Who Joins New Religious Movements and Why: Twenty Years of Research and What Have We Learned?


The headlines read '48 Found Dead in Doomsday Cult' and '50 From Quebec Cult Found Slain'.' On the evening of Tuesday, October 4, 1994, the members of a small new religious movement called The Order of the Solar Temple (Temple Solaire) committed mass suicide (though murder-suicide is a possibility as well) by shooting or asphyxiating themselves and burning their homes to the ground, almost simultaneously, in three different locations (Morin Heights, Quebec, and the villages of Cheiry and Granges-sur-Salvan, Switzerland).2 The following evening, like millions of other Americans and Canadians, I tuned in to ABC's popular and award-winning news-commentary program, Nightline. Characteristically, the host, Ted Koppel, was already interviewing three 'cult experts' about the Solar Temple tragedy and I hoped to gain a better understanding of what happened. To my dismay, but not to my surprise, two of the 'experts' in question were drawn from the American anti-cult movement, while the third was a Canadian journalist. Over the next half hour Mr. Koppel posed the questions always asked in these situations, What could make someone end their lives in this way? How could someone come to join such a group in the first place? What do we know about the mysterious leader of the cult? He had posed similar questions just over a year earlier to similar 'experts' with regard to the standoff and eventual massacre of the Branch Davidians, under David Koresh, in Waco, Texas. The answers received to these questiom this evening seemed as pat and preprogrammed as they did then. They were largely devoid of specifics, speculative and polemical. We were informed, with little in the way of direct reference to the actual beliefs ant practices of the Solar Temple, that the group was like all other 'destructive' and 'apocalyptic' cults. In passing, one of the 'experts' made specific reference to two other new religious movements, the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and John Roger's MSIA (pronounced Messiah). Curiously though, neither group has ever been associated with either violence or suicide in any form. Nevertheless, these experts assured us that the members of such dangerous cult are recruited through deception and the sophisticated use of techniques of 'mind control'. The cunning and charismatic leaders of these groups exploit the psychological weaknesses and idealistic aspirations of their recruits, it was implied, in order to satisfy their own desires for material wealth and power. Yet, these experts acknowledged, we really did not know very much about this cult leader or his followers. By the end of the interview those viewing the program had probably confirmed the prejudices most Americans an Canadians harbour against 'cults'. These prejudices have been bolstered by the sheer reiteration of the pejorative observations and


charges favoured by the media for the last twenty years. Little real insight was obtained into the true nature of the circumstances leading to the Solar Temple tragedy or the nature of the diverse cult activity present in contemporary Western society.

Listening to these 'experts' I could not help wondering whether viewers, no matter how uninformed, still would be satisfied with such platitudinous responses. Might they not ask: Why do we seem to know so little about these groups, especially in the wake of the Jonestown massacre of 1978 and the Koresh debacle in 1993? How can these groups continue to ply their trade, if their sins are so transparent? Whatever the reason for a measure of healthy scepticism, it should be surprising for all to discover that much of the recent public debate over cults has ignored or avoided a substantial and growing body of academic literature on the beliefs, practices, failings and significance of cults (i.e. what sociologists prefer to call new religious movements or NRMs). An established array of empirical information and explanatory insights, directly pertinent to the issues at hand, can be found in this literature. But, as my own direct and indirect experience with the media, my colleagues and students confirms, the message is not getting out. All too often traditional religious studies scholars themselves remain too ignorant of the 'facts', and as a consequence they run the risk, in our secular age, of allowing all religious expressions being tarnished by the fall-out from the campaign of misinformation carried on against the alternative and minority religions in our midst.

Of course journalists face considerable constraints of time, space and competition in fashioning their stories about new religions. They are necessarily guided by the commercial demand to attract readers and often lack expertise in the subject. But as other stories continue to be newsworthy a marked improvement in the quality of reporting and commentary usually can be detected. Such does not appear to be the case (with rare exceptions) when it comes to 'cult stories'.3 Summarizing their longitudinal and comprehensive analysis of print media coverage of cults in America, Van Driel and Richardson observe that 'although not uniformly negative, [it] can best be described as 'a stream of controversies' with little attention to the history or human side of the new religions'.4

One of the most prominent issues in the cult controversy is, who joins new religious movements and why? The popular conception of the situation is riddled with stereotypes. In some instances those who join are thought to be young, idealistic and gullible people duped by cunning cult recruiters. In other instances they are maladjusted and marginal losers who have found a safe haven in the controlled life of a cult. Simultaneously it is also often asserted 'that everyone is susceptible to the lure of these master manipulators.'5 In the popular press and the anti-cult literature all three positions are combined in ways which manage to cover all eventualities. The question at hand is, what do we really know about who joins NRMs and why? What do systematic studies reveal, as opposed to the anecdotal evidence on which the media and anti-cultists rely? Over the last twenty years a fairly reliable body of data has accumulated. This article draws together and organizes this dispersed material to clarify the micro- structural availability of people to cult involvement. What do we know about how people become interested in new religious movements, and the social attributes of those who choose to join?

No attempt will be made in this limited context to address directly four other closely related issues:

  • (1) the specific features of the biographic availability 'of individuals to conversion,'
  • (2) the macro-structural availability of people to cult involvement (i.e. the broad social conditions thought to set the stage for the emergence of NRMs),8
  • (3) the charge that cults secure and maintain their followers through 'brainwashing' or 'mind control',9 and
  • (4) the mental health of those involved with NRMs.1

"Indirectly, of course, much will be said that is relevant to a determination of these issues, but answering the question at hand is a necessary preliminary step."


How Do People Get Involved With New Religious Movements?

Much that we now know about who, how and why people join NRMs stems from attempts made to apply and criticize the influential model of conversion advanced by John Lofland and Rodney Stark.' This model grew out of field research into what was then a small and obscure deviant religion dubbed the 'Divine Precepts' by Lofland and Stark. The group was in fact the early Unification Church (i.e. the Moonies). Gathering the accounts of converts to this cult, and observing the attempts made at recruitment, Lofland and Stark formulated a seven-step model of the process of conversion. Briefly, this model stipulates that for persons to convert to a cult they must (1) experience enduring, acutely felt tensions in their lives, (2) within a religious problem-solving perspective (as opposed to a psychiatric or political problem-solving perspective), (3) which leads them to think of themselves as a religious seeker. With these three 'predisposing conditions' in place, the person must then (4) encounter the cult to which they convert at a turning point in their lives, (5) form an affective bond with one or more members of the cult, (6) reduce or eliminate extracult attachments and (7) be exposed to intensive interaction with other converts. With the completion of the latter four 'situational contingencies,' the new convert can become a 'deployable agent' of the cult. It is the cumulative effect of all of these experiences, Lofland and Stark believed, that produces a true conversion. Each step is necessary, but only the whole process is sufficient to produce a 'total convert.'

Over the years this model has been tested repeatedly, in different contexts, with mixed results. In the study of a quite large NRM imported to America from Japan, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism (also known by the name of its lay organization, Soka Gakkai), David Snow and Cynthia Phillips found reason to be conceptually and empirically suspicious of the applicability of all but two of the seven steps of the Lofland-Stark model of conversion.'

Arthur Greil and David Rudy, to cite another example, arrived at a similar conclusion after scrutinizing the data on conversion available from ten case studies of widely divergent NRMs.14 Alternatively, Merrill, Singer and to some extent Willem Kox, Wim Meeus an Harm't Hart found almost all aspects of a model to be relevant to the study of the Black Hebrew Nation, on the one hand, and Dutch adolescents who had converted to either the Unification Church or the Pentecost Church, on the other hand.' Debate over the merits of the theory has become complex with clashes of opinion over every aspect the model. For instance, as a result of the research into Nichiren Shoshu in America, Snow and Phillips are quite dismissive of two aspects of Lofland and Stark's model. They reject the claims that potential converts must experience enduring and acutely felt tension and some 'turning point' in their lives (failing out of school, experiencing a divorce, undertaking a long trip). In a study of the same NRM in Britain, however, Wilson an Dobbelaere found that many members at least say they experienced chronic or acute crises in their lives and a turning point.' The disparity can be explained in many ways. But these kinds of divergent results suggest, as Knox et al propose, that the steps outlined by Lofland and Stark do not represent so much an integrated and cumulative model of the actual process of conversion as a fairly adequate statement of some of the key 'conditions' of conversion (with the understanding that these conditions may vary independently and that their significance may vary for different religions and in different circumstances).

While many scholars have clearly overger eralized the relevance of Lofland and Stark findings, the research their model inspired 1-1- consistently confirmed some of these 'conditions' and led to the formulation of some reasons why they may vary. The empirical and theoretical insights in question constitute the body of what we can confidently say about why people become involved with NRMs. In order, roughly, of the degree of empirical support that exists for them, the micro structural availability of people to cult


involvements is conditioned by the following seven generalizations.

In the first place, studies of conversion and of specific groups have found that recruitment to NRMs happens primarily through preexisting social networks and interpersonal bonds. Friends recruit friends, family members each other and neighbours recruit neighbours. Contrary to public belief and the assertions of many proponents of the 'brainwashing' the6ry of cult conversion, the figures available support neither the proposition that everyone is equally susceptible to recruitment, nor that most converts are recruited through individual contacts in public places. Groups such as the Unification Church, Krishna Consciousness and Children of God have been scourged for their aggressive and persistent forays into airports, parks and the streets to disseminate literature and proselytize. Yet the evidence strongly indicates that these recruitment drives are usually dismal failures.' Rather, the majority of recruits to the majority of NRMs come into contact with the groups they join because they personally know one or more members of the movement."

The results of Wilson and Dobbelaere's recent and quite comprehensive study of Nichiren Shoshu in Britain, are characteristic:

Only 6 per cent of those in our sample had encountered [the Nichiren Shoshu] through the impersonal agencies of the media - through exhibitions, concerts, the movement's own publicity, or the various media accounts of the organization which had appeared in Britain. Ninety-four per cent met the movement through social interaction. Friends represented the largest category of people who introduced members, amounting to some 42 per cent; 23 per cent were brought into contact with it through their partners or family members. The remainder were first presented with information by acquaintances, work or student colleagues most particularly, but 14 per cent owed the encounter to casual acquaintances.'

Even the anti-cultist Margaret Singer supports the proposition that most converts are recruited through social networks.' She cites a figure of 66 per cent. Like much of the anti-cult literature, though, she does not provide us with any reliable information about the source of this claim, and she does not seem to see any inconsistency between this claim and another made on the same page, namely that 'All of us are vulnerable to cult recruitment'.

In the study of NRMs, however, there are always exceptions to every rule. Eileen Barker denies that existing personal networks account for the majority of converts to the Moonies in Britain.' But her claim is somewhat ambiguous since she notes that networks do account for over a quarter of the British membership and in a footnote she provides evidence that they also account for a third of the membership in the rest of Europe. Moreover, she does not clearly identify an alternative way in which the largest number of recruits are derived. By implication it would appear that the she has in mind 'by-chance' encounters between recruiters and individuals in the streets.

Second, as some of even the harshest critics of the Lofland-Stark model reaffirm, Lofland and Stark were correct in specifying the importance of affective ties in inducing recruits to join.' Again, Wilson and Dobbelaere's findings with regard to the Nichiren Shoshu in Britain are typical: over a third of their respondents stressed 'the quality of the membership' as the primary reason for their initial attraction to the group. Wilson and Dobbelaere provide numerous quotations from their questionnaires and interviews redolent with praise for the vibrancy, warmth, openness, joy and positive outlook of the members people first encountered. In general, case studies of individuals who joined NRMs or of the groups themselves commonly reveal the crucial role of affective bonds with specific members in leading recruits into deeper involvements.'

Third, and equally strongly, from the same studies it is clear that the intensive interaction of recruits with the rest of the existing membership of the group is pivotal to the successful conversion and maintenance of new members. In fact, as Janet Jacobs discovered, a perceived loss of such intensive interaction often plays a key role in the deconversion or apostasy of members of NRMs.24 On these


three points there is little disagreement in the literature. Other findings are subject to greater variation and dispute, yet their frequency of fit with specific groups and situations is still quite significant.

Fourth, cult involvement seems to be strongly correlated with having fewer and weaker extra-cult social ties." Part of the reason for the disproportionate representation of adolescents and young adults in NRMs is simply that this segment of the population is relatively free of countervailing social and economic obligations and commitments. They have the time and the opportunity to indulge their spiritual appetites and experiment with alternative lifestyles. The more freedom one has in these regards the more likely one is to accept the 'invitation' of a cult recruiter to dinner, a lecture, a meditation session or whatever."

Fifth, and similarly, cult involvement seems to be strongly correlated with having fewer and weaker ideological alignments. Most researchers now discount Lofland and Stark's suggestion that converts to NRMs were probably pre-socialized to adopting a religious problem-solving perspective. The data actually suggests that the 'unchurched,' as Stark and Bainbridge call them," are more likely to join. In many cases, lack of prior religious education and family life seems to leave young people more open to alternative spiritual explanations of the world and its hardships.' More will be said about this in discussing the social attributes of converts.

Again, however, there are clear exceptions to this generalization. As Richardson and Stewart and Steven Tipton suggest,' in the case of many neo-Christian (e.g. the Unification Church) and Jesus movements we may be dealing with the phenomenon of 'returning fundamentalists.' Recruits to these groups often do seem to have been raised in strict religious households from which they have lapsed or rebelled as adolescents. Similarly, it would seem that recruits to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and its offshoots are overwhelmingly from Catholic backgrounds."

Sixth, while 'seekership', the active search for religious answers to one's problems, does not seem to be as necessary to all conversions to NRMs as Lofland and Stark thought, does precede many conversions.' People inclined to be interested in even the possibility of joining an NRM have been reading related religious and philosophical literature and giving some serious thought to the so-called 'big questions' (e.g. What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Is there life after death?). This does not necessary) mean that the converts in question have full) adopted a 'religious problem-solving per. spective'. But similar findings are reported ir Rochford's study of Krishna Consciousness,' Wilson and Dobbelaere's study of Nichirer Shoshu,33 and Jones's study of the Churcf Universal and Triumphant' at the time o their conversion to the NRM a little less thar half of the members were either actively practising a religion other than that in whici they were raised or previously they had beer members of one or more other non-traditiona religious groups.

Seventh, as Stark and Bainbridge stress,' ir seeking to account for the conditions of con version we should be careful not to neglect the obvious. NRMs provide many kinds of 'direc rewards' to their members. They commonll offer such positive inducements as affectior and heightened self-esteem, esoteric and exo teric knowledge that provides a sense of powe and control over one's life, as well as simpl, material and social aid, security, new caree opportunities and forms of prestige. In fact, a Roy Wallis notes," sometimes the rewards o participating in the new reality constructed the group may become more important that satisfying 'the ends such participation wa originally intended to procure'.

The degree to which any or all of thes factors are involved in recruitment to an NRM is subject to variation. As Snow any Phillips and Snow et al. have empirically demonstrated,37 the degree to which successft recruitment requires that potential convert have weak extra-cult ties and/or ideologic alignments depends on how deviant and par ticularistic the group in question is, as well o the extent of the commitment demanded b the group. If joining an NRM does not enta


a dramatic transformation of one's values and lifestyle, as in the case of Scientology, then the need to sever extra-cult bonds is reduced. Obversely, if there is a pronounced difference between the orientation and activities of the new religion and the family and friends of the recruit, as in the case of Krishna Consciousness, then the weakening of prior ties plays a more crucial role in the conversion process. Similarly, for groups stigmatized by the dominant society a strategy of isolation may be used to neutralize the stigma. This strategy may also be induced by the extent to which a group insists it has the exclusive path to truth and salvation. The more particularistic a religion is, the more it will demand a sharp separation from the world and from the convert's past social and ideological attachments. Finally, the more complete the level and type of commitment demanded by a group, as in such communal groups as the Unification Church and Krishna Consciousness, The more likely it is that new members will be recruited through contact in public places rather than through interpersonal bonds and social networks. This latter linkage may explain why Barker's findings for the Unification Church in Britain seem at odds with the strong role of social networks in recruitment detected by most other studies of NRMs.

Various combinations of these factors limit who is structurally available to join NRMs. Relative to the small number of people who do join such groups, though, the delimitation is still insufficient. It is necessary therefore to see these social factors against a backdrop of yet more contingent and situational factors. For example, recruitment can be influenced by the degree and type of hostility to NRMs present in the dominant culture, the presence or absence of missionaries and the presence of competitor groups.' It makes a world of difference whether an NRM arises in the relaxed and experimental atmosphere of contemporary California or the highly conformist environment of Ireland or Iran. Contrasting Japan and the United States, Wilson points out that we must be careful not to assume even that new religions fulfil the same function in dif ferent cultural and historical circumstances.' To the convert it often seems miraculous that a representative of a new religion happens to be at hand at the crucial moment of doubt and/or decision in their lives. If other similar kinds of groups, competitor religions or functional equivalents to religion (e.g. some cathartic encounter therapy group, revolutionary political movement, or idealistic social service organization) are present instead, then the conversion in question might never happen.'

Adding another spin to the contingent conditions, as Wilson proposes, we must consider 'that, in some measure, movements may awaken needs in particular individuals, giving them increased specificity in the terms of the movement's own ideology, and so defining the situation for prospective adherents, supplying both the sense of needs and the means of its fulfilment.'" New religions, like many new commercial enterprises, are in the business of 'consciousness raising' about needs and their satisfaction.

What are the Social Attributes of Those Who Join New Religious Movements?

It is difficult to specify a reliable social profile of typical cult converts. Two things are clear from the numerous studies undertaken of conversion to NRMs: (a) because of the different recruitment strategies of different cult leaders and/or the heavy reliance of NRMs on social networks to secure new recruits, each new religion tends to attract a rather homogeneous group of followers; (b) but the overall membership of NRMs is much more heterogeneous than commonly anticipated, since group tends to attract somewhat different kinds of followers.' Nevertheless, it is still possible to make some broad and important generalizations.

First the membership of most NRMs are disproportionately young. Barker' found that 50 per cent of the membership of the Unification Church in Britain were between 21 and 26 years old. The average age at which people


joined the movement was 23 years old. At the time she wrote, Rochford44 reported that 56 per cent of the membership of Krishna Consciousness was between 20 and 25 years old, and more than 50 per cent had joined before their 21st birthday.' More recently, Wilson and Dobbelaere' found that while the membership of Nichiren Shoshu in Britain were also young, they are relatively not as young. Their extensive survey revealed that 68.2 per cent of the membership were under the age of 34 and 88.4 per cent were under the age of 44. With rare exceptions, though, the new religions of today are a game for young people and, relative to the population, middle-aged and old people are markedly underrepresented.

As some of the NRMs of the 1960s have aged, these figures have shifted.' But many people drop out of these organizations by the time they are middle aged. This is especially true of NRMs that are more communal in structure and more exclusive in their commitments. The demands they make on members often conflict with the demands of family life and raising children. There is some reason to believe that the new religions that are more segmented and plural in their commitment expectations (like Scientology, Eckancar, Nichiren Shoshu, etc.) will maintain a better spread in the age distribution of their members as the groups grow older. For example, on the basis of an admittedly limited sample, Wallis' found that the average age of recruitment to Scientology in Britain was about 32 years old. While Wilson and Dobbelaere report a mean age for starting the practice of Nichiren Shoshu of 31 years old, and Carl Latkin et al., Lewis Carter and Susan Palmer, place the average age of followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the mid-30s.49 In another instance, the Church Universal and Triumphant seems to be aging along with its leadership (approximately 53 per cent of the membership is between 40 and 60 years old).'

Second, with few exceptions studies have found that recruits to NRMs are on average markedly better educated than the general public. Wallis' reports that 56.7 per cent of the Scientologists he studied had either professional training or college/university degrees (29.7 per cent were university graduates). Likewise, Wilson and Dobbelaere' found that 24 per cent of the large sample of the membership of Nichiren Shoshu in Britain had attended university, when in 1990 only 8 per cent of the population had a university education. In the case of the Church Universal and Triumphant, Jones' actually found one quarter of her respondents to have completed an advanced technical or professional degree (e.g. MBA, MSW, MD, or Ph.D.). Latkin et al.' likewise report that 64 per cent of the members of Rajneeshpuram had at least a college degree, and a further random sample of 100 members uncovered 24 per cent with a masters degree and 12 per cent with a doctorate of some sort. Even Rochford55 discovered that 65 per cent of his sample of very young Krishna devotees had at least one year of college. Stark and Bainbridge' cite comparable findings from studies of other groups. Why do NRMs tend to attract the better educated? Wilson and Dobbelaere, and others, suggest the answer is fairly obvious: 'To be properly understood, the teachings [of most NRMs] demand literate intelligence, a willingness to study, and lack of fear in the face of unfamiliar concepts and language'.57

Third, and not surprising given the educational levels, recruits to NRMs are also disproportionately from middle- to upper-middle class households, the advantaged segments of the population. The figures for Scientology, the Unification Church, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the followers of Rajneesh and the Church Universal and Triumphant, all closely concur.' The fathers of converts come primarily from the professional, business executive, or administrative segments of the occupational world; skilled or unskilled manual labourers are clearly underrepresented.

Fourth, on questions of sex there seems to be some dispute. Machalek and Snow' suggest there is an overrepresentation of women in NRMs. At some points, Stark and Bainbridge do as well." But the evidence, as Stark and Bainbridge themselves admit, is highly variable. In the past females were


disproportionately present in fringe religions (e.g. Christian Science in the 1920s was 75 per cent female)," and Wilson and Dobbelaere found about 59 per cent of the Nichiren Shoshu in Britain to be female." Latkin et al. and Palmer also report a disproportionate number of females in the Rajneesh movement.' Barker (1984: 206), however, reports a two-to-one ratio in favour of men for the Moonies in Britain, while Wallis's sample of Scientologists is 59 per cent male.' Rochford, Lucas and others imply that there is little substantial discrepancy between the sexes in the groups they studied.' On the whole, it would seem that while some cults may attract more of one sex than the other, there is no strong evidence that women are any more susceptible to joining NRMs than men."

It does appear, though, that many groups undergo a kind of developmental shift in their sex ratios as they mature. Krishna Consciousness began life in America as a largely male phenomenon, but this imbalance in sexual representation has been corrected as the movement has become an order of 'householders' and not strictly priestly ascetics.' In Korea and Japan, prior to its emergence in America, the Unification Church actually appealed more to women, as did the Rajneesh movement in its beginnings in India." These imbalances also adjusted with time. Reliable membership figures, though, especially ones that differentiate between the sexes, are hard to come by.

Fifth and lastly, there is some ambiguity about the religious background of recruits to NRMs as well. On the one hand, with the limited evidence available, Stark and Bainbridge conclude: 'Church membership and membership in a conservative denomination are preventives against cultism. The unchurched and those affiliated with the more secularized denominations are more open to cult involvement:' The levels of participation in NRMs of American Protestants, Catholics and Jews varies from group to group. On the whole, though, Stark and Bainbridge think that Protestants are underrepresented, reflecting the strength of right-wing evangelicalism in the United States, while

Catholic participation is roughly proportionate to their numbers in the population. Jews are another matter. They are extraordinarily overrepresented. Latkin et al.,' for example, found the following distribution in religious backgrounds for the Rajneesh movement: 30 per cent Protestant, 27 per cent Catholic, 20 per cent Jewish, 14 per cent 'none,' 4 per cent Hindu or Buddhist, 4 per cent 'other'. More startlingly, Steve Tipton,' in studying the San Francisco Zen Centre, found that 50 per cent of the members were Jewish.' Why the overrepresentation? Stark and Bainbridge point to the many indicators of the heightened secularization of the American Jewish community, relative to other religious groups.' Support for this stress on the relatively 'unchurched' character of converts to NRMs comes from the British followers of Nichiren Shoshu. 'Fully 76 per cent of [Wilson and Dobbelaere's] respondents said that they had not belonged to any religious organization before they joined.'74 In fact 47 per cent declared that previously they had not been religious at all, leading Wilson and Dobbelaere to call into question the contention that religious 'seeker- ship' is a necessary precondition for conversion.' Latkin et al. report that only 40 per cent of the members of Rajneeshpuram saw themselves as religious before joining, and Jones's survey of the Church Universal and Triumphant revealed a slight overrepresentation of religious 'nones' (12.67 per cent). But, in the latter instance, seekership would seem to be a significant factor since 49 per cent of the sample claimed one or more previous associations with other nontraditional religions after childhood (e.g. Rosicrucians, Theosophy, various Hindu and Buddhist groups).76 Of course, more information is needed about the kinds of associations claimed to interpret the real meaning of this data.

On the other hand, Rochford found that the American followers of Krishna came from fairly religious households.' More than 50 per cent of his sample said religion was stressed in their childhood homes; 77 per cent received formal religious education as children; and about 50 per cent attended religious services regularly, while another 30 per cent attended


irregularly. Now as in the case of the British members of Nichiren Shoshu, at the time of conversion, most had lapsed in the practice of their childhood faith and only 25 per cent were practising some other religion. But the contrast with Stark and Banibridge's conclusion remains pronounced. As Stark and Bainbridge themselves note,' though without accounting for it, Barker also found Moonies in England to be drawn from families with unusually strong religious convictions'.

Why Do People Join New Religious Movements?

I cannot pretend to any definitive answers to this question. In fact, as specified in the introduction, limitations of space prevent me from considering all of the pertinent factors. Most notably, for example, there is no opportunity to discuss the possible impact of such broad social changes as the breakdown of mediating structures in advanced capitalist societies or the processes of secularization, both of which are thought to influence the macro-structural availability of people to cult involvements.' Here, in line with the preceding discussion, we only can comment on some of the more prominent assessments of some of the micro-structural factors affecting availability of people to cult involvements. In this vein, there are essentially two kinds of explanatory options currently available: various psycholog- ical speculations and types of rational choice theorizing. At present the former is far more pervasive, developed and empirically grounded. The latter option, while promising, is still new and rather experimental, and a proper introduction would warrant an additional essay." So in this context I confine my comments to a brief summary of two of the better-known psychological analyses. While inevitably speculative, each of these accounts is recommended by the scope and subtlety of the empirical studies from which they derive. Developed independently, they nevertheless suggest a similar profile of converts to cults.

In her much-acclaimed book The Making a Moonie, the British sociologist Eileen Barker states that the Moonies she came to know often seemed idealistic people, coming from fairly happy, conventional and highly 'respectable' families that placed a higher value on public service and doing one's duty than simply making money. They had grown up in sheltered environments, in which they were encouraged to be overachievers at school and in other activities. But their emotional development seems to have been retarded and they failed to experience the usual crises of adolescence until a later point in life than most their peers. Consequently, it seems that many of them experienced 'disappointments, hurt and disillusionment' when they 'first venture out into the world'. They may have found the transition to life at university or on the job and away from home more difficult and frustrating than expected. The implication is that they may have joined the Unification Church to at least temporarily re-establish themselves in a more satisfying set of circumstances (i.e. more structured and idealistical motivated).'

After interviewing and observing hundre, of young members of various NRMs, tl Canadian psychiatrist Saul Levine presen much the same profile but in greater detail Without endorsing his reading of the dynar ics of conversion, his detailed account instructive. Levine emphatically asserts that I found 'no more sign of pathology among [t] members and ex-members of NRMs that I studied] than … in any youthful populatior He also notes that the joiners he met we largely children of privilege; they were 'go( kids from good backgrounds'." Yet th engaged in the kind of 'radical departures' di are highly disturbing to their families al friends. These radical departures are extr ordinary, but seen from the right perspectiN he argues, they make sense. 'They are despc ate attempts to grow up in a society that plac obstacles in the way of the normal yearnin of youth.'" The young people who jo NRMs, he believes, are distinguished by th( curious inability to effect the kind separation from their families consonant wi


passage into young adulthood.' They are psychological 'children' trapped in a dilemma that our fragmented and indulgent society may have induced. They wish to sever the parental bond and achieve independence, but they lack a sufficient sense of self to do so. On the one hand, the prospect of relinquishing the overly close tie they do have, in 'reality or fantasy', with their mothers and fathers is terrifying; it instills a great fear of personal 'depletion'. On the other hand, the self they display, whether seemingly normal or rebellious, feels 'fraudulent'. Such young people feel trapped: they can neither live with nor without their parents. All the while, though, as the children mature their parents' foibles are becoming apparent, turning them into 'fallen idols'.

Symptomatically, Levine says, joiners usually have not experienced any mature romantic relationships and they lack the kind of intimate peer relationships in which teenagers 'probe, analyze, confess, explore, and lay bare their very souls to one another'." While the social supports their parents had been able to call upon on in their youth for guidance (e.g. churches, ethnic communities, patriotic activities and a liberal-arts education) have either disappeared or now appear 'plastic' and unreal. Enduring this kind of acutely felt tension, these young people yearn for a quick fix to their sense of isolation and confusion. They seek a sense of full belonging and purpose in life, independent of their families, but without engaging in the struggle to achieve true 'mutual understanding' between individuals or the serious 'analysis' of their situation required to find and shape their own identity. With so little real self-esteem in place, they are seeking to avoid, for a time at least, the responsibility of making choices. Then at a moment of crisis, a 'turning point' in Lofland and Stark's terminology, they encounter the missionaries of one or another NRM offering just such an alternative path to (or temporary detour from) maturity.

If there is some plausibility to Levine's theory, then in the end, as Barker stresses, the radical departure in question is in some respects not a departure at all. Moonies, for instance, 'do not appear to be rejecting the values that were instilled into them during their childhood; they appear, on the contrary, to have imbibed these so successfully that they are prepared to respond to the opportunity (which society does not seem to be offering them) to live according to those very standards.'" Arthur Parsons and Susan Palmer are led to like conclusions by their interactions with the Moonies." The pattern may well vary for other NRMs, but Palmer found elements of it in each of the seven NRMs she studied and her findings are reminiscent of the views Tipton expresses in Getting Saved from the Sixties This perspective certainly accords with the consistent finding that most of the people who join NRMs leave voluntarily within about two years." It works less well for understanding those groups that attract older followers to begin with and are less exclusive in their demands for commitment and less communal in organization (e.g. Scientology, Nichiren Shoshu, Eckancar). Tipton, Robbins and Bromley, and Palmer, however, have developed various theories that encompass these kinds of NRMs as well; theories that are similar in key respects and compatible with the speculations of Levine and Barker." In various ways too complicated to broach at this juncture, these theories suggest that NRMs provide a safe haven for social and psychological experimentation with various new 'rites of passage' in order to defuse the anomie generated by a pervasive sense of moral ambiguity in modern culture.

These speculations are just that, speculations. In the end it is difficult to assess their generality. The empirical insights provided above, while more prosaic, arc more reliable. I must caution, however, that while this information helps us to delimit who is more likely to join an NRM, the delimitation is still insufficient, given the small numbers of actual converts. Certainly the data run counter to many of the assertions and stereotypes of the pubilc and the anti-cult movement. But from a social scientific perspective, a crucial and easily overlooked element of mystery remains about why people choose to be religious, especially in so radical a manner.


Taking us back to where we began: Does all of this help us to better understand the tragedy of the Solar Temple? Paradoxically, the answer is both yes and no. In the end, I cannot honestly say that I am much closer to really understanding why these people chose to end their lives. This is frustrating. But I am hopeful that we can raise the level of public understanding of who joins NRMs and why, well beyond that provided by the media in the days following this frightening reminder of the continued power of the religion in our lives. On the one hand, I think it is important to establish how unexceptional in some respects cult involvements are in order to assure or even renew our respect for the religious choices people make, no matter how seemingly foreign to our sensibilities. On the other hand, if the assessments of Barker, Levine, and others hold true, then it is equally important to establish how exceptional the Solar Temple and its apocalypse are in comparison with most other NRMs. In these exceptional cases some other social-psychological processes are at work that we need to ferret out, perhaps through more detaied comparative analyses with the Peoples Temple massacre at Jonestown and the Branch Davidian conflagration at Waco.' Like all social phenomena, the specific dynamics in each case are subject to almost infinite variation. But with diligence, as the history of the social sciences strongly suggests, we should be able to discern certain generic social processes that we need to better understand.'


1 The headlines are from The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, respectively, on Thursday, October 6, 1994.

2 Eventually 53 bodies were found, and then, much to the surprise of everyone, on December 21, 1995, 16 more followers committed ritualistic suicide in a French forest near the Swiss border (see Massiomo Introvigne, 'Ordeal by Fire: The Tragedy of the Solar Temple', Religion, 25, 4 (1995): 267-83, and Susan J. Palmer, 'Purity and Danger in the Solar Temple', Journal of Contempt Religion, 11, 3 (1996): 303-18).

3 See, for example, Danny Jorgensen, Social Construction and Interpretatioi Deviance - Jonestown and the Mass Mt Deviant Behavior, 1, 3-4 (1980): 309 and Randy Lippert, 'The Constructioi Satanism as a Social Problem in Can, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 15, 4 (19 417-39.

4 Barend Van Driel and James T. Richard 'Print Media Coverage of New Relig Movements: A Longitudinal Study,' Journ. Communication, 38, 3 (1988): 37.

5 The quotation is from Margaret T. Singer Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst: The Hie Menace in Our Everyday Lives (San Franci CA: Jossey-Bass, 1995), P. 17. Similar v are expressed in dozens of books; for exarr Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack, Let Children Go! (New York: E. P. Dutton, 19' Ronald Enroth, Youth, Brainwashing, the Extremist Cults (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1977); Steven Hassan, Comi ting Cult Mind-Control (Rochester, VT: I Street Press, 1988); and Cohn A. R Satanic Ritual Abuse: Principles of Treater (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 19C

6 The terms structural and biographic availa ity are borrowed from Richard Machalek David A. Snow, 'Conversion to New Religi Movements', in David G. Bromley and Jef K. Hadden, eds., Religion and the Social Or Vol. 3: The Handbook on Cults and Sect., America, Part B (Greenwich, CT: JAI Pr 1993), pp. 53-74.

7 See, for example, Steven M. Tipton, Geu Saved from the Sixties (Berkeley: Univer of California Press, 1982); Saul V. Lev Radical Departures: Desperate Detours Growing Up (New York: Harcourt Bi Jovanovich, 1984); David Chidester, Salval and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jones, The Peoples Temple, and Jonesu (Bloomington: Indiana University Pr 1988); and Wade Clark Roof, A General of Seekers: The Spiritual Journey of the B Boom Generation (San Francisco, CA: Hari Collins, 1993).

8 See, for example, Robert Bellah, 'New B gious Consciousness and the Crisis of Mot nity', in Charles Glock and Robert Bellah, e The New Religious Consciousness (Berke University of California Press, 19; pp. 333-52; Benton Johnson, 'A Sociolog


Perspective on New Religions', in Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, eds., In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1981), pp. 51-66; Thomas Robbins, Cults, Converts, and Charisma (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988); and Lorne L. Dawson, Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998).

9 There is a voluminous literature about the 'brainwashing' charge (e.g. the books cited in note 5). The best analyses are Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins, 'Brainwashing and Totalitarian Influence,' Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1994), vol. 1, pp. 457-71; James T. Richardson, 'A Social Psychological Critique of 'Brainwashing' Claims about Recruitment to New Religions', in Bromley and Hadden, eds., Handbook on Cults and Sects, pp. 75-97; and Dawson, Comprehending Cults.

10 See E. Burke Rochford, Jr., Sheryl Purvis and NeMar Eastman, 'New Religions, Mental Health, and Social Control', in Monty Lynn and David Moberg, eds., Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 57-82; and James T. Richardson, 'Clinical and Personality Assessment of Participants in New Religions', International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 5 (1995): 145-70.

11 Many of these and other related readings can be found in Lorne L. Dawson, ed., Cults in Context: Readings in the Study of New Religious Movements (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 1996).

12 John Lofland and Rodney Stark, 'Becoming a World-Saver: A Theory of Conversion to a Deviant Perspective', American Sociological Review, 30, 6 (1965): 863-74.

13 David Snow and Cynthia Phillips, 'The Lofland-Stark Conversion Model: A Critical Reassessment', Social Problems, 27, 4 (1980): 430-47.

14 Arthur Greil and David Rudy, 'What Have We Learned from Process Models of Conversion? An Examination of Ten Case Studies', Sociological Focus, 17, 4 (1984): 305-23.

15 Merrill Singer, 'The Social Context of Conversion to a Black Religious Sect', Review of Religious Research, 29, 4 (1988): 177-92, and Willem Kox et al., 'Religious Conversion of Adolescents: Testing the Lofland and Stark

Model of Religious Conversion', Sociological Analysis, 52, 3 (1991): 227-40.

16 Bryan Wilson and Karel Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant: The Soka Gakkai Buddhists in Britain Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

17 With regard to the Moonies see the figures provided in Eileen Barker, The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984), pp. 141-8, and Marc Galanter, Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 140-1.

18 For example: Michael Harrison, 'Sources of Recruitment to Catholic Pentecostalism', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 13, 1 (1974): 49-64; James Beckford, The Trumpet of Prophecy: A Sociological Study of Jehovah's Witnesses (New York: Oxford and Halsted Press, 1975); John Lofland, Doomsday Cult: A Study of Conversion, Proselytization and Maintenance of Faith (New York: Irvington, 1977): William Sims Bainbridge, Satan's Power: Ethnography of a Deviant Psychotherapy Cult (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); David A. Snow, Louis A. Zurcher, Jr. and Sheldon Ekland-Olson, 'Social Networks and Social Movements: A Micro- structural Approach to Differential Recruitment', American Sociological Review, 45, 5 (1980): 787-801; Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); E. Burke Rochford, Hare Krishna in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985); Carl Latkin, Richard Hagan, Richard Littman and Norman Sundberg, 'Who Lives in Utopia? A Brief Report on the Rajneeshpuram Research Project', Sociological Analysis, 48, 1 (1987): 73-81; Susan Jean Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers: Women's Roles in New Religions (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994); and Phillip C. Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion - The Holy Order of MANS from New Age to Orthodoxy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995).

19 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant, p. 50.

20 Singer, Cults in Our Midst, p. 105.

21 Barker, The Making of a Moonie, pp. 95-100.

22 For example, Snow and Phillips, 'The Lofland-Stark Conversion Model'; Greil and Rudy, 'What Have We Learned From Process Models of Conversion?'; Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion; and Kox et al., 'Religious Conversion of Adolescents.'

23 For example, Harrison, 'Sources of Recruitment to Catholic Pentecostalism'; Enroth, Youth, Brainwashing, and the Extremist Cults; Lofland, Doomsday Cult; Bainbridge, Satan's Power, Barker, The Making of a Moonie; Rochford, Hare Krishna in America; Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers-, Saul V. Levine, Radical Departures, and David E. Van Zandt, Living in the Children God (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).

24 Janet Liebman Jacobs, Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

25 For example, Lofland, Doomsday Cult; Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion; and James V. Downton, Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).

26 Snow etal., 'Social Networks and Socia Movements'.

27 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion.

28 Ibid., and Snow and Phillips, 'The Lofland-Stark Conversion Model'.

29 James, T. Richardson and Mary W. Stewart, 'Conversion Process Models and the Jesus Movement', American Behavioral Scientist, 20, 6 (1977): 819-38, and Tipton, Getting Saved from the Sixties.

30 Mary Jo Neitz, Charisma and Community: A Study of Religious Commitment within the Charismatic Renewal (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1987).

31 For example, Roger Straus, 'Changing Oneself: Seekers and the Creative Transformation of Life Experience', in John Lofland, ed., Doing Social Life (New York: Wiley and Sons, 1976), pp. 252-73; Robert W. Balch, 'Looking Behind the Scenes in a Religious Cult: Implications for the Study of Conversion', Sociological Analysis, 41, 2 (1980): 137-43; David Bromley and Anson Shupe, Jr., 'Just a Few Years Seem Like a Lifetime: A Role Theory Approach to Participation in Religious Movements', in Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change, vol. 2 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1979); T. Poling and J. Kenny, The Hare Krishna Character Type: A Study in Sensate Personality (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1986); and Brock K. Kilbourne and James T. Richardson, 'Paradigm Conflict, Types of Conversion, and Conyers Theorise,' Sociological Analysis, 50,1 (15q 1-21. Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, p. 54 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Cho p. 88.

Constance A. Jones, 'Church Universal 2 Triumphant: A Demographic Profile', in Jar R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, eds., Chu Universal and Triumphant in Schola Perspective (Stanford, CA: Centre for Aca( mic Publication, 1994), pp. 49-50.

Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religic Roy Wallis, The Elementary Forms of New Re gious Lift (London: Routledge and Keg Paul, 1984), p. 122.

Snow and Phillips, The Lofland-St2.

Conversion Model', and Snow et al., 'Soc Networks and Social, Movements'.

Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religio Bryan Wilson, 'The New Religions: Prelin nary Considerations', in Eileen Barker, ec New Religious Movements: A Perspective Understanding Society (New York: Edw Mellen, 1982), p. 24.

See Levine, Radical Departures.

Wilson, 'New Religions: Preliminary Co, siderations', p. 25.

For example, Latkin et al., 'Who Lives Utopia?'; Poling and Kenny, The Hare Krishna Character Type, and Palmer, Moon Sister Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers.

Barker, The Making of a Moonie, p. 206. Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, p. 47. J. S. Judah reported comparable finding ten years earlier in Hare Krishna and t, CounterCulture (New York: John Wile 1974).

Wilson and Dobbelarere, A Times to Chant. For Krishna Consciousness, for example, s( Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothe Rajneesh Lovers, p. 39.

Roy Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom: Sociological Analysis of Scientology (New Yor Columbia University Press, 1977).

Latkin et al., Who Lives in Utopia?'; Lewis Carter, Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpc ram (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres 1990); and Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishr, Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers.

Jones, 'Church Universal and Triumphant,' 42. The findings of H. R. Alfred, 'The Chun of Satan', in Charles Y. Glock and Robert / Bellah, eds., The New Religious Consciousnc (Berkeley: University of California Pres


1976), and Earl Babbie and Donald Stone, 'An Evaluation of the est Experience by an National Sample of Graduates', Bioscience Communications, 3 (1977): 123-40, also lend support to this observation.

51 Wallis, Road to Total Freedom, p. 163.

52 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant, pp. 121-4.

53 Jones, 'Church Universal and Triumphant,' pp. 43-4.

54 Latkin et al., 'Who Lives in Utopia?'

55 Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, pp. 48-50.

56 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion, pp. 406-10.

57 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant, p. 123, and Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion.

58 Scientology: Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom; Unification Church: Barker, The Making of a Moonie; Krishna Consciousness: Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, Poling and Kenny, The Hare Krshna Character Type, Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers; Rajneesh movement: Latkin et al., 'Who Lives in Utopia?' Carter, Charisma and Contorl in Rajneeshpuram, Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers, and Church Universal and Triumphant: Jones, 'Church Universal and Triumphant.'

59 Machalek and Snow, 'Conversion to New Religious Movements'.

60 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion, pp. 413-17.

61 Ibid., p. 413.

62 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant, pp. 42-3.

63 Latkin et al., 'Who Lives in Utopia?' and Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers.

64 Wallis, The Road to Total Freedom, p. 165.

65 Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, and Lucas, The Odyssey of a New Religion.

66 See Palmer, Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers.

67 Ibid., p. 32.

68 Ibid., pp. 62, 90.

69 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion,

p. 400.

70 Latkin et al., 'Who Lives in Utopia?'

71 Tipton, Getting Saved from the Sixties.

72 Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, notes a

slight overrepresentation of Jews as well.

73 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion,

pp. 402-3. 74 Wilson and Dobbelaere, A Time to Chant, p. 79.

75 Ibid., p. 88.

76 Jones, 'Church Universal and Triumphant,' pp. 49-50.

77 Rochford, Hare Krishna in America, pp. 51-7.

78 Stark and Bainbridge, The Future of Religion, p. 404.

79 See note 8 above.

80 See, for example: Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1987); C. David Gartrell and Zane K. Shannon, 'Contacts, Cognitions. Conversion: A Rational Choice Approach'. Review of Religious Research, 21, 1 (1985): 32-48; Lorne L. Dawson, 'Self-Affirmation, Freedom, and Rationality: Theoretically Elaborating 'Active' Conversions', Journal foe the Scientific Study of Religion, 29, 2 (1990) 141-63; and Rodney Stark and Laurence R Innaccone, 'Rational Choice Propositions about Religious Movements'. in David G Bromley and Jeffrey K. Hadden, eds., Religion and the Social Order, Vol. 3: The Handbook on Cults and Sects in America, Part 21 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1993), pp 242-61. Less overtly, an element of rationa choice is also present in Stephen A. Kent' 'Slogan Chanters to Mantra Chanters: A Mertonian Deviance Analysis of Conversion tc Religiously Ideological Organizations in the Early 1970s', Sociological Analysis, 49, (1988): 140-18.

81 Brock Kilbourne, 'Equity or Exploitation? The Case of the Unification Church', Review oj Religious Research, 28, 2 (1986): 143-50, alsc documents the role of youth idealism in pre disposing people to joining the Moonies.

82 Levine, Radical Departures.

83 Ibid., p. 4.

84 Ibid., p. 11.

85 Ibid., pp. 31-8, 46-7, 61

86 Ibid., p. 35.

87 Barker, The Making of a Moonie, pp. 210-11.

88 Arthur Parsons, 'Messianic Personalism:

Role Analysis of the Unification Church'

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

25, 2 (1986): 141-61, and Palmer, Moor

Sisters, Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers, pp

92, 100.

89 Barker, The Making of a Moonie; Levine Radical Departures, Stark and Bainbridge, TA Future of Religion; Jacobs, Divine Disenchant mem-, Galanter, Cults, Palmer, Moon Sisters


Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers; and Stuart A. Wright, Leaving Cults: The Dynamics, of Defection, Monograph Series, 7 (Washington, DC: Society for Scientific Study of Religion, 1987).

90 Tipton, Getting Saved from the Sixties; Thomas Robbins and David Bromley, 'Social Experimentation and the Significance of American New Religions: A Focused Review Essay', in Monty Lynn and David Moberg, eds., Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1992), vol. 4, pp. 1-28; and Palmer, Moon Sisters; Krishna Mothers, Rajneesh Lovers.

91 In the morass of highly variable literature two stellar studies of these groups stand out: David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide - An Interpretation of Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple, and

Jonestown (Bloomington: Indiana Univen Press, 1988), and Stuart A. Wright, Armageddon in Waco - Critical Perspectives the Branch Davidian Conflict (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1995)

92 On discerning generic social processes general, read Helen Rose Ebaugh, Become an EX (Chicago, IL: University of Chic Press, 1988), and Robert Prus, Symbolic Int action and Ethnographic Research (Alba State University of New York Press, 1996), 5. For an initial attempt to tackle the gem aspect of this particular concern, see Thor Robbins and Dick Anthony, 'Sects Violence: Factors Enhancing the Volatility Marginal Religious Movements', in Wrig ed., Armageddon in Waco, pp. 236-59.