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Seeking Accurate Information Part I

The 21st century is quickly becoming known as the "Age of Information." With the emergence of the Internet and electronic databases, we can rapidly access more information from a greater variety of sources than ever before. This is a great advantage for information seekers. However, the abundance of data requires individuals to avoid both "information overload" and a false security that a complete and accurate body of literature exists because a global search can be so easily conducted. Finding clear, accurate information on cults is particularly critical, as individuals will make important decisions based on what they read, decisions that will have a major impact on their lives and on the lives of their loved ones.

Over the next three issues of Cultic Studies Review, we will be analyzing the three major categories of information available today on cults. The first in this series will focus on both popular and professional books. The second article will evaluate professional journal articles available, and the final piece in the series will discuss Internet resources. We hope that this series can serve as a basic primer for all who seek accurate information on cults.
Seeking Accurate Information: Part I
A Sketch of Currently Available Popular and Professional Books on Cultic and Related Groups
Peter T. Malinoski, Ph.D.

Whether you are a professional therapist searching for ways to help a current patient or a former cult member attempting to process a negative cultic experience, you will probably look toward both popular and professional books for answers.

This survey was conducted by performing two extensive searches. Mainstream and popular books were categorized based on information provided by Amazon.com, which boasts the largest online book inventory in the world. PsycInfo®, the American Psychological Association's online database for professional psychological books and professional journals, provided the information on professional titles. The Table provides a summary of the categories of books currently in print and available for purchase.
General Audience

Not surprisingly, one of the largest categories of books available on cults is fiction. Currently 29 books on cults were novels or other fiction; seven of these were fictional works targeted at young readers.

For individuals simply curious about the cult phenomenon, well-written fictional accounts can provide a basic understanding of cultic groups and how they operate. Morton Rhue's The Wave is a novel based on a true story of destructive influence in a Palo Alto high school in 1969; many high school students find the depiction interesting and informative. If fictional accounts are accurate depictions of how cults use destructive persuasion, such novels may aid young adults in detecting coercive influence. This may serve as a sort of "inoculation" against joining a destructive group. Unfortunately, many novels focus on the sensational aspects of cults, reinforcing the notion that the most people are "too smart" to get fooled into joining a cult.
Former Cult Members

For individuals seeking to understand their own personal experience with a destructive group, both mainstream and professional books that discuss cult abuse and mind control can be helpful. Nearly 30 books discuss these issues and are available on the market today. It goes without saying that the quality varies markedly.

Former cult members often find that accounts of others’ experiences in groups, coupled with accurate information about coercive persuasion, help them to understand their own experience, and thus begin to integrate it into their life narrative. This may be one reason why Steve Hassan's Combatting Cult Mind Control has been so popular with former cult members. Hassan's book weaves his experience in the Unification Church into his outline of how mind control in cults works, and provides practical advice for former cult members in their recovery. Similarly, Madeleine Tobias' and Janja Lalich's Captive Hearts, Captive Minds has been useful for many former cult members seeking help.

Books by psychotherapists experienced in working with former cult members are often very helpful for former cult members. Examples include psychologist Thomas and Jacqueline Keiser's The Anatomy of Illusion, and psychiatrist Margaret Singer's Cults in our Midst, both of which are highly recommended.

Former members may also be interested in seeking information specific to the group they were involved in -- an additional 30 books revealed in the search discuss specific groups. Obviously more books may exist that would have been revealed by searching for a particular group's name.

Bear in mind that for former group members experiencing clinical levels of depression or anxiety, books cannot take the place of competent psychotherapy. Professional consultation should be sought.
Therapists

Most psychotherapists receive no specific training in treating former cult members, and therapists are far from immune from popular misconceptions about cult involvement. Thus, it is recommended that therapists treating former cult members educate themselves on the particular issues that former cult members are likely to face. The most useful text for mental health professionals working with former cult members may be Recovery from Cults, edited by Michael Langone. This text is a compilation of chapters covering many aspects of cult involvement and facilitating recovery. The chapters by Paul Martin, Lorna Goldberg, and David Halperin are particularly relevant to therapeutic work with former cult members.

Marc Galanter's Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion and the American Psychiatric Association's 1992 report on religious cults also provide some guidelines for therapists. Galanter also edited Cults and New Religious Movements : A Report of the American Psychiatric Association. Mental health professionals may also wish to recommend reading for their clients (see above recommendations).
Clergy

Clergy face a broad challenge in dealing with cultic groups. Often, they are the first approached by families who are concerned about a loved one's "new religion." Clergy may need to counsel affected members of their church, and defend their religious tradition against dangerous groups.

Rev. Richard Dowhower has prepared a pamphlet entitled Cults: What Clergy Should Know, and guidelines for clergy in Recovery from Cults, and these may serve as good introductions to the issues. Clergy in mainstream religions might be able to access position statements from their leadership. For example in 1986, the Vatican released a report titled Sects or New Religious Movements: A Pastoral Challenge. Gary Eisenberg edited Smashing the Idols: A Jewish Inquiry into the Cult Phenomenon, which may assist Jewish leaders in addressing the cult issue.
Where to find out more

The American Family Foundation’s website at www.csj.org and its new bookstore, www.cultinfobooks, contain excellent lists of books to help former cult members, their families, and mental health professionals. AFF has created customized recommended readings for each of these groups. Out of print titles may be available from community and academic libraries.
Table.
Categories of Books Found in Literature Searches


Amazon.com

PsycInfo


Category

Frequency

Percentage

Frequency

Percentage


Novels/fiction

29

15%

0

0.0%


Cult abuse/mind control/therapeutic issues

27

14%

11

15%


Books on how society or mainstream religions should respond to cults

12

6%

0

0%


Descriptions of cults appropriate for teens

8

4%

0

0%


Dictionaries or catalogs of groups

27

14%

2

3%


Discussions or exposes of specific groups

20

10%

4

5%


Discussions or exposes of multiple groups

6

3%

0

0%


Sociological analyses of cults

9

5%

6

8%


Anthropological or ethnographic accounts of 20th century indigenous groups

11

6%

20

27%


Books on cults in ancient Rome, Greece, China, India, etc.

12

6%

0

0%


History of new religious movements (NRMs)

3

2%

0

0%


Women's issues in NRMs

2

1%

0

0%


Children in NRMs

1

1%

0

0%


Profiles of multiple cult leaders

3

2%

0

0%


Mind control used by the government

2

1%

0

0%


Critiques of the New Age movement

3

2%

0

0%


Information on the end-time movements

3

2%

0

0%


Information on the occult/witchcraft

4

2%

9

12%


Satanic abuse/false memories

2

1%

7

9%


Occult/witchcraft how-to books

7

4%

0

0%


New Age how-to books

2

1%

0

0%


Persuasion

0

0%

3

4%


Religion & Psychoanalysis or psychotherapy

0

0%

4

5%


Critical thinking

0

0%

3

4%


Violence/group conflict

0

0%

6

8%


Note: Column percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.
Note on Methods

The searches were conducted in February 2000. I typed in an Amazon.com search for "cult" in book titles. This yielded 909 titles in response, an overwhelming number. A similar search for "cults" yielded 1279 titles. Many of these were clearly not relevant, with titles such as "Acupuncture Without Needles." Fortunately, in amazon.com, one can search under specific subject categories, and conveniently, one of these subject headings was labeled "cults," which yielded 542 titles. Other sets of titles could be generated by using other subject heading searches, such as "religious cults", "New Age," or "cults, demonism, and the occult."

Approximately half of the 542 titles listed were out-of-print, were not in English, had not yet been published or were duplicate listings (i.e., a book listed in both hardcover and paperback editions); I deemed these unavailable, and eliminated them from further consideration. Also, several books were not primarily about cults; many of these were edited books that had one chapter addressing the cult issue, and I eliminated these as well. Finally, I only included the latest edition of any given title. This left me with 217 unique English titles that could be obtained within 5-6 weeks. Of these titles, I found 16 unclassifiable due to inadequate information and I did not include them in the percentages in the Table. An additional eight did not address cult phenomena, and were apparently misclassified in the Amazon database; these were also excluded, leaving only 193 titles to evaluate.

I used the PsycInfo keyword "cultism" and also included all works with "cult" or "cults" in the title, yielding 139 professional books on cults. Many of these were edited books with one chapter dealing with cults; several were not in English, and some dealt with topics tangentially related to cults, such as addiction, dissociation, and deviance. After careful scrutiny, only 75 books emerged as directly relevant to the study of cults.
References

Dowhower, R (DATE?) Cults: What clergy should know. Bonita Springs, FL: American Family Foundation.

Eisenberg, G. (Ed.). (1988). Smashing the idols: A Jewish inquiry into the cult phenomenon. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.

Galanter, M. (1989). Cults and New Religious Movements : A Report of the American Psychiatric Association. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Galanter, M. (1999). Cults: Faith, healing, and coercion (2nd ed.) New York: Oxford.

Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (1992). Leaders and followers: A psychiatric perspective on religious cults. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Hassan, S. (1988). Combatting cult mind control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Keiser, T.W. & Keiser, J.L. (1987). The anatomy of illusion. Springfield, IL: C.C. Thomas.

Tobias, M., & Lalich, J. (1994). Captive hearts, captive minds: Freedom and recovery from cults and abusive relationships. Alemeda, CA: Hunter House.

Langone, M.D. (Ed.). (1993). Recovery from cults: Help for victims of psychological and spiritual abuse. New York: W. W. Norton

Rhue, M. (1981). The Wave. New York: Dell.

Singer, M. T. & Lalich, J. (1995). Cults in our midst. San Francisco, California: Josey-Bass Publishers.

Vatican Report (1986). Sects or New Religious Movements: A Pastoral Challenge. Reprinted in Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 93-116.
Biographical Sketch

Peter Malinoski, Ph.D. has conducted and published research assessing psychological distress in former cult members for eight years. He is a psychologist with Meridian Psychological Associates, Indianapolis, IN. (malinoski@att.net)