Debate Regarding New Religious Groups</head>
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Debate Regarding New Religious Groups

During the late 20th century there was tremendous controversy over "cults". While US culture was in upheaval, people grew concerned over the role of marginal religious groups, particularly those that were controlled by powerful leaders and whose practitioners' sexual practices deviated from the norm. In this context, some scholars became alarmed at what they considered to be coercive persuasion techniques used by those groups. In one case, some psychologists wrote a report, known as DIMPAC, warning against such groups. In an unusual move, however, the American Psychological Association rejected the report, saying that the theories did not meet the necessary standards. There is much more to the story, of course, but rather than write about it here, I refer you to several resources.

As you might guess, the controversy was not limited to the American Psychological Association. The following resolution was approved by the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion during its November 1990 meeting. It was printed in the December 1990 copy of the SSSR Newsletter.


In response to problems in legal and scientific contexts, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion has been asked to address the issue of our scientific community's evalution of processes, variously described as brainwashing, mind control, thought reform and coercive persuasion, which have sometimes been applied to participation in new religious groups. Rather than continue to respond to these debates on a case-by-case basis, the SSSR makes the following resolution.


This association considers that there is insufficient research to permit informed, responsible scholars to reach consensus on the nature and effects of nonphysical coercion and control. It further asserts that one should not automatically equate the techniques involved in the process of physical coercion and control with those of nonphysical coercion and control. In addition to critical review of existing knowledge, further appropriately designed research is necessary to enable scholarly concensus about this issue.


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