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Cult-related Problems in Switzerland

Cult-related Problems in Switzerland: Annual Report 2000 of info-Sekta and Reflections on Governmental Cult Policies 
Cults in Switzerland

The issue "Cults in Switzerland" was spotlighted by the tragic event of the Order of the Solar Temple in 1994 and later by the news of the UFO group Raelian movement, which provides human cloning service via the internet. These rather exotic examples are not representative of the everyday problems the Information and Counselling Center for cult-related Problems, infoSekta, is dealing with. As mentioned in the annual report 2000 of infoSekta the center has counselled about 1,100 persons, mainly from the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The groups in question can be categorized according to their philosophy of life or ideology as follows:

Graph 1

Philosophy of life or ideological background of the groups mentioned in counselling (N=911)

Important groups which cause problems are Scientology, several communities of the Pentecostal Movement, the local psycho cult VPM (abbreviation for Association for Psychological Knowledge of Human Nature, which is active in the field of drug and AIDS policies as well as in matters concerning school policies and education), International Christian Fellowship ICF, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Graph 2

Groups mentioned in counselling (N=911)

The surprising result is that 70% of all cases refer to a vast range of individual groups, many of them small and unknown, as well as self-appointed therapists and healers. infoSekta is no longer dealing with "seven cults" - the title of a small information booklet published in the seventies - but is confronted with a growing number of different organizations. The trend can be described as the "fragmentation of the cult market". It is easy to see that this shift in cult market structure demands an extra effort and additional investigations.

The problems the people concerned are talking about remain surprisingly similar to the ones caused by well-known groups or "classic cults," such as Scientology or the Unification Church.  They revolve around dependent relationships that undermine self-determination or harm health and social integration. Christian fundamentalism is an issue of growing relevance in Switzerland.

Are governmental cult policies needed?

In 1999 the Parliamentary Committee for Fair Practice in Public Administration (GPK) published a report entitled "Cults or problematic movements in Switzerland. The need of governmental policies or: ways to a national cult policy"[1] and identified three main problems concerning questions on how individuals can protect themselves and what the government can or should do to deal with cult-related problems.

1. Insufficient knowlegde and awareness: there is a major lack of knowlegde and awareness about cults and cult-related problems, e.g., knowledge about ideological and group dynamic control mechanisms, conception of the world and themselves (thinking in black-and-white terms, end-of-the-world beliefs, awareness-changing methods, information management, emotional and financial dependency, health hazards. In spite of lots of good information available on the internet, further preventive efforts and sensitization are needed. Transparency and objective information – not only the "self-adulation" of these groups – are necessary to protect the self-determination of the individual.

2. Need for research and cooperation: In spite of some research there is a lack of systematic research when compared to other issues of sociopolitical relevance, such as AIDS or drugs. In particular, research on the effects and risks of methods to influence people are scarce. The exchange of knowlege and experiences is very important. In Germany and Switzerland a professional networking has been established, but there are also problems with the cooperation caused by different ideological approaches.

3. Insufficient application of existing laws: The authorities are cautious about taking a stand on cult-related problems, particularly when the group claims or pretends to have religious motives. The authorities might have limited knowledge about the content and the extent of religious freedom. Moreover, the aggressive behavior of cult-representatives can have an intimidating effect, and the risks of manipulative techniques are often underestimated. Good consumer protection allows comsumers to identify the financial and personal consequences of their engagement. The government should be interested in protecting the self-detemination of the individual.

In their answer, the Executive Federal Council of Switzerland did not agree with the analysis and responses made by the GPK. The Council mainly emphasized the basic right of religious freedom and the competence of the cantons. As a consequence the information and counselling centers and prevention projects have to continue their activities with inadequate funding and without appropriate appreciation from the government.[2]

infoSekta, founded in 1990, is an independent, non-governmental and non-denominational center which offers information, advice and counselling for problems regarding cults. infoSekta regards itself as a consumer protection association, supported by specialists from law, medicine, psychology, sociology, psychiatry, social and youth work, and comparative religious studies. The center focuses on problems relating to the ideological and group dynamic control mechanisms which are used to recruit and absorb individuals into cults. It offers careful, objective and in-depth analyses of the groups and their methods. infoSekta provides documentation and investigation, advice to individuals and institutions, development of educational and prevention projects, cooperation with other specialist centres, and organization of topical events.


information and counselling for cult-related problems

PO Box, CH-8055 Zurich/ Switzerland

phone        +41 1 454 80 80 (Thur)

fax        +41 1 454 80 82

Internet (German)

This report was prepared by Suzanne Schaaf.

[1] original: "Sekten" oder vereinnahmende Bewegungen in der Schweiz. Die Notwendigkeit staatlichen Handelns oder: Wege zu einer eidgenössischen "Sekten"-Politik. Bericht der Geschäftsprüfungskommission (GPK) des Nationalrates vom 1. Juli 1999. Bern.

[2] Answer from the Executive Federal Council of Switzerland to the report "Cults or problematic movements in Switzerland. The need of governmental policies or: ways to a national cult policy". Berne, June 28, 2000.