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By Willa Appel
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983
Pp. 204. $15.95.

By Daniel Batson and Larry Ventis
New York: Oxford University Press, 1982
Pp. 356. $18.95.

By Walter Conn
New York: Paulist Press, 1986
Pp. 347. $12.95.

By Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman
New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1978
Pp. 254. $8.95. (Dell Publishing Co., 1979)

By James Fowler
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981
Pp. xiv + 332. $19.95.

By Marc Galanter
New York: Oxford University Press, 1989
Pp. viii +230. $22.95.

Edited by Marc Galanter
Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1989
Pp. xv+ 346. $39.95.

By Eugene Gallagher
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990
Pp. xiii +163. $14.95.

By V. Bailey Gillespie
Birmingham: Religious Education Press, 1990
Pp. 261. $14.95.

By Thomas and Jacqueline Keiser
Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publishers, 1987
Pp. xv + 144. $28.00.

By John Lofland
New York: Irvington Press, Enlarged Edition, 1981
Pp. xvi +362. $10.95.

By Karl Morrison
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992
Pp. xxvi + 246. $38.50.

By Michael Rende
New York: University Press of America, 1991
Pp. xi +225. $28.75.

Edited by James T. Richardson
Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1978
Pp. 160. N.p.

By Bernard Spilka, Ralph Hood, and Richard Gorsuch
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1985
Pp. xii + 388. $49.00.

By Chana Ullman
New York: Plenum Press, 1989
Pp. xx+ 227. $35.00.

Reviewer: Larry D. Shinn
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837


It has been ten years since Lewis R. Rambo published his bibliographic essay, "Current Research on Religious Conversion" (1982), which reported on the number and range of conversion studies in anthropology, sociology, history, psychology, psychoanalysis, and theology. He attributed the increase of scholarly activity in studies of religious conversion to the rise of New Religious Movements (NRM) and the resurgence of evangelical and charismatic Christianity in America and noted then that "sociological perspectives on conversion are probably the most extensive and the most sophisticated of any of the human sciences" (148). Sociologists early recognized that the new religious movements provided a valuable social laboratory for the study of conversion.

Within Rambo's list of books on psychological perspectives was a sub-section that included the works of Richard Delgado (1977), Margaret Singer (1978), and a few other anti-cult authors whose professional status in the law and in psychology provided them a

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platform in the courts and in psychiatric literature to define conversion and religion in narrow, even anti-religious, terms. One consequence of their partial victory in advocating the brainwashing model for New Religious Movement conversions is the recent addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition, of a new category - "atypical dissociative disorders" - described as "states that may occur in persons who have been subjected to periods of prolonged intense coercive persuasive (brainwashing, thought reform, and indoctrination) while the captive of terrorists or cultists" (DSM-III, 300.15). Unlike most conditions listed in DSM-III, no symptoms or criteria for diagnosis are given for this disorder, yet it stands out boldly as an official psychiatric category to be used to identify a personality illness in a patient who belongs to a group that someone has deemed "a cult" (Galanter, ed., 1989, 249). The anti-cult psychologist, Margaret Singer (1978, 1979, 1990) has been a prime mover in convincing her colleagues in the American Psychiatric Association of the need for this special category.

The legal applications of brainwashing theory were developed by Richard Delgado (1977) who argues that first amendment freedoms that protect the right of citizens to hold even unpopular religious beliefs do not apply to brainwashed members of religious and non-religious cults. Such psychiatric and legal attitudes were given formal legal credence in a case involving two ex-Unification Church members, Molko and Leal, who argued in a civil trial that they were brainwashed into joining the Church. In his written statement for the majority, California Supreme Court Justice Mosk said, "We need not resolve the controversy; we need only conclude that the existence of such differing views [i.e., conversion and/or brainwashing] compels the conclusion that Molko and Leal's theory indeed raises a factual question - viz., whether Molko and Leal were brainwashed…" (Anthony, 1990). Although this precedent has limitations on its applicability (i.e., that deception must be present), one practical effect is that juries in civil suits are empowered to make the determination of what is conversion and what is brainwashing. Clearly, brainwashing/conversion arguments are not trivial, and the academic and ethical issues embedded in this controversy are at least as critical as the legal ones (Shinn, 1992).

This review essay makes explicit a fundamental legal, psychiatric, and religious studies dispute regarding conversion and brainwashing that was only implicit in Rambo's essay. Through an analysis of the literature published primarily over the intervening decade, questions central to the conversion/brainwashing controversy will be addressed. What are the essential distinctions between theories of conversion and brainwashing, and who gets to say which should be applied to what religious group or which person? What ought to be the role of religious studies scholars in such debates? Who gets to define what is religion and, by extension, what is a cult? It is these basic questions that underlie much of the conversion/ brainwashing controversy. 2


Religious studies scholars have not merely been slow to recognize the value of studying New Religious Movements; many have openly questioned its value. With few exceptions, most of the theoretical and applied research on conversion during the past decade has been done by sociologists and, increasingly, psychologists. This trend is even more noticeable when one surveys the scholarship on conversion to NRMs. A notable example is the nearly decade-old work of David Bromley and James Richardson entitled The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal and Historical Perspectives (1983). Some clear exceptions are found in the religious studies research of Jacob Needleman (1970), Robert S. Ellwood, Jr. (1973), and, later, J. Gordon Melton and Robert L. Moore (1982), as well as in the more specifically focused work of Stillson Judah on the Hare Krishnas (1968) and Frederick Sontag on the Moonies (1977). Consequently, those religious scholars who choose to study NRMs and the conversion processes find lacunae in the religious studies research and perspectives available to them and, furthermore, find the issues framed by social science methodologies and the vernacular appropriate to those disciplines. What is "conversion" to the religious studies scholar becomes for many sociologists "affiliation," "alternation," or "commitment" and for most psychologists "transformation," "ego-loss," or "identity achievement." It is not that such research by social scientists is inappropriate or unwelcome, but it is insufficient without the complement of perspectives that can be provided by religious studies scholarship.

Richard Machalek and David A. Snow (1993) have provided a summary of the way in which social science scholars frame the history of conversion studies in their definition of the process and their attribution of causes and consequences. For a more specifically psychological perspective on the history of conversion research, see Spilka (1985), Ullman (1989), and Gillespie (1991). What is revealed is a wedding of psychological and theological interests in the case history research of William James (1902) and the empirical research of Edwin Starbuck (1900). Later psychoanalytic interest in religion developed in two different directions under the sympathetic reading of religious conversion by Carl Jung (1938) a full decade after the negative and even hostile tradition spawned by Sigmund Freud (1927). Most of the discernible trends in contemporary psychological scholarship on conversion can be traced to one of these enduring, yet disparate psychological traditions.

However, it has been anthropologists, historians, and sociologists who have looked at micro- and macro- social and cultural interpretations of this conversion. Contemporary authors like Eugene Gallagher (1990) and Karl Morrison (1992) can trace major themes in their approaches back to the work of Arthur Darby Nock (1933). Anthropologists and sociologists draw upon the macro-sociological traditions stemming from the work of James Frazier, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and, perhaps most significantly, Emile Durkheim. Micro-sociological studies (explaining individual conversion in sociological terms) have emerged as a central area of study only since the early 1960s and in studies of NRMs.

Religious studies as a separate discipline within the secular academy has emerged only in the past 35-40 years; previously, it had been relegated to Christian, Jewish, and Oriental comparative studies located primarily in theological schools and sectarian colleges. The consequence of this history for conversion studies is a tendency in religious studies for conversion to be treated either in sectarian theological, philosophical, or historical terms or as a topic best understood through social science methodologies and interpretations, e.g., Gillespie (1990). Thus, the dominant models of conversion in recent years address personal/psychological questions and concerns as well as contextual/sociological concerns, and what is often missing is an appreciation of non-sectarian religious studies perspectives in conversion debates. Fortunately, contemporary scholars of religion are beginning to address this deficiency (Rambo, 1989, and Gallagher, 1990). Nonetheless, conversion

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studies lodged in social science categories have determined the major outlines of the conversion/brainwashing controversy, and it is to those conceptual categories we now tum.

A. The Passive Convert

As both a descriptive and causal model, the "passive convert" has dominated social science literature as a person whose conversion is determined by biological (Sargent, 1969; Conway and Siegelman, 1982), unconscious psychological (Freud, 1927; Salzman, 1966; Erikson, 1964), and social (Lofland and Stark, 1965; Lofland, 1981) processes or forces or a combination of them (Batson and Ventis, 1982; Appel, 1983; Galanter, 1989). The descriptive features of this conversion model are a passive, often sudden, religious experience. Although W. W. Meissner (1984) attempts a reconciliation between the psychic determinism of Freudian psychoanalysis and what he understands to be Christian theology's freedom of the will, he acknowledges the traditional situation to be one that pits "psychoanalysis versus religion" (3-19). In a similar fashion, Leon Salzman recognizes the existence of "progressive or maturational type of conversion" but focuses his interest almost entirely upon the "regressive or psychopathological conversion" that arises as an unconscious psychological solution to "the conflict arising from hatred toward the father" (1966). Contemporary "attachment" theory extends the nuances of Salzman*s approach, assuming that sudden religious conversions occur as response to severe and usually unconscious psychological distress (Kirkpatrick and Shaver, 1990).

Erik Erikson (1964, 1968) is currently perhaps the most prominent and influential spokesperson for the psychoanalytic tradition (see also James Marcia, 1966 and 1976). Erikson identifies eight identity stages, each of which is based upon a crisis that, when resolved, leads to ego/identity development. Erikson's stages acknowledge the central place of the adolescent identity crisis ("identity achievement versus identity confusion") in the development of religious beliefs. His analysis of religious personalities, e.g., Luther and Gandhi, maintains a primary focus on the unconscious conflict with the father and other authority figures as a primary cause for the projection of religious beliefs. The Eriksonian tradition goes further than Freud in assuming the connection between unconscious psychological stress or crisis, conscious value- and goal-seeking, and the importance of an individual's social relationships in resolving both.

The recent works of Gillespie, Spilka, Ullman, and Gallagher all build upon this tradition. Consequently, one of the consistent themes of contemporary research on conversion is a dynamic psychological perspective that assumes unconscious psychological and sociological forces at work. With a base in biological, depth psychological, or social reasoning, these scholars emphasize deterministic forces that act upon a relatively passive convert.

B. The Active Seeker

A second, less prominent, model of conversion is that of the "active seeker." This model assumes that the convert plays a conscious and active role in his/her conversion process and that the conversion experience is often more gradual and developmental than it appears. Called volitional or gradual conversion by William James, the "active seeker" model usually provides a healthy developmental and growth assessment of religious conversion. Recent psychological scholarship has combined the identity development

theory of Erikson with that for learning of Jean Piaget and the moral development theories of Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Giiligan. For example, the adolescent "active seeker" is described by Eugene Mischey as one who engages in a "quest for and expression of a viable, psycho-social identity capable of rendering a life-perspective that provides a meaningful existence" (1980, 175). Mitchell Parker (1985) likewise argues that cognitive, moral, and attitudinal growth that marks identity achievement is accomplished only through an individual's conscious struggle. Both Mischey and Parker place religious conversion in this complex developmental framework.

C. Current Trends in Psychological/Social Science Studies

Some contemporary social science research adds specificity to the interconnection between the emotional, cognitive, and moral dimensions of psychological growth and religious maturation. Here the notion of conversion is understood to be a process that extends beyond the single event of the sudden or dramatic religious experience. "Rational choice" or "cognitive adaptation" theory argues that a person's adjustment to life's stresses and developmental crises centers around a search for meaning in which one gains mastery and control over one's life. Shelly Taylor (1983) argues this proposition in a psychological context, while David Gartrell and Zane Shannon (1985) link such rational choice theory to sociological networking principles. Snow, Rochford, Worden, and Ben- ford (1986, 464) conducted an empirical study that validated the notion that a convert seeks to align his/her conceptual world view with that of a religious group as "a necessary condition for participation." What these studies and others like them reveal are conscious, cognitive components in conversions to traditional religious groups as well as to New Religious Movements.

An extension of the cognitive approach to conversion is attribution theory which, essentially, describes a process by which persons attribute causes, e.g., "God" or "the Divine," to the events and experiences in their lives, e.g., death of a loved one. Bernard Spilka and his colleagues (1985) summarize the theory as follows: "The attribution process is motivated by a need or desire to 1) perceive events in the world as meaningful, 2) predict or control events, and 3) protect, maintain, and enhance one's self-concept and self-esteem" (Spilka, Shaver, and Kilpatrick, 1985, 3). As a causal explanation, attributional theory attempts to explain "when and why one kind of attribution, i.e., secular versus religious, is chosen over the other" (8).

Spilka, Hood, and Gorsuch (1985) provide a book-length treatment of the psychology of religion viewed from an attribution theory perspective. Beyond the classical instinct, defensive psychoanalytic tradition, and the humanistic growth models, Spilka and his colleagues argue for attributional theory as a "multi-form approach" to religion and conversion that, in particular, includes psychodynamic, cognitive, and social aspects of a person's experience (29). The Jamesian individualistic approach is modified by the addition of a social perspective and a Piagetian conception of cognitive and moral development, into which they place attribution as "the urge to know, to acquire meaning" (19-21). Following the work of Proudfoot and Shaver (1975; also, Proudfoot 1985), they conclude that physical or emotional arousal must occur within either a religious setting or in a person predisposed to religious interpretations in order for religious attributions to occur (173).

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This approach causes Spilka and his colleagues to focus on gradual, rather than sudden, conversions and to conclude that such conversions represent an active search for meaning that often takes place in the absence of emotional crisis and that leads to a deepening of faith (205). In an empirical study linking religious conversion types and attributional dispositions to identity status, John McMur- phy (1988) confirmed Spilka, Hood, and Gorsuch's distinction between sudden conversions as anxiety-ridden, temporally brief, passive acts of surrender and gradual conversions that lack a deep emotional crisis and are marked by "a gradual and increasing search for purpose, meaning, and direction" (176).

Victor Frankl's (1963) more holistic and human growth perspective is yet a third fruitful direction that has been taken by psychologists, one shared by Eric Fromm, Abraham Maslow, and Rollo May. Gordon Allport (1950) develops his extrinsic/intrinsic models for religiosity based to a great extent upon the social and personal instrumentality of the extrinsic mode of being religious versus the identity and meaning seeking raison d'etre of intrinsic religiosity. Raymond Paloutzian (1981) fuses Frankl's view of mature religious sentiments with cognitive need theory in an empirical study the results of which indicate that those persons who strive directly, i.e., extrinsically, to find happiness and freedom may experience less fulfillment and meaning than those whose intrinsic religiosity directs them toward spiritual goals of which meaning acquisition is a by-product (1159).

It is from these various cognitive, moral, and attributional models of human and religious development in psychology that we may view James Fowler's Stages of Faith (1981) as a conceptual and content study of conversion within the Christian context. His six stages of faith represent at the minimum a theological understanding of the deepening of faith that may be viewed as the process of conversion. This author has argued elsewhere the necessity of making such a distinction between a conversion decision, sudden or gradual, and a conversion process that may or may not follow such a decision (Shinn, 1987,140-43). The implications of such a distinction are far-reaching in understanding conversion - and brainwashing - theories and studies.

A similar conclusion was reached by Staples and Mauss when distinguishing between "conversion" and "commitment" (1987). They disagree with Snow and Machalek, who understand language as a direct extension of cognitive consciousness and, therefore, rhetorical indicators of religious world-view changes (1983). Snow and Machalek argue that new converts 1) adopt "a new master attribution scheme," 2) engage in biographical reconstruction, 3) suspend analogical reasoning, and 4) embrace a master or dominant convert's role. They conclude that all of these behavioral changes are reflected in the language of a new convert. Rather than viewing conversion as a static state reflecting these four major rhetorical changes, Staples and Mauss argue that "conversion be viewed as a process; that this process is fundamentally one of self transformation; that self-transformation is achieved primarily through language; and that the convert plays an active role in his/her own self-transformation" (1987, 146; see also Stromberg, 1990).

Using a small sample of evangelical Christians, Staples and Mauss find only one of Snow and Machalek's four rhetorical devices used by converts, while the other three are indistinguishable among converts and long-time members. Unlike Snow and Machalek, Staples and Mauss argue for an understanding of language not as indicative of psychological states but as creating them. It is clear that a conversion decision may be either a sudden and

dramatic event or a normal process of maturation in the life of a person and that the conversion process itself may represent an extension of the decision and not something separate from it. William James long ago recognized this possibility: 'To be converted… denotefs] the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy" (1902, 160).

Batson and Venus's approach to the study of religion directs attention to the sociological processes at work in conversion. In translating Allport's (1950) distinctions between intrinsic and extrinsic religion into their framework, they developed a third orientation they call "religion as a quest." They describe the "quester" as a person who is mature in religious sentiment, ready to doubt and be self critical of his faith, and, therefore, is open-ended and questioning in his orientation to his religion (149-50). Although they turn immediately to the question of how one would create empirical measures to verify the existence of this orientation, what is important for this conversation is the recognition of the overlap of their "quester" with the "active seeker" model.

D. Religious Perspectives on Conversion

Michael L. Rende's study (1991; see also Joseph Kelly, 1986) is an excellent introduction to Lonergan's theology of conversion; it also represents an understanding of the way in which religious studies employs methodologies like theology that are often at odds with the assumptions of social scientific methodologies. Rende says, "For Lonergan, the notion of conversion is the foundation of a contemporary theological method" (ix). As such, a study of conversion in the Christian tradition represents the best way to understand the whole religion, through an individual's spiritual transformation. In this context, conversion is seen as "an on-going process, concrete and dynamic, personal, communal, and historical" (ix). With this list of attributes, Rende has identified some of the particular emphases and concerns of religious studies scholars that do not overlap neatly with those of their social science colleagues.

Lonergan does not mistake conversion as a single event; rather, he sees it as an on-going process that elaborates upon the original religious experience, whether dramatic or gradual. He and Rende take seriously the content of what is believed and treat it as the central point of their study. Unlike attributional theory and cognitive and rational psychological theories that attempt to explain the process of believing, theological concerns rest on the content of what is believed. Rende concludes there are three interrelated stages of conversion he calls religious, moral, and intellectual (178-86). Religious conversion for him is essentially a process of self-surrender to the grace of God, such that one might come to feel loved and experience oneself to be worthwhile in God's presence. Moral conversion is the voluntary acceptance of transcendental notions of value that create "a dynamic state of freedom." Intellectual conversion is the pure desire to know beyond instrumental and mundane experiences. As such, its intention is for the convert to become what God wills, rather than what the world offers.

The theological method revealed in Rende's book calls attention to the internal logic and consistency of a theological argument as well as to epistemological and soteriological questions. Within this frame of reference, freedom means something different from what it means to the psychoanalyst or sociological investigator whose notions of freedom and morality are embedded in other value

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systems. For example, Lofland and Skonovd (1981, 376) identify the "intellectual conversion" motif as an individualistic, intellectual process of self-conversion without recourse to social involvement, while Rende and Lonergan argue that "intellectual conversion" refers to an integrated Christian theological concept that is acquired in community with others. It is obvious that these differing notions of autonomy and social interaction have important consequences for interpretations of conversion and religion in psychiatric manuals and in courts of law.

Rende focuses on Lonergan's differences with Charles Quran's view of conversion. Curran emphasizes that turning away from sin and surrendering to the will and grace of God implies a passivity before the sacred power. Lonergan argues that a true religious conversion requires both surrender to God and the acceptance of His grace, as well as human effort to achieve perfection morally and dispositionally (188). Such theological perspectives reveal views of conversion that suggest the convert's surrender to a religious authority should be a willful and active "conversion decision," which then requires considerable effort over a long period of time to bring about the desired change, i.e., "conversion process." Here conversion is understood as an active and passive process and, also, one of long duration.

Carl Morrison's (1992) historical study of eleventh- and twelfth-century Christian understandings of conversion emphasizes some of the points that have already been made. Although an historian, Morrison acknowledges his intellectual roots in psychology, social dynamics, and the traditions of doctrines. Essentially, however, his book reveals how historical or temporal location and cultural context shape ideas about conversion. He lists five different understandings of conversion in the twelfth century that range from biblical views to generalized understandings of cosmic process (16-19) and, as historian, comes to a claim opposite that of Lonergan, i.e., that conversion is not a reliable tool of analysis (185). It is interesting to note that even in a twelfth-century Christian context, conversion was understood as a "continuing and danger filled transformation, rather than an abrupt and permanent change. What was called conversion was not a single event but a way of life governed by proportionality" (66). Morrison's historical study reminds all of us who study conversion within the context of a single religious tradition also to place that process in its historical context. Such an understanding could avoid facile identification of a new sectarian religious movement such as the Unification Church with the Hare Krishnas, a missionary movement descending from a sixteenth-century Indian religious tradition.

Theological and historical approaches to the study of conversion provide additional contextual frameworks for a reading of Gillespie's book The Dynamics of Conversion (1991). In Dynamics, a Christian theological appropriation of the psychological growth traditions marked by the active seeker model is described. Gillespie is concerned not merely about the process of moral development but about the content of that development as understood in biblical (21-29) and feminist (52-55) terms. Walter Conn's book (1986; also, 1976) represents a prior example of the interweaving of these disparate and, at some points, conflicting methodological traditions. These books reveal that, for some scholarly interpreters, theories of conversion originating in psychology and sociology are not inclusive enough to grasp the totality of social and personal religious transformations.

Gillespie's and Conn's studies stand in sharp contrast to the more singularly theological and parochial approaches to conversion, as proposed by David O'Rourke (1985). The religious studies scholar is much more likely to make sense of conversion to New Religious Movements or "the cults" from the perspective of holistic methodological stances than from the point of view of theological sectarianism. Unfortunately, this important distinction is lost on many anti-cult proponents - and too many social scientists - and, consequently, they dismiss religious studies scholarship as blind advocacy, apologetic sectarianism, or irrelevant musings.


Conversions to the New Religious Movements (NRMs), more commonly called "cults," have seldom been studied by scholars of conversion to mainline religions or by religious studies students other than sectarian theologians. However, numerous sociologists and a few psychologists have treated the increase in converts to NRMs in the past twenty-five years as an opportunity to focus on traditional, as well as emerging, theories of conversion. But because there has been little cross-fertilization between religious studies scholars and social scientists who have studied cult conversions, the benefits that could have accrued from such conversations have seldom been realized. Few religious studies scholars have deigned to study the very popular and applied forms of religion in their own culture to which they willingly turn their attention (e.g., "folk religion") in other cultural contexts. Conversely, social scientists from deterministic interpretive traditions have not always been open-minded about learning from humanistic psychology or sociology, let alone from humanities scholars. Fortunately, a number of social scientists (many of whom will be named below) have welcomed dialogue across these disciplinary chasms.

Shortcomings in disciplinary studies of cult conversions pale before the negative, anti-religious legacy of Freudian depth psychology. Brock Kilbourne and James Richardson (1984) argue that the often contentious, sometimes hostile, relations between psychotherapy and the new religions is the result of their roles as "functional equivalents" in our pluralistic society. An unhappy consequence of this antipathy to cult conversions is the "brainwashing" metaphor as an interpretive and explanatory category; synonyms include thought control, coercive persuasion, and destructive persuasion. Regardless of the euphemistic phrases used, it is the notion of cult conversions as "brainwashing" that has captured the public imagination, influenced psychiatric practices, and swayed legal judgments. Brainwashing interpretations reveal an anti-religious bias that appears to run deep within the assumptions of America' s Enlightenment/individualistic culture.

A. Brainwashing, Thought Control, and Their Surrogates

The term "brainwashing" was coined by journalist Edward Hunter to explain Communist indoctrination of Korean prisoners of war. Hunter used metaphors like "brainwashing," "puppet," and "robot" to describe the process of "re-education" of Korean POWs during their imprisonment in China. While Hunter's brainwashing model had no scientific or theoretical justification, British psychiatrist William Sargent tried to link sudden religious conversions and prisoner "brainwashing" to physiological understandings of stress. Using now-discredited Pavlovian physiological explanations of the nature and effect of stress in conditioning, William Sargent {Battle for the Mind, 1957; also, 1969) argued that brainwashing is a physiologically conditioned response. He extended the same deterministic analysis to traditional religious revivals, glossolalia, and

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other possessions by "the spirit" in his book The Mind Possessed (1974). Sargent's work still stands as the best example of the biological determinism model in psychology as it is applied to conversion.

Clinical research on Korean POWs by psychologists Edgar Schein (1961) and Robert Lifton (1963) repudiated the suggestion that even extreme physical and social coercion techniques can overwhelm a person's free will and change his beliefs. Each of these studies, done independently, indicates that it is possible to change a prisoner's behavior under physical and mental duress, but that belief change occurred in only a very small percentage of prisoners, i.e., those whose backgrounds indicated a predisposition to Communist beliefs before their imprisonment. Schein's and Lifton's studies also repudiated deterministic physiological and psychological interpretations of brainwashing and made clear that the term itself is only a metaphor and not a physiological or psychological descriptive category. Each uses the term "coercive persuasion" as a more apt description of the prisoner-of-war setting, which, they make clear, must include imprisonment if the process is to be taken seriously as a psychologically descriptive one.

Lifton describes coercive persuasion ("brainwashing") as an eleven-step physical and mental process that assaults one's identity and requires mental and physical exhaustion as well as a period of re-education before a final confession and new behavior are likely. Many cult opponents see this process and result as parallel to cult proselytizing, even when the latter does not include imprisonment. John Clark, a Weston, Massachusetts psychiatrist, and Margaret Singer, a California psychologist, have been the most prominent anti-cult critics whose "brainwashing'Vthought control positions based on Lifton's work have allowed them unusual influence inside psychiatric and psychological associations and inside the courtroom. It is Singer who has risen to special prominence as an expert witness in more than three dozen cult conversion cases. Through her various popular and anti-cult journal writings (Singer, 1978 and 1979; Singer and Ofshe, 1990; Singer et al, 1990; Ofshe and Singer, 1986), she presents her version of the brainwashing paradigm as the "systematic manipulation of the social and psychological environment" (SMSPI) - essentially an extension of Lifton's and Schein's POWs' brainwashing/coercion model to NRM environments where no imprisonments exist.

In an article that describes carefully the development of Singer's thought control argument through her courtroom testimony, Dick Anthony (1990) makes clear why Singer's views have lost credibility with such professional societies as the Society for the Scientific Study for Religion and the American Psychological Association. These societies have either refused to endorse her arguments or have openly rebutted them in court amicus briefs.

Lifton explicitly disavows the appropriateness of using his prisoners research for legal testimony on the cults (Lifton, 1985, 69). Despite Lifton's disavowals, and in spite of the fact that Singer's popularized SMSPI (i.e., brainwashing/thought control) model has been refuted by research data, she continues to enjoy diminished, yet real, power as an expert witness and undiminished power as a spokesperson hostile to what she calls "destructive cults." For more than a decade serious scholars like Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony (1979) tried to combat the "over-generalized stereotypes" of Singer, Clark, and others. So, too, has James Richardson (1991) in his recent article. The most obvious flaws in Singer's argument are her claim that there is a single conversion process in all cults and her view of the stereotypic passive cult convert (Shinn, 1987, 17 ff.). Although Singer and Ofshe have now sued the APA, the ASA, and several of the NRM scholars mentioned here for engaging in a conspiracy to end their influence as expert witnesses, the essence of this disagreement is one rooted in the intellectual and professional disagreements described in this essay.

Although the articles presented in it do provide a variety of perspectives in the cult debate, the very existence of the APA report called Cults and New Religious Movements (Galanter, ed., 1989) is testimony to the persistence of even poorly argued positions like Clark's and Singer's. Indian members of the APA organized a panel in May, 1991, to protest the publication of Galanter's book because it and the "Psychiatric Times" (an APA newsletter) included the Hare Krishnas, the native religion to some of these psychiatrists, as one of the cults (see "Indian Religions are not Cults," organized by Deen B. Chandora, May 14, 1991).

While Galanter claims that the APA report strives "for a balanced view on the controversies" that surround the cults, the fact that the report intentionally excluded religious studies scholars raises questions concerning its integrity. The book includes excellent articles by Kilbourne, Richardson, Ungerleider, Wellisch, Bohn and Gutman, and Bromley and Shupe, all of whom are social scientists who have done empirical and/or theoretical research on NRMs for a number of years. However, the essay by Pattison and Ness on "New Religious Movements in Historical Perspective" is a well-meaning but seriously flawed historical reconstruction of religious movements according to anthropological and historical theory that would make a serious religious studies historian cringe. Likewise, Louis West's essay does not draw primarily upon his significant clinical and research background but accepts the reasoning of Singer and other anti-cult proponents instead. His public health approach to cult control would permit psychiatrists, governments, and legal institutions to restrain the freedom of religious groups to proselytize if they were deemed to be cults [and who is to decide which is which?]. West would permit removing a member "from a cult for a period of objective review" (183) simply on the grounds that "a reputable person" such as a family member is "concerned about the mental health or well-being of a cult member" (194). What makes this frightening is that West's advice is given in an APA report to those who may know nothing about the cults. The fact that the Hare Krishnas are included alongside the Children of God, the Unification Church, the Divine Light Mission, and other such New Religious Movements is what led Dr. Chandora and his Indian APA colleagues to protest the publication of this book.

A rather different approach to the brainwashing/mind-control model is presented in two books that come out of different methodological traditions, yet reach similar conclusions. The first is Conway and Siegleman's book Snapping (1978), which dismisses Lifton-based brainwashing theories along with such terms as brainwashing, ego destruction, coercive persuasion, and hypnosis as useful categories in explaining contemporary cult conversions. The authors assert simply that "studies of brainwashing…fall short of explaining the phenomena we call snapping" (102-103). From their study on cult conversion through the reports of ex-members, Conway and Siegelman describe the process of "snapping" as "shutting off the mind or not thinking" (58). Conway proposes a physiological process she and Siegelman call "communications overload," one in which sensory and information overload overcome the mental functioning of the convert.

While brainwashing theorists like Singer and Clark seem to assume powerful unconscious influences to be operating, Conway

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and Siegelman argue that cults and proselytizers use conscious persuasion techniques that require normal functioning of the human brain. Using the speculative and physiologically deterministic nongraphic model of memory proposed by Carl Pribram, Conway and Siegelman propose an intricate logic for physiological information overload. It suggests that "information, not matter or energy, is the stuff of human consciousness. It is the soul of communication and the key to the phenomenon of snapping" (109). According to Conway, cult conversion techniques barrage the convert's mind with new information to the point where the excessive content-experience simply overwhelms the capacity of the brain to sort and store the information. They conclude "in many religious cults and mass therapies, the sudden injection of experience [i.e., information] may destroy some specific pattern of thought, feeling, or belief, but it also may alter the entire focus of consciousness and…actually destroy the fundamental pathways of thought and feeling that make up an individual's personality" (133). Conversion to a cult, therefore, is really a psychological snapping process that represents an "information disease" that occurs when "individuality is surrendered to some religion, psychology, or other recipe for living" (225).

Again, the legacy of the "passive convert" is revealed in their claim. There is no variety or causal complexity to the conversion process they describe; rather, it is a single traumatic event of physiological destructiveness that occurs to each convert to a religious movement. Conway and Siegelman cannot explain why less than 10% of converts remain in New Religious Movements over a two-year period or why these movements remain so very small numerically if this process is so physiologically deterministic.

In Cults in America, Willa Appel (1983) reflects her anthropological background by placing contemporary cults in the context of millenarian movements. She also reveals a strong Freudian prejudice in her description of the "social myths and fairy tales" of religion in general and cults in particular (22-37). But when she reaches the heart of her argument, describing who joins the cults and what the steps of "the indoctrination processes" are, she resorts to a collage of arguments from Singer, Clark, and Conway and Siegelman and concludes with a "physiology of brainwashing" (112-37) that is even less sophisticated than that of Conway and Siegelman. She concludes one chapter with the simplistic statement, "The term brainwashing sounds melodramatic. But in the light of mass suicides in Jonestown, perhaps the term is an understatement" (137). Instead of presenting a complex scholarly argument in their interpretations of conversion, Conway and Siegelman, and Appel merely betray the fear of groups one does not understand. Tragically, it is arguments like these that have brought discredit to those who struggle with the full range of cuitic models and behaviors, some of which are psychologically health-producing as well as others which are not. Such radical interpretations have polarized answers to the cult-joining processes so that one is viewed either as a "cult sympathizer" or a "cult antagonist."

Recognizing the real weaknesses of some of the brainwashing and mind control theories that preceded them, the recent book by Thomas and Jacqueline Keiser (1987) divides those who have studied the cults into "critics" and "cult sympathizers" (5-7). The Keisers acknowledge their intellectual debt to John Clark, and Conway and Siegelman, as well as to traditional figures in the psychoanalytic tradition. They then provide a brief history of the brainwashing theories (13-30) that essentially dismisses them as "inadequate to explain the effectiveness of cult recruitment and

conversion" (30). The Keisers propose instead what they call "destructive persuasion" (49-87) and argue that "participation in destructive groups involves learning processes that characterize attitude and belief changes in general" and that the effective ingredient in cult joining is really a "cognitive restructuring" process that is achieved by "belief and attitude change through need manipulation and strategic information control" (33-4). Coercion and persuasion, therefore, are fundamentally different processes, and it is the latter that the cults use. What makes cult persuasion destructive is that "it interferes with adaptation. Adaptation in a complex society requires a clear perception of reality. Destructive cults systematically fashion illusions in order to distort a recruit's reality to gain hidden advantages, namely influence, money, and power'' (35).

The Keisers' theory of destructive persuasion argues that instead of destroying the critical faculties of cult converts, as Singer, Clark, Conway, and Appel claim, the cults use these critical faculties to their advantage. Insufficient diets and sleep deprivation are not the cause of cult joining but are the consequences of destructive persuasion and an example of that destructiveness. The Keisers criticize "critics" and "sympathizers" alike for failing to see that the most damaging aspects of cult movements are the maladaptive and reduced capacities of recruits engendered by need manipulation and information control. Simply put, destructive persuasion is a blend of psychological (need manipulation) and educational (information control) deception. "Control over a person's behavior is best obtained by manipulating his subjective reality and not by coercion" (70). The specter of the "passive convert" being manipulated by cult rituals and life styles places the Keisers' book firmly in those psychoanalytic traditions suspicious of all intense religiosity whether traditional or cuitic.

We see the psychoanalytic tradition at work in more positive ways in Marc Galanter's Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion (1989). Galanter applies an evolutionary understanding of Edwin Wilson's sociobiology to human group affiliation that includes also a "systems approach." While his work as editor for the APA report has been criticized, Galanter's own research is much more methodologically reliable as a psychological interpretation of the cults. His empirical research includes the Divine Light Mission, which he studied in the mid-1970s, and the Unification Church, which he studied in the 1980s. To this research he brings sociobiology, psychology, and social systems theory as interpretative frameworks for understanding cults as "charismatic groups."

It is Galanter's assumption that "behavior is rooted in biology…" (83). Using social affiliation and altruism instincts in the animal world as a model, he argues that individuals, in effect, bind themselves together through "instinctual drives" toward preservation of community even when such preservation may conflict with the convert's own adaptive needs. In contrast, he uses operant conditioning to explain why converts act the way the group asks them to. "A charismatic group member resembles an experimental animal or human subject in an operant conditioning study. He or she can be made to adopt a behavior pattern if at first rewarded whenever the person acts in a particular way." Thus, "an individual experiences relief in neurotic distress in direct relation to how closely affiliated he feels with the group" (89).

In Chapter 6 Galanter presents the cult as a social system that must transform the convert, monitor the internal and provide external feedback to ensure boundary control against "dangerous outsiders" (111). Here Galanter's analysis overlaps with that of some

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sociologists. His three-fold psychoanalytic, sociobiological, and social systems model allows him to demonstrate the underlying structural similarities (as well as the rather different degrees of success in boundary control, monitoring, and feedback functions) between Jonestown, MOVE, the Unification Church, and the Divine Light Mission. In his book, as well as in a related article (1990), Galanter concludes that the psychological forces charismatic groups generate may provide both relief and even healing to their participants, but also negative, sometimes disastrous, consequences, e.g., Jonestown. In a very real sense, this work by Galanter combines psychiatric, psychoanalytic, and social theories and represents a bridge as well to the more biologically deterministic models of conversion.

B. Psychiatric and Legal Consequences of Brainwashing

An ominous sign of the success of the anti-cult "brainwashing" campaign is the continued barrage of demands to adopt more DSM categories that would allow psychiatric intervention into the religious lives of adults. A recent example is that of Sirkin and Wynne (1990) who call for a new DSM category for "relational disorder," the criteria of which would be an individual's absence of "autonomy of mental functions and the ability of the person to function independently apart from the group." They argue that "the absence of critical thinking and total acceptance of the group and its leadership" is the principal sign of a relational disorder. Unfortunately, such a disorder will qualify virtually every person involved in a group called a cult to receive psychiatric intervention. (Any well- functioning Catholic monastery would certainly fit their definition of a controlling group.) While Sirkin and Wynne describe at length their allowance for the development of diagnostic instruments to determine mild, moderate, or severe relational disorders, they never say who gets to define what is a cult and what is not.

Many ethical and open-minded psychiatrists and psychologists are working very hard to address the real illnesses of people who come out of religious groups, whether cuitic or not, and whether or not the disorder was caused by the cult or was present before the person became a convert. Franklin Maleson describes such "dilemmas in the evaluation and management of religious cultists" (1981) in a way that makes clear the genuine ambiguities that exist in those who would recognize that not all cults are the same nor are all converts. As a scholar who has devoted more than a decade to the study of the Hare Krishna movement in America in relation to its Indian counterpart, this writer learned early on that not even all communities within one religious organization are the same (Shinn, 1987,13-24). Marc Galanter in his early work among the Moonies and Michael Ross in his studies of the Hare Krishnas (1983) and Scientology are but two of the scholars whose patient and time-consuming clinical empirical studies undermine the view that cult membership is psychologically damaging to all of its members or that all cults are the same in this regard.

A third unwelcome effect of the success of brainwashing and mind control propagandists is the attempt by some anti-cult lawyers or legal students to whittle away at the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. A good example is the work of Richard Delgado (1977), who accepts without blushing the propositions of brainwashing offered by Margaret Singer et al as he advocates government intervention in the "thought reform" processes of cults. Although he has modified his earlier strong argument for court-appointed deprogrammings and interventions (Galanter, ed., 1989, 291-304), other lawyers such as Stephen Beyer (1983) have picked up Delgado's argument in even more uncritical ways. In his essay 'Thought Control and the First Amendment," Beyer recites as fact, "contemporary thought control technology is increasingly specific in effect - through surgical destruction of specific portions of the brain … that is, increasingly able to exercise its effect without massive physical intrusion" (61-2).

Thomas Robbins's now somewhat dated review essay on "Brainwashing, Deprogramming and the Courts" (1985) reveals significant opposition to the views of Delgado and his disciples. Likewise, the writings of Anthony and Robbins (1992), James Richardson (1991), and Anthony (1990) suggest that the more orderly processes of precedence, rational adjudication, and adversarial defense in courts of law are a rather more difficult setting for brainwashing theories and anti-cult rhetoric to penetrate than are psychiatric categories and practice. However, it is clear that juries (and some judges), affected by the media's and other popular notions of brainwashing, accept such arguments.

C. Sociological Contributions to Conversion Theories

Articles on religion by sociologists are often methodologically and topically provocative and useful to a rich cross-disciplinary conversation. However, the tendency by sociologists to use the scholarly article, as opposed to a book, as a mode of academic dialogue appears to have major consequences. First, scholars in the humanities, and in religious studies in particular, rarely know of them or incorporate them in their research (e.g., Gallagher, 1990). Second, it appears that sociologists seldom explore the valuable research in psychology and, especially, religious studies. A third observation is that those sociologists and psychologists (with a sprinkling of humanists) who write on NRMs often are treated as black sheep in their own disciplines, thus contributing little to fruitful, intra-, let alone inter-disciplinary, conversation. Psychiatric and psychological books and articles apparently pay little attention to sociological studies of conversion, and the reverse is also true. Psychological studies in the areas of attribution theory, cognitive rational theories, as well as religious studies scholarship in the history of religions and theology, could contribute greatly to the theoretical conversations now taking place in sociology. But the barriers to such fruitful discourse appear to be fairly high.

John Lofland's book on the Moonies, called The Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization and Maintenance of Faith, is one exception to the rule. First, it is the only full-length sociological study of NRM conversion of which this author is aware. Second, this study of the Unification Church was published in 1966, at a time prior to cult fears and faddishness and the organized anti-cult movement's response to such groups. And, third, this study has provoked within sociology a two-decade conversation about conversions to NRMs and the theoretical issues such studies involve. Although he did not conceive his book as such, all three sections on conversion, proselytization, and maintenance of faith are important elements to be considered in broader views of religious conversion. Lofland's notion of conversion may be viewed as a conversion decision; proselytization and maintenance of faith represent a sociological analysis of the process of conversion attempted by the Moonies themselves. The central section of his book spawned a seminal article written with Rodney Stark called "Becoming a World Savior, A Theory of Conversion to Deviant Perspectives" (1965). There are few articles on conversion published in the area of sociology that have had wider readership or a greater number of citations.

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After more than a decade of conversation on his sociological theory of Moonies' conversion, Lofland (1978) revisited his earlier work and summarized the conversion process as five-part: 1) picking up - using public and personal networks; 2) hooking - which usually includes a dinner and some kind of attention-getting activity like a lecture or slides afterwards; 3) encapsulating - a weekend workshop noted for its intensity, close interpersonal bonding, introduction to Unification ideas, etc.; 4) loving - a very purposeful psychodynamic used by Moonies who "love bomb" potential converts while also assigning existing members one-on-one to potential converts; 5) committing - usually a week-long workshop focused on the Church's theology, often at an isolated location for control of the convert's environment (Lofland, 1978). This analysis is a micro-sociological example of a specific socialization process that describes the conversion decision process. Lofland saw the Moonie conversion process as only one kind that potential NRM converts might experience. He makes clear that while the conversion process he describes is a genuine feature of the Unification Church, it does not necessarily apply to other NRMs. One of Lofland's own criticisms of his and Stark's conversion model was that it embodied "a thoroughly 'passive' actor" (1978,22). He concluded that it was important for conversion studies to "scrutinize how people go about converting themselves. Assume, that is, that the person is active rather than merely passive" (22). Such conversion processes, therefore, are experienced by interactive potential converts who play a large role in their own conversion.

Lofland and Norman Skonovd's essay ("Conversion Motifs," 1981) on six different conversion types, or motifs, attempted to provide a reaction point to their academic colleagues studying NRMs. This essay, too, engendered considerable debate. In it Lofland and Skonovd describe 1) intellectual; 2) mystical; 3) experimental; 4) affectional; 5) revivalist; and 6) coercive "conversion types" along a grid. Opposite these six types Lofland identifies five salient features of the "raw reality" of conversions that have to do with the degree of social pressure, temporal duration, level of affective arousal, the affective content, and the belief-participation sequence that each type of convert experienced. Importantly, the six conversion motifs acknowledge the distinction between various types of conversion experiences and convert types.

The essays contained in the book edited by James Richardson, Conversion Careers (1978), are empirical studies of conversion in NRMs that provide additional weight to the notion that there is not a single type of conversion process, nor are the characteristics or experiences of the converts the same from group to group. The title of the book itself is based upon Richardson's claim that many of the young people who join NRMs do not join a single movement but really make a "career" of religious seeking. This notion of conversion careers extends the application of Lofland's conversion motifs. Richardson's model implies that the same individual who has one type of conversion experience in the Unification Church might well have a very different type in another group. Both conversion motif and career models place considerable emphasis upon social definitions of the experience and the type of convert. Could it not be that different types of conversion are experienced by different converts within the same group even among similarly disposed people?

Richardson and Stewart's chapter on the Jesus Movement revisits the Lofland and Stark model and argues for a more dynamic understanding of the conversion process that allows "serial alternatives." It questions the extent to which the content of a convert's background is influential in determining the groups she is predisposed to join and is one of the few times the issue of faith content arises in sociological literature on conversion. Balch and Taylor's essay argues that affective ties between converts and group members are not necessary for conversion and that it is the intellectual and active role of the seeker that determines conversion. Anthony and other colleagues report on the seemingly causal attraction between potential converts who have experienced psychotherapy and some "Eastern mystical cults," such as Maher Baba or the Divine Light Mission. It is not so much the social ties or the intellectual dimensions that mark conversion to UFO cults and the Jesus Movement but the psychodynamics of the individuals themselves as they attempt to work them out in a meditational context. Frederick Lynch's essay, on the other hand, focuses on the importance of group ritual in conversion to a cult group; here the process appears to be complex and one that takes a considerable amount of time to complete. These notions of conversion careers explicitly and implicitly extend the "active convert" model of interpretation.

A second influential sociological approach to conversion was given prominence by Stark and Bainbridge in their essay "Networks of Faith" (1980). They argue that sociological interpretations of deprivation that focus on the ideological appeal of so-called cults depending upon the potential convert's predispositions must be supplemented by theories that place greater emphasis on interpersonal relations and social networks to explain the conversion process. They argue that "faith constitutes conformity to the religious outlook of one's intimates, that membership spreads through social networks," and that this is as true for conventional faiths as for cults.

In his work with Lofland in 1965, Stark accepted the notion that convert predispositions as well as the nature of the group's conversion processes were important variables in explaining conversion. His and Bainbridge's essay claims that it is the process of personal networking and accepting the beliefs of those whom you trust most that represents the most central ingredient in conversion. Personal faith "constitutes conformity to the religious outlooks of one's intimates" (Stark, 1980, 1377). They argue that their thesis is supported not only for marginalized religious traditions, like the Mormons and the NRMs, but for traditional faiths as well. The importance of personal networks is accepted, with qualification, by this author in his assessment of the Hare Krishnas' conversions (Shinn, 1986). Rochford ( 1982) extends their theory in interesting ways, noting the development of four different kinds of networks that range from personal to ritual relationships that attract new devotees to the Hare Krishnas.

A third theme of conversion research among sociologists was stimulated by Bromley and Shupe's role theory approach to cult participation (1979). They suggest that motivational theorists are putting the cart before the horse: the primary question is not why a person becomes a convert but how. Simply put, a new cult member behaves like a convert before he believes the cult's ideology. According to this role model theory of conversion, "an individual begins performing a role as a result of the initial interaction process between the individual and the group which may or may not involve attitudinal change" (162). It is by acting out the role of a Moonie or a Hare Krishna that one comes to accept the ideology upon which the new religious behavior is predicated. An implication of the role model theory is that persons are choosing to be involved in NRMs prior to the attitudinal or ideological changes that would seem to predicate such behavior.

It is important to acknowledge the important literature on the active versus the passive convert. James Richardson (1985) is

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among the first sociologists to address this distinction directly, but it is also discussed indirectly by others. One early presentation of this issue was by Long and Hadden (1983,1) who tried to reconcile the "brainwashing" model - a sudden, passive conversion - with what they call the "social drift'9 model which assumes that "people become converts gradually, even inadvertently, through the influence of social relationships." Kilbourne and Richardson's (1985) article on Lifton's "Protean Man" as the social experimenter or religious seeker is another important contribution to the passive/active convert literature. This essay followed Richardson's clear description of the active and passive convert (1985).

A recent essay by Lome Dawson (1990) combines the insights of Lofland and Skonovd's "Six Conversion Motifs" with the active/ passive convert literature. Dawson argues that Lofland's six types of conversion are more apt to be "variations in research or perspective" than in the real experiences of converts. "…Real conversion experiences are likely to be of a mixed type, and any one conversion may well start as one type and become another." Actual conversions, then, may entail an analytically confusing mix of the five "major dimensions used to identify and contrast these types …" (159). This essay is one good example of the way in which the various themes in sociological research of conversion may be intertwined and produce new insights into sociological methodologies as well as into conversion to religious groups, new or traditional.


This summary of trends in conversion research over the past decade shows that psychological studies of conversion have focused primarily upon traditional religious groups, while sociological studies have tended to explore conversion to NRMs. Nonetheless, the tendency in each case has been to move from conceptions of the passive convert to ones in which a more active religious seeker plays a conscious role in his/her conversion process. We have also seen that the tendency to view conversion as a single event in both psychological and sociological literature has led sociological commentators to use distinctions like "conversion" versus "commitment" (Snow and Machalek, 1983) or "verbal conversion" versus "total conversion" (Lofland, 1981,57). These commentators seem to be pointing to what William James recognized over ninety years ago as a distinction between a conversion experience or decision and the conversion process, which, if it occurs at all, does so over a long span of time. This distinction has shaped this author's interpretation of conversions to the Hare Krishna movement and suggests that even in unusual circumstances where sudden conversion experiences occurred, one can expect either disaffection and departure in a relatively short period of time oran additional lengthy conversion process marked by primarily cognitive and emotional faith-building (Shinn, 1987, 139-43). This analysis suggests that most converts play an active, conscious role in successful self-transformation and that conversion decisions and conversion processes are two parts of an organic whole.

A second important trend in conversion studies is the use of two or more methodologies by scholars to allow for more textured interpretations of individual and social, unconscious and conscious, behavioral and cognitive dimensions of nearly every conversion. This emerging literature suggests that there is at least a third major type, or model, of convert in which both sudden and passive, as well as gradual and cognitive - or active - dimensions might appear.

Interpreting conversions through both decision and process perspectives accepts conversion as an unfolding drama in which active and passive, conscious and unconscious, individual and social forces may act sequentially or together to shape a person's religious change and maturation. It is to such a model that religious studies scholars have the most to contribute. Religious studies scholars of conversion can focus upon the content of belief in theology, the historical context of both persons and movements, and cross-cultural perspectives that allow Buddhist, Hindu, or tribal paradigms to influence the way we think about more familiar or traditional Western faiths. When added to the valuable psychological and sociological interpretations outlined above, such religious studies emphases offer fertile grounds for future conversion studies.

Lewis Rambo points us in the direction of this kind of thinking with his essay "Conversion: Toward a Holistic Model of Religious Change" (1989). He argues that a holistic model must move beyond the "synchronic" disciplines - psychology, anthropology, and sociology - that tend to focus on a particular moment in time divorced from historical perspectives. Nonetheless, he affirms the contribution of all disciplines and argues for a "multidimensional" approach. Rambo's insight, confirmed by this author's own work, is that the holistic model "must be process-oriented - seen as a series of elements that are multiple, interactive, and cumulative over time" (51). A heuristic outline of Rambo's conversion model includes the following elements: 1) context; 2) personal crisis; 3) questing; 4) encounter with a religious group that is attractive; 5) interaction usually over a period of time; 6) commitment as expressed not simply in social and ritual behavior but also in theological/ideological intellectual growth; and 7) the consequences of conversion from the point of view of the prospective participant, the group, and the scholar doing the interpretation. Rambo's presentation ends with a plea for investigators to move beyond their own disciplines to consider not simply other points of view but other frameworks for interpreting what it is they understand conversion to be.

To Rambo's model, this author would encourage the addition of a cross-cultural and global faiths perspective that can be found by looking at not merely traditional (mainline faiths) but nontraditional (sectarian and marginal groups) conversions in America and around the world. To add "cuitic" conversions to traditional religious conversion studies allows questions to be raised that bridge those of the "brainwashing" proponents and those of the more traditional scholars who tend to ignore the NRMs altogether. What is at stake here is not simply methodological refinement of conversion but who it is who gets to define religion in a courtroom and in psychiatric and other professional literatures.

Chana Ullman's major study on conversion, The Transformed Self (1989), moves the conversation toward such inclusiveness. Her study is set firmly within the psychoanalytic tradition as modified by Erikson and others. Its direct presentation of conversion within the context of traditional faiths and the cults requires Ullman to deal with such issues as volition and coercion (86-91). Although her interpretation is focused almost entirely upon the psychoanalytic dimensions of conversion as seen through Freud (in the role of the father figure), Erikson (identity formation, etc.), and others, the last chapter of her book, "Conversion and the Quest for Meaning" (169-87), focuses upon the active and conscious religious dimensions of conversion, which she uses to critique and contextualize her own psychoanalytic approach.

Eugene Gallagher's multidisciplinary and multi-tradition study of conversion called Expectation and Experience (1990) is the only

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book-length study of conversion done by a non-sectarian religious studies scholar in the past decade. Mirroring the discipline itself, Gallagher focuses upon religious experience through the eyes of William James and his critics (especially Wayne Proudfoot) and upon theological dimensions of conversion, and then provides two long chapters on historical understandings of this phenomenon. Gallagher's book emphasizes the critical connection between studies of conversion and the theories of religion and human behavior upon which they are based. He concludes, "I have shown that explanations of conversion, either primary or secondary, express the fundamental interest of the person doing the explaining" (141).

Setting Gallagher's study alongside its psychological and sociological counterparts, it is clear that he is far more aware of their methodologies, interpretations, and biases than they are of those of religious studies scholars. His emphasis upon the theological content of faith as an important feature in how and why people devote their lives to a given religious faith is absent in most social science literature as is his historical contextualizing of faiths. This fatal flaw has allowed the Hare Krishna movement in America to be lumped with other cults by social scientists without any real attention to its Indian heritage or its long historical development.

It is clear that much more theoretical work needs to be done before the scholars of conversion can develop theories that include all of the religious traditions of the world in their studies of how it is that human beings become religious. What is also clear is that a consensus is building within psychological, sociological, and religious studies to emphasize the active and conscious dimensions of conversion, thus allowing scholars to redress an imbalance caused, in large measure, by the legacy of Freud and his psychoanalytic heirs. Such directions in interpretation are critical at a time when many clinical and legal models of "brainwashing" continue to promote the outdated "passive convert" as a victim of external forces. The challenge to religious studies scholars is to become active partners with their social science colleagues in such NRM conversion conversations and, thereby, help to define not only what constitutes conversion but religion itself.


l. This author gratefully acknowledges assistance from Mark Larson, Bucknell University '92, who provided invaluable support in data-base and bibliographic searching and early reviewing of materials. Robyn Shinn, Guilford College '92, - and my daughter - provided a valuable summer of research assistance in previewing and outlining materials and assisted in the details of final manuscript preparation. Finally, my Assistant, Judith Becker, was an insightful editor whose red pen and recommendations helped make this essay clearer and more manageable. I offer deepest thanks and appreciation to Mark, Robyn, and Judy.

2. "Conversion" has been narrowly defined by some to refer only to sudden religious experiences and by others to connote a life-long process. This author explicitly situates this study toward the broader end of the definitional spectrum by the incorporation of "conversion decision" and "conversion process" into a single notion of conversion. Likewise, many terms are used for the popular notions of "brainwashing." Although phrases like "thought reform," "coercive persuasion," "mind control," and "destructive persuasion" do point to different causal explanations of brainwashing, all in the end intend the same negative connotation that assumes a passive convert who without willful consent comes under the control of another. Hence, the popular metaphor, "brainwashing" is used throughout to convey the actual intent of other euphemisms.


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