Religious Cults: What Are They? Who Is Involved in Them?

Now referred to as new religious movements (NRM), cults are tight-knit groups often led by a charismatic leader who claims to be everything from God on Earth to the Messiah who will save humanity. Cult followers are often abused mentally and sexually as well as exploited for their labor.

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Rajneesh greeted by sannyasins on one of his daily “drive-bys” in Rajneeshpuram, circa 1982 — By Samvado Gunnar Kossatz, Attribution,“Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh” by agreste3000 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Cult” Etymology

Religious Cults

Deprogramming and Exit Counseling

Spiritual and Philosophical Cults

New Religious Movements

Harmful Cults

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Women are more susceptible than men to falling under the control of cults. Attribution,

Why Do People Join Cults?

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Houses in Jonestown, Guyana, the year after the mass murder-suicide, 1979 — By Fielding McGehee and Rebecca Moore — Courtesy of "The Jonestown report"., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Drinking the Kool-Aid

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Mass Ceremonies — Source:

Notorious Cults in Recent Years.

Manson Family (1960s)

The Family (1960s)

Peoples Temple (1970s)

Unification Church (1980s — now)

Buddhafield (1980s — now)

Branch Davidians (1990s)

River Road Fellowship (1990s)

Heaven’s Gate (1990s)

Recommended Videos

Ted Talk: Why do People Join Cults?

Dynamic Meditation

Epilogue — The Aftermath

Reference and Further Reading

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I write about culture, international trade, and history. Taught international business at two universities in Beijing, China.

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