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ICSA Conversations


ICSA Conversations is a new, free, series of discussions to be hosted in accessible locations throughout the country. We plan to include online conversations in 2018. Launched in New York City in the Fall of 2017, each conversation will consist of a brief talk followed by open discussion. ICSA Conversations are free and open to the public. However, registration is recommended because some venues have limited space. |  Register Online

Unlike closed, cultic groups, ICSA is firmly committed to freedom of thought, expression, and religion. To counter the closed thinking of cults and other “true believers,” ICSA events provide an open arena for people from diverse backgrounds with diverse points of view. Opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICSA’s or its partner organizations’ directors, staff, advisors, or supporters.

Upcoming ICSA Conversations

New York
December 15, 2017.  7:00 - 9:00 pm
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (United Methodist), 263 W. 86th St., New York City (Subway stop: #1 train at 86th St. and Broadway) (map) - Social Hall (downstairs; handicap access via elevator).

Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult

Sara B. Waters, MS, MA
, is a psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and credentialed substance misuse counselor (CASAC) in New York City, with 18 years of experience in the mental health field. She was raised as a “missionary kid” in France in a high demand, fundamentalist, evangelical group and missionary boarding school. She left the group as a teenager and is intimately familiar with the trauma of religious psychological abuse, parental rejection, and loss of community. Sara specializes in treating posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and recovery from high-demand and abusive relationships. In addition to maintaining a private practice in Manhattan, Sara conducts empirical research in psychology and is completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at The New School for Social Research. For individual or relationship counseling, email sarawaters@protonmail.com or call/text (347) 554-0191. sarabwaters.com.

Abstract.  This talk is an introduction to the ways that cult dynamics can negatively impact the normal sexual development of children. Issues include the effects of institutionalized sexual coercion, hypersexuality and/or sexual repression. Psychological abuse related to sexuality will be discussed, both in terms of sexual and intimacy issues while in the group, and after a person leaves the group. Strategies are offered for developing beneficial attitudes and behaviors related to sexuality and intimacy as a part of healing from cult involvement.
Register Online

New York
February 23, 2018.  7:00 - 9:00 pm
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (United Methodist), 263 W. 86th St., New York City (Subway stop: #1 train at 86th St. and Broadway) (map) - Social Hall (downstairs; handicap access via elevator).

Ready to Mine: Zen's Legitimating Mythology and Cultish Behavior

Stuart Lachs
 encountered Zen Buddhism in New York City in 1967. After more than 30 years of intensive practice in America and Asia, and having taught for a number of years ‒ as well as witnessing countless instances of questionable teacher behavior ‒ he severed all ties to Chan/Zen Buddhist centers around 2000. Stuart's research interests are Chan/Zen Buddhism and the sociology of religion. He has been active in the Columbia University Buddhist Studies Workshop, the Princeton University Buddhist Studies Workshop, and the Oslo University Buddhist Studies Forum. He has a number of papers critical of Chan/Zen institutions and leaders available on the internet as well as a paper on the Hua-t'ou, a Chan form of meditation. He has presented at the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) and the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). His articles include “The Zen Master and Dharma Transmission: A Seductive Mythology,” published in Minority Religions and Fraud: In Good Faith (Ashgate, London, 2014); “Denial of Ritual in Zen Writing” published in The Ambivalence of Denial (Harrosowitz, Wiesbaden, 2015) and "Modernizing American Zen Through Scandal: Is "The Way" Really the Way?" published in Buddhist Modernities: Re-Inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World (Routledge, New York and London, 2017). Stuart enjoys corresponding with people who reply to his papers.

Abstract. Zen Buddhism was the first of Eastern religions to gain wide acceptance in the West post WWII. It was accepted mostly uncritically by artists and intellectuals alike. However, beginning in the 1970’s, the most prominent Zen groups in America were wracked by scandal. In spite of these repetitive scandals caused by the sexual abuse of students by their supposedly enlightened Zen masters, Zen followers and academics  have refused to associate the phrase “cultish behavior” to these developments. This was not the case with a range of Christian oriented groups or with Asian teachers associated with other traditions or a variety of other groups, though the Zen scandals mirrored these groups. This paper will show how Zen’s legitimating story and mythic history lays the ground work for authoritarian inclined charismatic leaders - titled Zen master or rosh i- to draw his followers into a world dependent on obedience, his approval and with an ethical frame dependent on the master’s self serving understanding. Though Zen presents its idealized master as being fully in the world, spontaneous, unattached, a state in which one is internally firm and free while remaining perceptually competent in the world, this has hardly been the case. This is not an abstract conjecture as the paper will mention a number of examples of Zen masters, both Eastern and Western and their followers that displayed cultish behavior, while highlighting one case in particular. It is by explaining the mythic and idealized legitimating story of Zen that helps followers make sense of their lives and earlier choices when these groups implode. After all, the Zen mythology of the super human Zen master was developed over hundreds of years which makes it hard to counter for individuals breaking with a group when the Zen master’s great attainment is shown to be wishful thinking.