What Makes a Cult a Cult?

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It’s not uncommon to hear the term “cult” frequently thrown around today. The term is often used casually to identify a group that one dislikes for various reasons. Whether it is unconventional doctrine, the way members seem to follow a leader no matter what they do, or aggressive evangelism techniques, people often think a group is a cult based on personal criteria rather than actual standards.

Standards for cult criteria do exist; it’s not all a matter of opinion. In the 1950s, American psychiatrist and author Robert J. Lifton did a study on Korean War prisoners of war and civilians held in Chinese prisons after 1951. He also studied Chinese intellectuals who were subject to brainwashing as a result of their university status. Through his study, Lifton identified eight different points of control that relate to the psychological terminology we recognize in cults. This process, informally known as “brain washing,” is properly classified as “thought reform.” These specific actions influence people’s thinking patterns, sense of independence, and ideals. Such makes an individual willing to forsake their individuality and freedom to belong to the larger group. (His findings are found in the book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China.)

Content retrieved from: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/leadershiponfire/2023/08/what-makes-a-cult-a-cult/.

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