuals, ranging from the conventional to the off-beat in occupation and religious preference. As one professional exit counselor who has specialized for many years in New Age therapy groups has said, "The cultic fringe of the New Age Movement . . . on the surface is much more heterogeneous and fluid. Because there is no single ‘book’ upon which all New Agers rely, their ‘theologies’ or philosophical bases are as unbounded as the human imagination" (Garvey, 1993, p. 182).

 

 

 

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References

Alexander, B. (1987, Sept. 18). Twilight zone: Spirit channeling is the latest fad in upscale new spiritism. Christianity Today, 22–26.

Dole, A. A. (1993). Some conceptions of the New Age. Journal of Religion and Health, 32, 261–276.

Dole, A. A., Langone, M. D., & Dubrow-Eichel, S. (1990). New Age Movement: Fad or menace? Cultic Studies Journal, 7, 69–91.

Dubrow-Eichel, S., & Dubrow-Eichel, L. (1988). Trouble in paradise: Some observations on psychotherapy with New Agers. Cultic Studies Journal, 5, 177–192.

Enroth, R. (1985). Cults and Evangelicals: Labeling and lumping. Cultic Studies Journal, 2, 321–325.

Ferguson, M. (1980). The Aquarian conspiracy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Garvey, K. (1993). The importance of information collection in exit counseling: A case study. In M. D. Langone (Ed.), Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: Norton.

Gordon, H. (1988). Channeling into the New Age. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus.

Groothuis, D. A. (1986). Unmasking the New Age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Hoyt, K., & The Spiritual Counterfeits Project. (1987). The New Age rage. Old Tappan, NJ: Revell.

Khalsa, P. S. (Ed.). (1982). The new consciousness sourcebook. Spiritual Community Guide #5. Berkeley, CA: Spiritual Community Publications.

Kurtz, P. (1989). The new age in perspective. Skeptical Inquirer, 13 (4), 365–368.

Langone, M. D. (1989). Beware of "New Age" solutions to age-old problems. Business and Society Review, 69, 39–42.

LeBar, J. (1989). Cults, sects, and the New Age. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Press.

Lewis, J. R., & Melton, J. G. (1982). Perspectives on the New Age. Albany: State University of New York Press.

MacLaine, S. (1983). Out on a limb. New York: Bantam Books.

Raschke, C. (1989). The new age rage and corporate America. Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal, 9(1), 20–25.

Rosedale, H. (1989). New age, business, and the law. Spiritual Counterfeits Projects Journal, 9(1), 26–27.

Exhibit 1

Items Assigned to Factors for Terms, Characteristics, Importance for Research, Practices, and Beliefs

Terms—Set A

(Harmful/Beneficial)

New Age 1: reincarnation, astrology, psychic, hypnoregression, channeling, Sun signs, rebirthing, precognition, harmonic convergence, chakras, crystals, Seth, I Ching, spirit guide, Nostradamus, Age of Aquarius, astral projection, Silva Mind Control, geomancy, holistic massage

Cult 1: CUT, CARP, (ben) CAN, Hunger Project, Lifespring

Extraterrestrial: extraterrestrial, space people, UFOs

Unitarianism: Unitarianism, Nadu Brahma, astral influence

Psychology: psychology, Judaism, psychiatry, neurology

Religion: Protestantism, doomsday

 

 

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Terms—Set B

(Harmful/Beneficial)

New Age 2: palmistry, astrology, numerology, Tarot cards, aura, pendulum, ESP, spiritualism, levitation, shamanism, occult, New Age, harmonic convergence, mother earth, natural healing

Cult 2: The Forum, Silva Mind Control, est, Da Free John, Ramtha, TM, affirmation, polarity therapy, CUT, subliminal suggestion

Humanism: secular humanism, pacifism

Characteristics of the New Age

(Not Characteristic/Characteristic)

Effects: (Neg) New Age enhances human productivity. Contradicts my beliefs. Psychological manipulation and coercion. (Neg) Group of activities many beneficial. Casualties, people get hurt. Inadequate scientific data regarding effectiveness. Creates zealous promoters. Idealization of a leader who claims a unique founding transformative vision.

Eclectic: Eclectic collection of psychological and spiritual techniques. Rooted in eastern mysticism.

Importance for Research

(Not Important/Important)

Method: Used control group. Behavioral measures. Sample selected at random. If published, peer review.

Influence: Beliefs of investigators. Source of funding.

Practices Involving a Child, Teenager, or Youth

(Harmful/Beneficial)

New Age: Freshmen register for college course—human potential . . . High school social studies instructor offers course on "Global Mind Change" . . . Teachers and parents assist children in using extrasensory perception creatively. A community college student regularly consults a psychic. Social worker uses Tarot reading to reach 15-year-old truant. Clara, 15, spends her baby-sitting earnings on crystals. Woman invites college students to attend her group where she promises to channel ascended masters. Transcendental Meditation offers a noncredit course. A camp for girls advertises "We represent a return to the ancient spiritual wisdom . . . about the power of the individual." A high school group watches a rented videotape about a South American entity, Mafu. High school juniors attend a study group (whose leader) tells stories of Atlantis, mingled with . . . Eastern religions. High school English teacher introduces self-hypnotic procedures. Child spends her allowance on New Age Times. A college sophomore drops out to live near a . . . woman who claims contact with a 35,000-year-old wise man. Annie, age 14, blind since 8, claims she was cured by mother's psychic friends and Mariel Treatments. A coed with PMS . . . has bought a book . . . which claims that "common ailments of modern life . . . can often be dramatically improved . . . without . . . invasive medical procedures." Teenager sends for a book ($21.95) . . . "so you can fulfill your every goal and desire." A teenager spends her allowance to buy subliminal message tapes. Army draftee is ordered to take a personal improvement course offered by the Church of Scientology. A professor of philosophy . . . praises Hare Krishna . . . (UCAL applicant) accepts an invitation from a campus group to spend a free weekend . . . (to) study how to end hunger. A teenager is brainwashed by the Creative Community Project. Sally, age 6, is denied medical treatment by her parents because "her spirit ancestor advised us not to go to the hospital."

Satanism: A high school freshman sacrificed a goat at the command of his Satanic group. Minister persuades children to have sex "to remain in God's good grace and build your demon-fighting powers." Woman claims son joined Temple of Brotherhood of the Ram and threatened to kill her. Teenager sacrifices rats during mystic ceremony led by a witch.

Occult: Parents find D & D occultic manuals and an occult curio catalog in room of sons, ages 12 and 16. Fifteen-year-old prefers fantasy world of elves and dwarfs. Wizard curses straight A student. Foster son, 16, spends three hours every day playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Evangelism: Jehovah's Witnesses stage an aggressive recruiting drive in area schools. Baptists stage an aggressive recruiting drive. Eleven- year-old watches television preacher whenever possible.

Beliefs about the New Age

(Disagree/Agree)

Pro–New Age: Practicing ancient spiritual exercises can make a person spiritually advanced. The New Age is fun. If everyone had his consciousness raised, the world would be at peace. Raising individual consciousness is necessary to save the world. Newly discovered psychospiritual exercises can make a person spiritually advanced. The spiritually serene will survive in a new age of prosperity. The world needs new techniques for raising consciousness. If people really understood the New Age, they would become part of it. Mankind is at the threshold of a great evolutionary leap of consciousness transformation guided by an omnipotent energy or force that will lead to a peaceful, happy, united new world. The shamans of prehistoric tribes were wiser than today's religious leaders. Intuition is the best way to solve everyday problems. Hypnotized subjects can alter specific components of the cellular response system. New Age psychotechnologies have a legitimate place in education when teachers are qualified and ethical.

Con–New Age: New Agers are quite muddle-headed; they espouse a mushy philosophy based on a subjectivist espistemology. Most New Age concepts are not supported by scientific evidence. The New Age is superstitious nonsense. The New Age is dangerous. New Age psychotechnologies teach a false religion. Channeling is a fraud. Programs like the Forum for business executives are a rip-off. (Neg) Mankind is at the threshold of a great evolutionary leap of consciousness to new beliefs. (Neg) Channeling is a skill that can be used by anyone who wants to connect with universal needs, higher self, or spirit guide. (Neg) There is an energy or force in the universe that will lead to a happy, peaceful, united new world.

God: (Neg) Thinking that one is God is a narcissistic delusion. (Neg) Is ridiculous . . . (Neg) spiritual arrogance. The purpose of life is to realize one is God. Once you realize you are God, you understand all.

Relativism: The effectiveness of an action depends solely on the person evaluating it. Truth depends solely on the person's perspective. Nobody has the right to say that my beliefs are wrong.

Spiritualism: Spiritually advanced people succeed at everything they attempt. Failure can be avoided if one understands life properly. Because man is deity and can do no wrong, there is no sin, no reason for guilt. Before making a major decision, world leaders should consult a major astrologer.

Channeling: Holistic channeling of the kundalini maximizes synchronicity. Multiphasic atunement to archetypal images enhances synergy. The Taoist method circulates Chi, the generative life force, through the body's acupunctural meridians.

Responsibility: People are totally responsible for everything that happens to them. Prayer (or a period of meditation) should be mandated in the public schools. Everyday problem solving and fundamental breakthrough insights tap an innate capacity of the unconscious which all can learn to apply. Through an understanding of the chakras, the psychic centers within the cerebrospinal system, one can harmonize the two hemispheres.

Civil liberty: The American Civil Liberties Union is perfectly justified in defending the rights of cultists and occultists, however misguided they may be. When people disagree, they almost always agree at a deeper level.

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania and by the American Family Foundation. George Woodruff was a research assistant.

Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Division of Psychology in Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., is editor of the Cultic Studies Journal and director of research and education for the American Family Foundation. He is editor of the book, Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (W. W. Norton, 1993).

Steve K. Dubrow-Eichel, Ph.D., is director of RETIRN (Re-Entry Therapy, Information & Referral Network), a cult counseling facility, and supervising psychologist and clinical director of the St. Francis Home for Boys in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. In 1990, AFF awarded Dubrow-Eichel the John Gordon Clark Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Cultic Studies.

_

 

Resources

< Dole, Arthur A., Ph.D. - profile
Chambers, Robert, Ph.D. et al.: "The Group Psychological Abuse Scale" - abs
Dole, Arthur A., Ph.D. "How We Rescued Our Daughter"
Dole, Arthur A., Ph.D. "Strongly Held Views...New Age...Critics Versus Experts"
Dole, Arthur A., Ph.D.: "Is The New Age Movement Harmless? Critics Versus Experts" - abs
Dole, Arthur A., Ph.D.: "Is The New Age Movement Harmless? Critics Versus Experts" - abs
√ Video: "Symposium - Theory and Cults: In search of the Perfect Explanation, Sociological Theories, Psychological Manipulation: The Abuse of Women Conference"

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