Professor of sociology, Rutgers University
I am a professor in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University. I received a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. My research and teaching interests are in the sociology of religion, social psychology, and the sociology of the life course. Within the sociology of religion, my particular interests are in charismatic religious movements (sometimes called cults) and in the relationship between believing and belonging over time.
I am not personally opposed to
the existence of NRMs
and still less to the free exercise of religious conscience. I would fight actively against any governmental attempt to limit freedom of religious expression. Nor do I believe it is within the competence of secular scholars such as myself to evaluate or judge the cultural worth of spiritual beliefs or spiritual actions. However, I am convinced, based on more than three decades of studying NRMs through participant-observation and through interviews with both members and ex-members, that these movements have unleashed social and psychological forces of truly awesome power. These forces have wreaked havoc in many lives - in both adults and in children. It is these social and psychological influence processes that the social scientist has both the right and the duty to try to understand, regardless of whether such understanding will ultimately prove helpful or harmful to the cause of religious liberty.
Preface: The reader should be warned
that this long paper was boring to write and is probably even more boring to read. The bulk of it consists of a point-by-point refutation of Dick Anthony’s long rambling critique of my theoretical work. Many of my colleagues have advised me that Anthony’s critique does not deserve serious scholarly consideration. I tend to agree with them. But, since Anthony’s chapter in Misunderstanding Cults
appears immediately following mine, and since I am one of the editors of Misunderstanding Cults, I felt that issues he raises needed to be dealt with. This was easy enough to do because Anthony, although an accomplished scholar on his own turf, is completely out of his element trying to critique the work of a social psychologist. I do not expect many scholars to be interested in reading this defense in full. I have published it on the web so that any who doubt that Anthony’s criticisms of my theory are specious may have public access to my rebuttal to see for themselves. Feel free to download this document and to use it freely if you find it useful.
Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial
, by Benjamin Zablocki (Editor), Thomas Robbins (Editor). Highly recommended
reading for everyone interested and/or involved in the ongoing debates on New Religious Movements and their academic supporters
Misunderstanding Cults provides a uniquely balanced
contribution to what has become a highly polarized area of study. Working towards a moderate 'third path' in the heated debate over new religious movements
(NRMs) or cults, this collection includes contributions both from scholars who have been characterized as 'anticult
' and from those characterized as 'cult apologists
.' The study incorporates diverse viewpoints as well as a variety of theoretical and methodological orientations, with the stated goal of depolarizing the discussion over alternative religious movements. A large portion of the book focuses explicitly on the issue of scholarly objectivity and the danger of partisanship in the study of cults.
The collection also includes contributions on the controversial and much understood topic of brainwashing, as well as discussions of cult violence, child rearing within unconventional religious movements, and the conflicts between NRMs and their critics. Thorough and wide-ranging, this is the first study of new religious movements to address the main points of controversy within the field while attempting to find a middle ground between opposing camps of scholarship.