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ICSA resources about psychological manipulation, cultic groups, sects, and new religious movements.


Resource Guide

Suggestions for Everyone

Psychological Manipulation, cult groups, sects, and new religious movements

Suggestions 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 don’t affect average people. Few persons realize that the psychological dynamics of control found in extreme groups, such as Jim Jones’s 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, psychotherapeutic, 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 involvement.

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.

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