Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The 'anti-cult" movement and self-construction

The International Journal for the Study of New Religions had an interesting essay in Volume 3, No. 2 from 2012 that touched on the place of anti-cult movements in the process of disaffiliation from new religions. This essay dovetails with my own reflections on the efficacy of Evangelical counter-cult apologetic approaches and allegations of "effectiveness" in strategy. Here is the title and abstract:

"The Significance and Purpose of the 'Anti-Cult Movement' in Facilitating Disaffiliation From a New Religious Movement: Resources for Self-construction or a Justificatory Account" by Dominiek Coates 
The current study investigates the experiences of 23 former members of New Religious Movements (NRMs) or cults with anti-cult practices and discourses in Australia. All the participants in this study report some involvement with anti-cult practices and/or engagement with brainwashing explanations of NRM affiliations; however, they describe the significance of these anti-cult resources for their sense of self in different ways. The findings suggests that for some former members anti-cult resources, in particular the brainwashing discourses, merely served as a convenient account through which to explain or justify their former NRM affiliation and manage embarrassment or possible stigmatisation, while for others these resources served an important identity function at a time of loss and uncertainty. These participants describe their involvement with anti-cult practices as a much needed identity resource in which they could anchor their sense of self following the dramatic loss of identity associated with NRM disaffiliation. To make sense of the variations in the way in which anti-cult practices and discourses informed the participants” sense of self Symbolic Interactionist understandings of the self are applied. 
Translation: Anti-cult organizations provide a secular means by which the individual disaffiliating from a new religion can reduce their cognitive dissonance and construct a new sense of identity. In application to the Evangelical counter-cult an approach is used wherein brainwashing is eschewed (for the most part) in favor of theological narratives of false teaching and demonic ensnarement, whereby the rejection of former identity and teachings in a new religion, coupled with an embrace of new doctrines in an alternative religious community helps provide the formative elements of ongoing identity (re)construction.

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