Book Review - Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1999

Book Review - Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective. 

Anson Shupe & David Bromley (Eds.)

New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994, hardcover. 279 pages.

Reading these 12 chapters about anti-cult movements (ACMs) in various countries is like visiting a yard sale. Some reports are discards—simply old, familiar and obsolete. Some are fascinating antiques—collectors’ items. A few are treasures that are still contemporary. The authors include six theologians, four sociologists, three psychologists, and one administrator. Among them are two people prominent in the ACM (Steve Hassan and Priscilla Coates) and one associated with a new religious movement (NRM)—Michael L. Mickler of the Unification Theological Seminary. Six chapters consider ACMs in North America, four in Europe, one in Israel, and one in Japan. Most appear to have been written in 1991. These chapters, therefore, antedate the tragedies of Waco, Heaven's Gate, and the Solar Temple, as well as the demise of the original Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

According to the editors, “The focus of this volume is on the ACM as an international social movement industry with far greater appeal than its North American founders originally envisioned” (p. viii). I will select from these chapters one example of an antique, a discard, and a treasure.

Priscilla Coates’ brief history of the Cult Awareness Network from its beginnings in 1971 until its demise in 1991 arouses many memories for this reviewer. CAN in her view is not an anti-cult group but rather an organization that assists the victims of destructive groups. “CAN,” this administrator asserts, “has never supported or condoned abduction” (p. 96). Since CAN today is run by Scientologists, her conclusion about the original CAN is particularly ironic: “The Cult Awareness network will continue and it will continue to urge that destructive cults be held accountable" (p. 98).

Michael L. Mickler’s chapter, “The Anti-Cult Movement in Japan,” in my opinion should be discarded. It is limited. Mickler concentrates on the “heroic” struggles of the Unification Church in Japan against persecution by angry parents, Christian ministers, the Japanese Communist Party, and the Japanese Bar Association. Fortunately, he argues, the Japanese public is beginning to oppose deprogramming. For instance, he charges that “numerous UC adherents were kidnapped and committed to mental hospitals for ‘deprogramming’ between 1979 – 1985” (p. 262). He accuses the Japanese ACM of kidnapping, drugging, imprisoning, and binding with rope UC members. Conspicuous by absence is any mention of other new religions. Did the ACM ignore the 34 NRMs (not including UC) listed under Japan in Beit-Hallahmi’s Encyclopedia (1993)? Did they ignore Aum Shinrikyo? Perhaps Mickler’s professional association blocked his perspective. Mickler is identified as an expert on the Unification Church and a faculty member of the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, NY.

In contrast, Steve Hassan, who is a licensed mental health counselor, lecturer, author, and consultant, has written a treasure: “Strategic Intervention Therapy: A New Form of Exit-Counseling for Cult Members.” Hassan (along with other exit counselors who strive for professionalism) represents praiseworthy progress from the days of Ted Patrick and musclemen. His interventions not only incorporate years of experience in the art of therapy with cult members, but also an acquaintance with professional theory and practice. He stresses volunteerism, ethics, respect for the cultist, active inclusion of the family, training and preparation for the consultant, and education for the cult member. His approach is legal, sensitive, and humanitarian. It acknowledges that the cultist has freedom of choice—freedom to choose his or her own religion and to decide whether or not to leave the group.

Editors Shupe and Bromley could have improved their book in many ways. To begin with, the title should make an anthropologist wince; the book is really a gross grouping of views representing a few countries. Many countries with active NRMs and possibly ACMs were not covered. I counted as omitted from the book 17 geographic units associated with NRMs in Beit-Hallahmi’s Synoptic Index (Beit-Hallahmi, 1993). Were there no ACMs in all of Africa, for example?

Although the differing perspectives do provide some balance, where are contributors representing law, journalism, family, criminology, civil liberties, etc.? An index was not included. Some scholars might quarrel with the use of the descriptors ACM and NRM as imprecise. The contributions of AFF to education, scholarship, research, mental health issues, rehabilitation of ex-members, and particularly international collaboration are largely neglected. A concluding chapter that criticized, integrated, and interpreted the 12 contributions would help the reader in discriminating among the antiques, the discards, and the treasures in this yard sale.


Beit-Hallahmi, B. (1993). The illustrated encyclopedia of active new religions, sects, and cults. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Arthur A. Dole, Ph.D., ABPP

Emeritus Professor

University of Pennsylvania