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Contemporary Cults

Since the 1960s cults of one kind or another have regularly made headlines with outrageous, bizarre, and even lethal behavior and their number has increased enormously in the past four decades. Writers of all kinds--scholars, journalists, psychologists, and social critics--have frequently pointed out that cults have existed throughout recorded history and that the distinction between an established religion and a cult is often no more than a question of size, socialization, wealth, power, or longevity. But others hold that the sheer number of contemporary cults and the increasing levels of abuse, crime and suicide among many of them are phenomena that distinguish postindustrial society's cult behaviors from those of other eras. While it is difficult to cite any one or two principal causes of the expansion of the cult phenomenon in the present day, there are certainly a number of conditions that are conducive to cult formation on a large scale. Some, such as the approaching end of the millennium, perceptions of widespread immorality and social breakdown, and broad social change, have been significant factors in intensified cult behavior in the past. Others, such as vast increases in mobility, growth of communications media, an influx of ideas from very different cultures, and the existence of legal protections, while not unique to the present, have never reached such high levels before. Thus the argument that the reasons people join cults and the nature of their leadership and goals are different today is not sound. But there are numerous factors in postindustrial societies that have, working with traditional motivations, facilitated the rise of an unprecedented number of cults of which a number are given--as in the past--to abusive, criminal, or suicidal behavior.

The word "cult" is used somewhat indiscriminately to refer to a variety of organizations and, in a general sense, it can refer to any system of religious beliefs ...

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Contemporary Cults. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:47, February 28, 2017, from