‘Cults’: What They Are

  • Annabelle Mooney


The term ‘cult’ is highly contentious and rather unfashionable. There are nearly as many definitions of ‘cult’ as alleged ‘cults’ themselves. Whether the word is applicable to any group at all is contested. Indeed, scholars of ‘new religious movements’ avoid use of the term ‘cult’. This is potentially unfortunate, as cults are not necessarily ‘new’ or ‘religious’.1 In this section I will be reviewing some of the existing definitions of ‘cult’ in an attempt to come to terms with what ‘cult’ is being used to mean. I will do this by drawing on the last chapter (the generalisations already made about cult rhetoric) and by referring to definitions offered by others. It is impossible to conduct meaningful discussions about cults in the absence of a clear definition of the term itself. Ultimately, I will be arguing for a neutralisation of the term in so far as I suggest it should be stripped of its negative connotations.2 While I will be looking at the use of the terms ‘cult’ (predominantly), ‘sect’ and ‘new religious movement’ (briefly) in the context of discourse, this section is ultimately semantic in its focus. It has already been established that cult and anti-cult recruiting rhetoric do not differ in the strategies that they use. In the next chapter, I will also examine the recruiting texts of a management consultancy, McKinsey, to see how far it satisfies the criteria of cult, even though it would not normally be classed as one.


Religious Group Centralise Authority Moral Panic Charismatic Leader Dominant Ideology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Annabelle Mooney 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annabelle Mooney
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Language and Communication ResearchCardiff UniversityUK

Personalised recommendations