Upon joining a cult, the story goes, one dies to everything one knows. One leaves family and friends and embarks on a new life which is completely incomprehensible from the outside. The member follows the cult blindly, or at least it seems so to outside observers. Images of Jonestown, Waco and the Solar Temple deaths still loom large and inform much of the discourse that surrounds modern day movements. Yet the stories that surround ‘cults’ often obscure rather than reveal the processes within them. Allegations abound of abuse and brainwashing, financial corruption and deception, deprivation of will and loss of autonomy. Indeed, these myths inform popular definitions of ‘cults’. It is in this way that we come to understand and rationalise ‘cults’ as a radical difference in our society. This rationalisation also influences legislative and regulatory bodies in so far as the activities of ‘cults’ are restricted and sometimes forbidden. Because of this, an examination of the bases of views about ‘cults’ and how they operate is timely.
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