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Overview:  Researchers

Michael D. Langone, PhD.

What Scientific Research is Relevant to Cults?

  • There is a growing body of research that attempts to develop and/or apply instruments that measure the abusiveness of group environments, including cults.
  • A number of research studies have looked at prevalence and suggest that approximately one percent of the population has had some kind of cult involvement.
  • Various surveys provide suggestive data on factors such as age of joining, time in, etc.
  • A number of studies have explored the psychological distress of former group members.
  • Some research on harm focuses on children, people born or raised in groups (SGAs – second generation adults), women, polygamy.
  • There is little formal research on the effectiveness of treatment of former group members.
  • There is  little research on the experiences and needs of families concerned about a loved one in a group.
  • Academic disputes between so-called “pro” and “anti” cultists have died down in recent years and there is increasing communication between sociologists and mental health professionals.
  • Some researchers and professionals have begun to apply brain research to cultic phenomena, though such work is provisional and largely theoretical.
  • A few researchers have examined identity issues, pseudopersonality, and how identity relates to culture.
  • Cultic studies concepts have been applied to areas other than religion, including the new age movement, business, political organizations, families, terrorist groups, sex trafficking, and other areas.
  • Some have looked into the effects of meditation or dissociative exercises.
  • Clinical experts have written about the psychology of cult leaders.
  • Though attention has waned there is some research on cultic dimensions of recovered memories.
  • Some research, especially in sociology, focuses on a specific group.
  • There are bodies of research on social influence, the psychology of religious conversion, and linguistic persuasion that have not been adequately related to concepts in cultic studies.
Most of the articles and book reviews listed on the right have been published in ICSA periodicals.  Those that I deem most useful to researchers are in bold, though this is, of course, a personal choice.
Although our capacity to give individualized responses to inquiries is limited, we do what we can and, when appropriate and feasible, refer inquirers to people who may be able to give additional assistance. 

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Additional Resources Outside of ICS
A Journey Through New York City Religions
Since July 9, 2010, the mission of A Journey through NYC religions is to explore, document and explain through our online magazine and other educational programs the great religious changes that are taking place in New York City. We are traveling down all 6,374.9 miles of our city’s streets, every alleyway and quite a few hallways to map and photograph every religious site and to interview clergy and lay leaders at the sites

APA PsycNET® Direct
24-hour database access and single item access options give you immediate access to the research content you need

Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU)
The Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit is based at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is part of the Department of Psychology. The research unit was established by Professor Chris French in 2000 to provide a focus for research activity in the area of Anomalistic Psychology. In general terms, Anomalistic Psychology attempts to explain paranormal and related beliefs, and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known or knowable psychological and physical factors. Read our introduction to Anomalistic Psychology for an overview of the field.Association for the Academic Study of Religion
encouragement of academic research in the field of new, alternative and minority religious movements across historical periods.

Asociación Iberoamericana para la Investigación del Abuso Psicológico
La Asociación Iberoamericana para la Investigación del Abuso Psicológico (AIIAP) es una asociación profesional especializada en relaciones sectarias, sectas destructivas y otras dinámicas de abuso psicológico.

Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA)
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) strives to democratize access to the best data on religion. Founded as the American Religion Data Archive in 1997 and going online in 1998, the initial archive was targeted at researchers interested in American religion. The targeted audience and the data collection have both greatly expanded since 1998, now including American and international collections and developing features for educators, journalists, religious congregations, and researchers. Data included in the ARDA are submitted by the foremost religion scholars and research centers in the world. Currently housed in the Social Science Research Institute, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of Sociology at the Pennsylvania State University, the ARDA is funded by the Lilly Endowment, the John Templeton Foundation, Chapman University and the Pennsylvania State University.

CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions)
CESNUR is a network of independent but related organizations of scholars in various countries, devoted to promote scholarly research in the field of new religious consciousness, to spread reliable and responsible information, and to expose the very real problems associated with some movements, while at the same time defending everywhere the principles of religious liberty.
Born and Raised in a Sect: You are Not Alone. Lois Kendall.
“What is it like to grow up in a strict religion or sect? Why did my parents become involved in this group? Why do people stare at me? Born and Raised in a Sect answers many, often unspoken, questions and enables the reader to better grasp what the experience of a sect upbringing and recovery from it may be like. Dr. Kendall is a leading researcher and a passionate advocate of those born and raised in sects. Her book enables the reader to grasp the enormity of the challenges facing this diverse group of people. . . This book will be of interest to academics and those who support this population, such as loved ones, teachers, clinicians, clergy, or other professionals. Of course, those who might receive the most from reading Born and Raised in a Sect are those who themselves have had this experience. May the words of this book soothe your soul and sharpen your mind.”
Child Trauma Academy
CTA is a not-for-profit organization based in Houston, Texas working to improve the lives of high-risk children through direct service, research and education. We recognize the crucial importance of childhood experience in shaping the health of the individual, and ultimately, society. By creating biologically-informed child and family respectful practice, programs and policy, CTA seeks to help maltreated and traumatized children.

Bibliography, with emphasis on sociology, compiled by Rob Naninga.  Mainly material from before 2000.  However, this is quite an extensive listing.
116 Online Texts About Cults and NRMs

Hartford Institute for Religion Research
Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research has a thirty-four year record of rigorous, policy-relevant research, anticipation of emerging issues and commitment to the creative dissemination of learning. This record has earned the Institute an international reputation as an important bridge between the scholarly community and the practice of faith. Resources include an online Encyclopedia of Religion and Society.

Info-Cult is a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1980 based in Montreal (Quebec, Canada) that offers help and information about cults, new religious movements and related groups and subjects.

Inform (Information Network on Religious Movements) is an independent charity, based at the London School of Economics and supported by the British government and mainstream churches. Its objective is to provide information that is as reliable and up-to-date as possible about minority religions, including new religious movements (‘NRMs’), spiritual, esoteric and/or other ‘sectarian’ or ‘cultic’ movements.

Published in cooperation with The International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR), the journal was founded in 2010.  International Journal for the Study of New Religions considers submissions from both established scholars and research students from all over the world. Articles should be written for a general scholarly audience. All articles are refereed. 

Journal of Contemporary Religion
An international peer reviewed journal. Its purpose is to both document and evaluate the anthropological, sociological, psychological, and philosophical aspects of emerging manifestations of religiosity in any part of the world—whether within innovative movements or mainstream institutions.Nova Religio
Nova Religio presents scholarly interpretations and examinations of emergent and alternative religious movements.

Online World Religions Project
Division of Religion and Philosophy, University of Cumbria

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Disseminate accurate religious information. Expose religious fraud, hatred, and misinformation. Disseminate information. Promote religious tolerance.

Maintained by Michael Nielsen, Department of Psychology, Georgia Southern University

Quackwatch is now an international network of people who are concerned about health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct. Its primary focus is on quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. To help visitors with special areas of interest, Dr. Barrett maintains 24 additional sites for autism, chiropractic, dentistry, multilevel marketing, and many other hot topics. Our Internet Health Pilot site provides links to hundreds of reliable health sites. Our Casewatch site contains a large library of legal cases, licensing board actions, government sanctions, and regulatory actions against questionable medical products. We are also affiliated with Bioethics Watch, which highlights issues of questionable research on humans.

The Skeptics Society is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) scientific and educational organization whose mission is to engage leading experts in investigating the paranormal, fringe science, pseudoscience, and extraordinary claims of all kinds, promote critical thinking, and serve as an educational tool for those seeking a sound scientific viewpoint. Our contributors—leading scientists, scholars, investigative journalists, historians, professors and teachers—are top experts in their fields. It is our hope that our efforts go a long way in promoting critical thinking and lifelong inquisitiveness in all individuals.
The Pluralism Project at Harvard University
Over the past five decades, immigration has dramatically changed the religious landscape of the United States. Today, the encounter of people of different religious traditions takes place in our own cities and neighborhoods. In 1991, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University began a pioneering study of America’s changing religious landscape. Through an expanding network of affiliates, we document the contours of our multi-religious society, explore new forms of interfaith engagement, study the impact of religious diversity in civic life, and contextualize these findings within a global framework.
World Religions and Spirituality Project
“The World Religions & Spirituality Project (WRSP) was established in 2010 at Virginia Commonwealth University. The mission of the WRSP is to provide objective, reliable and comprehensive information about the world’s diverse array of religious and spiritual groups. The central feature of the WRSP website is, therefore, profiles of contemporary religious and spiritual movements, established world religions, and historical religious and spiritual movements. Wherever possible, profiles are prepared by scholars of record for the groups that they profile. Each profile includes a presentation of the group’s history, distinctive beliefs, rituals, organization and leadership, and issues/challenges. Particularly with respect to newer groups, reliable information often is less accessible, and this website offers comprehensive, balanced information for religion scholars, students, media representatives and those with a personal interest in understanding the diversity of religious and spiritual alternatives in the contemporary world.”

Worldwide Religious News
World-Wide Religious News was established as a non-profit service in 2002 committed to providing the international academic and legal community ease of access to up-to-date news on religion from around the world. Throughout history, religion has proved to be a central component of society and human experience, shaping how individuals think and interact with their society and culture, both in an immediate as well as global context. WWRN’s service provides a nexus to information that highlights the unique interplay of religion and society and how this impacts the world of today.

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