Transpersonal Tidbits: Definition of a Cult – by Michael Langone |

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March 8 by The Running Son

Definition of a Cult – by Michael Langone

What Is a Cult, and Why Do People Get Involved in Them?

Cult experts estimate that there are about 5,000 cultic groups in  the United States today and that about 10 to 20 million people have at some point in recent years been in one or more of such groups (Langone, 1993). The Cult Awareness Network reports that  it receives about 18,000 inquiries a year (Tobias and Lalich, 1994).

Michael Langone (1993), a psychologist who has worked with approximately 3,000 families of cult members, defines a cult as: a group or movement that, to a significant degree,

1. exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing,

2. uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices),

3. systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members,

4. exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and

5. causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community (p. 5).

I would add to this definition that a religious cult is led by a person who claims to have reached human perfection or unity with  the divine, and who claims therefore to be exempt from social or  moral limitations or restrictions. Within this autocracy, the  leader is not held to normative societal standards of conduct and  is not subject to any system of checks and balances. Behavior  that would in any other context be considered amoral, if not  psychopathic, is idealized by devotees as indicative of the leader’s transcendent perfection and enlightenment.

Definition from: Langone, M.D. (Ed.) (1993). Recovery From Cults. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.




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RFB editor Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013

RunningSon aka Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013 | This site is dedicated with the deepest gratitude to Dr. Cláudio Naranjo, whose writings gave me life.

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