Cults in Our Midst

Cults in Our Midst

Cults in Our Midst

Cults in Our Midst

Synopsis

Cults today are bigger than ever, with broad ramifications for national and international terrorism. In this newly revised edition of her definitive work on cults, Singer reveals what cults really are and how they work, focusing specifically on the coercive persuasion techniques of charismatic leaders seeking money and power. The book contains fascinating updates on Heaven's Gate, Falun Gong, Aum Shinrikyo, Hare Krishna, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and the connection between cults and terrorism in Al Queda and the PLO.

Excerpt

Margaret Thaler Singer stands alone in her extraordinary knowledge of the psychology of cults. Over decades, she has brought to the subject a rare combination of professional skill and personal courage.

Singer recognizes the complexities of the cult phenomenon. She is aware of a continuum from relatively innocuous if one-sided efforts at persuasion at one end to systematic thought-reform procedures on the other. She is also aware that psychological manipulation is the heart of the matter, with or without the use of physical violence. At the same time she knows well that the more general issue of totalistic groups transcends any professional discipline and has to do with larger social and historical forces.

I have been preoccupied with questions of totalism from the time of my study of Chinese thought reform in the mid 1950s, and came full circle in returning to the subject when studying Nazi doctors in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Totalism is likely to emerge during periods of historical—or psychohistorical—dislocation, in which there is a breakdown of the symbols and structures that guide the human life cycle. Contributing to this dislocation is the mass media revolution, which creates the remarkable possibility of any one of us, at any moment, having access to any image or idea originating anywhere in the contemporary world or from any cultural moment of the entire human past. Still another powerful influence furthers our dislocation: awareness of our late-twentiethcentury technological capacity to annihilate ourselves as a species, and to do so with neither purpose nor redemption. What result from these . . .

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