Apologetics Index

Benjamin Zablocki

Benjamin Zablocki was a professor of sociology at Rutgers University where he teaches sociology of religion and social psychology. He has published widely on the subject of charismatic religious movements, cults, and brainwashing. Zablocki passed away on April 6, 2020.

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.
Source: Benjamin Zablocki’s Homepage Accessed Feb. 5, 2004. [Note: The link leads to the homepage as archived by the Internet Archive. After Ben Zablocki passed away, his website was taken over by a spammer.]


This is an ‘archived’ entry. It may eventually be updated, or simply remain as it is.

Some of the formatting may look odd because the material was copied from our old pages, with minimal adjustments.

If you run into any broken links, the information can often still be found in the Internet Archive.

Benjamin Zablocki: blacklisting of the concept of brainwashing
Benjamin Zablocki’s commentsw on the funding of research on NRMs
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.
Brainwashing - Scientific Concept or Mere Label
Benjamin Zablocki: Brainwashing: Scientific Concept or Mere Label (ICSA Conversations)

Zablocki introduces this video by saying,

Brainwashing is not an easy concept to pin down. For decades it has been the most controversial of all words in the vocabulary of those who try to understand cults. Many scholars even doubt whether something called “brainwashing” should be spoken of at all, regarding it as nothing more than an insulting label used to scare people about the activities of socially unpopular groups. On the contrary, I’m going to argue here tonight that “brainwashing” is not only a valid scientific concept but an essential one if we are to have any hope of understanding cults and helping people recover from cults.


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 Cultsappears 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.


Secular 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/detractors.

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.
Source: Misunderstanding Cults., From the page facing the inside front cover.

Source: Misunderstanding Cults., From the page facing the inside front cover.


This links to the Internet Archive’s archived version of the website. After Zablocki passed away his website was taken over by a spammer.
Academic Benjamin Zablocki’s page at Rutger’s University

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First published (or major update) on Sunday, June 18, 2017.
Last updated on May 02, 2022.

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