Profile: Marie-Andree Pelland
Marie-Andree Pelland, PhD, is on an aventure. Fascinated by the mysterious in life, she plumbs the depths of those mysteries in her research. Her natural curiosity led her to her current work—Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, and to her particular area of interest—destructive groups. “I would say that doing research on cults is a great adventure. You have to be open-minded, understanding, and passionate.”
It was in 1997 that Marie-Andree first became aware of and interested in the cult phenomenon. At the time, she was studying for a year in California.
I was curious about these people who could talk for hours on a street corner in order to gain new members. So when I started my criminology master program, I contacted Dianne Casoni, who was working on cults. Since then, I have studied various groups which are often recognized as cults.
Raised in a small town in Canada, an only child, “protected and loved,” Marie-Andree had many cousins to play with and led “an active, everyday life.” When she began work on her master’s degree, she met
members and ex-members of various religious groups and cults, and I realized that they had a different conception of reality. I decided then it could be a great opportunity to compare the life stories of members and ex-members in order to understand their different perceptions of reality.
Highly regarded by her students, Professor Pelland teaches courses on general criminology and group criminality. “In those, we explore how organized crime, gangs, and cults use crime in their group dynamics.” In her field, the greatest difficulty she has is that,
...as a researcher, fellow researchers try to categorize us, put us in a box. Are we pro or anti cult? I always answer, “I’m pro people”; and I try to understand the reality of the group, members and ex-members alike. So it is not always clear-cut where I stand, and that can be problematic to certain people.
Professor Pelland is very close to her large, extended family, making a point to see them a couple of times a year.
My maternal grandmother was a role model for me. She fought for women to vote, and for equal pay. She always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. She died 12 years ago, yet each time I do something that I’m proud of, I think of her.
One of those proud moments came at the past ICSA conference, where “I presented, with Dianne Casoni, my mentor, a theoretical framework to understand how crisis can affect cult group dynamics. This was well received.”
The professor is thoroughly engaged in her work and loves it, with the result that, during the school year, free time is hard, if not impossible, to find. However, every now and then she can be found reading, what else—“a good mystery book.”
Professor Marie-Andree is a board member of Info-Cult/Info-Secte, based in Montreal, Canada.